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Proposed environmental law changes shrouded in secrecy

The government of Canada has proposed changes to Yukon's environmental assessment regime, but won't tell the public what they are.

The government of Canada has proposed changes to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime, but won’t tell the public what they are.

The federal government has drafted amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. It has shared the draft with the Yukon government and Yukon First Nations, but won’t release it to the public until it is tabled in Parliament.

The News asked Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to share details of the proposed changes.

The changes would “allow board members to continue to act after the expiry or termination of their appointment term; clarify the role of the Yukon Land Use Planning Council; clarify the relationship with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA); and provide for the scoping of the activities of third party resource users in forest resource management planning initiatives when government is the proponent,” according to an emailed statement from the department.

“The amendments would introduce timelines for the assessment of projects, permit cost recovery for the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, and provide further clarity for regional environmental studies already permitted under the act.”

Premier Darrell Pasloski said his government will provide feedback to Canada on the draft amendments, but was similarly vague on what changes will be sought.

“There are some common themes from our perspective,” he said in an interview this week. “We’ve talked about thresholds for assessments, we’ve talked about adequacy, we’ve talked about timelines, we’ve talked about consistency in terms of the district offices as well.”

The Yukon government funded the Yukon Mineral Advisory Board to provide advice about the changes it would like to see, said Pasloski.

But that advice has not been made public, either.

Kevin Brewer, an executive with several junior mining companies in the Yukon, asked the premier at a Yukon Chamber of Commerce event last week to make that report public and engage the mining industry in talks about regulatory changes.

“We would like to fully discuss any of our concerns with relation to the YESAA changes prior to those changes happening,” said Brewer.

The Yukon government only started to engage the mining industry in recent weeks, Brewer said in an interview this week.

“When you’re coming in at the last hour, it’s challenging,” he said. “We might be too late in the game already.”

The industry’s biggest concern is timelines, said Brewer. He would like to see mines getting approved in two years or less.

And for the most part, the government and industry are on the same page, he said.

But an opportunity was missed to have a more full conversation, not only between industry and government but also between industry and First Nations, said Brewer.

“Because of the shortness of the timeframe there’s just really no opportunity to have that dialogue. So that’s too bad. That’s unfortunate.”

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver has also criticized the Yukon government for its lack of transparency on the issue.

“What consultation did the minister do before he took off to go to Ottawa to get his marching orders?” asked Silver.

“You need to replace this talk with action that’s being done in broad daylight, and not behind closed doors.”

The Council of Yukon First Nations did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board said the board would decline comment because the matter is between the federal, territorial and First Nation governments.

Yukon MP Ryan Leef also declined to comment. His chief of staff said that Leef has conducted consultations around the issue, but has not seen the draft amendments.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at