Opposition bungles YESAB stats

The NDP Opposition has asserted that the government favours mining projects through the territory's environmental assessment process, but it doesn't have the facts to back it up.

The NDP Opposition has asserted that the government favours mining projects through the territory’s environmental assessment process, but it doesn’t have the facts to back it up.

“When compared to agricultural proposals or other permitted land uses, this Yukon Party government is three times more likely to vary (the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board’s) recommendations in favour of mining development,” said MLA Jim Tredger in the legislature yesterday.

But NDP staff could not support the claim, except to say that the figure came from YESAB.

Information prepared by the board, meanwhile, tells a different story.

YESAB collects statistics on the outcomes of the assessment process, which are available to interested parties.

The board is responsible for assessing many different kinds of land development projects, including mining, forestry, agricultural and other uses.

It must examine the potential negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of the project, and make a recommendation based on the work.

The board can either recommend that the project go ahead, that the project go ahead with certain mitigating terms and conditions, or that the project not go ahead.

The recommendation is made to whoever has the ultimate say over the project, which is typically the government, but can also include First Nations.

With the exception of the very largest projects, the government or governments responsible can then chose to accept, modify, or reject YESAB’s recommendation.

In the vast majority of cases, YESAB recommends that the project proceed with some conditions attached, according to data shared with the News.

And among those cases, the government modifies the terms and conditions most of the time.

It is true that recommendations regarding mining projects are modified by the government at a higher rate compared with other projects, but the difference is not as dramatic as the NDP has suggested.

Between Nov. 28, 2005 and March 8, 2012, 478 placer and quartz mining projects were evaluated by YESAB.

The board recommended that 97 per cent of those projects go ahead with some conditions attached, and the government varied those terms and conditions in 79 per cent of the cases.

Among projects in all sectors assessed between Nov. 28, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2012, the government modified the terms and conditions 65 per cent of the time.

The numbers are not directly comparable because they cover slightly different time frames, but a rough calculation suggests that modifications are made to about 57 per cent of the non-mining project recommendations.

By that figure, the government is about 40 per cent more likely to make modifications to the terms and conditions for a mining project, not 300 per cent as the NDP claimed.

Further, there is much that the data does not show.

It cannot tell us whether modifications made by the government are more restrictive or more lenient compared with those recommended by YESAB.

There is no observed trend one way or another, said Stephen Mills, chair of the board.

Still, YESAB would like to see the rate of modifications go down, he said.

The government has the ability to make comments on the proposal through the assessment process, so in an ideal world the parties would agree on the mitigating conditions by the end of it, said Mills.

“We need to work with the regulators and the decision bodies to make sure that these terms and conditions can be enforced and can be put into the licenses as issued.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com