Bill S-6, the controversial federal bill amending the Yukon’s environmental assessment legislation, is set to become law.
The legislation passed final reading Monday in the House of Commons by a 148 to 125 vote.
It’s now waiting for royal assent before it becomes law.
Yukon MP Ryan Leef voted in favour of the bill despite vocal opposition from Yukon’s First Nations who have vowed to take the government to court over the changes.
The vote happened Monday night. All Conservative MPs who voted said yes. Everyone else disagreed. But, with a majority government leading the country, that was enough.
So far the Yukon’s 11 self-governing First Nations and the Council of Yukon First Nations released a short statement saying they’re disappointed the changes passed without any amendments.
“We have made every effort and exhausted every avenue to work collaboratively with Canada to resolve our concerns,” it said.
“We will continue to protect the integrity of our agreements and are looking at our options now that Canada has made its decision.”
Of the 40 amendments that come with S-6, there are four that First Nations strongly object to.
Those would allow a federal minister to give binding policy direction to Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board and delegate responsibilities to the territorial minister. They would also give the Yukon government new powers to exempt projects from assessment in the event of a licence renewal or amendment, and impose new end-to-end timelines for assessments.
The First Nations say the amendments go against their aboriginal land claim agreements.
In late March, the parliamentary standing committee on aboriginal affairs and northern development came to Whitehorse. More than 100 people filled a room and the First Nations reiterated their promise to sue.
On the phone yesterday, Leef said the bill is about development opportunities and attracting investment to the territory. He said it builds on recommendations that were part of a five-year review that began in 2008.
Both the federal and territorial governments insist that much consultation with First Nations and the public has occurred to lead to this point.
But the four contentious amendments were not addressed during the review process, according to the First Nations.
“There’s no secret about the four parts of concern that the First Nations have,” Leef said. “But by-in-large S-6 is a reflection of both the five-year review and industry’s commentary on what they think they need in our territory to be effective, be efficient and to attract necessary investment.”
Leef said he agrees with all the changes that are part of S-6, but is aware of the First Nations’ concerns.
In the House of Common last week, Bernard Valcourt, minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, said the “government remains committed to moving forward with the implementation of the legislative changes in a collaborative manner, respecting the spirit and intent of the land claims agreement in both territories.”
Leef said the federal government’s commitment to engage in discussions involving all three governments will help deal with the four particular points of concern.
Conversations have been going on effectively since the committee visited Whitehorse, he said.
“So my sense is that you don’t throw out a wholly sound piece of positive legislation for the Yukon because we’ve hit an impasse on four pieces,” he said.
“I think what you try and do is work to resolve those four pieces and let the balance of that legislation stand on its merits.”
On Monday, just before S-6 was voted on, the NDP introduced an amendment that would have stopped the third reading because, in part, the bill “was developed without adequate consultation with Yukon First Nations, as per the government of Canada’s constitutional duty, and without adequate consultation with the people of Yukon, as per the government’s democratic duty…”
That amendment was voted down.
Leef said voting for that amendment would have killed the bill because there wasn’t enough time to get it through the entire process.
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