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Senate committee withdraws assessment board's invitation

The Senate committee charged with reviewing proposed changes to Yukon's environmental assessment regime have cancelled a scheduled meeting to hear directly from the board responsible for implementing the law under review.

The Senate committee charged with reviewing proposed changes to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime have cancelled a scheduled meeting to hear directly from the board responsible for implementing the law under review.

On Sept. 15, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board requested an audience with the committee, and on Sept. 24 the committee scheduled a presentation for Oct. 7, according to information provided by the board.

Yesterday, the clerk of the committee confirmed in an email that the board’s attendance at the hearing would no longer be required, since its written submission had been deemed sufficient.

“The committee wishes to thank you very much for the presentation/submission you emailed the clerk, which clearly outlines the board’s position. Therefore an appearance in person will not be necessary,” according to the email.

B.C. Senator Richard Neufeld said Friday morning that the main reason for not hearing from the board directly is that YESAB currently has an acting chair, and has not yet appointed a permanent chair.

The expectation from the beginning was that the board would submit in writing unless a chair was appointed in time for the hearings, he said.

He only learned that a meeting had been scheduled on Wednesday, said Neufeld.

At that point he said, “Woah, that’s not what the committee agreed to,” he recalled.

The House of Commons will host similar hearings when the bill is at that stage, which could be an opportunity for the new chair, when one is appointed, to present, he said.

Ken McKinnon, acting chair of the assessment board, said the hearing would have been a good opportunity to discuss the concerns that the board has with implementing the amendments that are proposed.

“We just thought that during questions and answers and during the presentation to the Senate, that we’d have some unique ability to talk about the operational implications to YESAB, administering the changes to the act under Bill S-6.”

In recent weeks, the Senate committee has heard from Premier Darrell Pasloski, representatives of the Council of Yukon First Nations, the president of Yukon Energy, representatives of the Yukon Chamber of Mines and the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association, the president of Alexco Resource Corp, and representatives for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

There are many amendments that the board agrees will go a long way to improve the assessment process, but some major concerns remain, said McKinnon.

He was hoping to have a chance to review the new proposed timelines with the committee in particular, he said.

When it comes to the low level, designated office assessments, the proposed new timelines are actually much longer than what the board had asked for, said McKinnon.

“We’re probably the first environmental and socio-economic assessment board that has said that ... the timelines are too long. They’ve called for nine months, we said we could do it in six months, and most of our assessments at the designated office take about an average of 80 days.”

For the higher level, executive committee level assessments, those that deal with major projects like major mines or energy infrastructure, the proposed new timelines could prove to be too short, he said.

He mentioned the proposed $2.5-billion Casino copper mine, which now has an application before the board, as an example.

“When you get a massive project like Casino, which is about five times the volume that Faro, the biggest lead-zinc mine in the world at one time, and they’ve given us five volumes for the proposal, and eight volumes for the appendices. We’ve got about 7,000 pages of highly technical detail.”

Under the planned rules, the board would have 16 months to assess that project, including the adequacy review phase but excluding the time it takes the company to respond to information requests.

Consultations on the draft bill indicated that the adequacy review phase would be excluded from the timeline, according to the board and First Nations, who were among the select groups allowed to see the bill before it was tabled.

After those 16 months, the federal minister could grant an extension of a maximum of two months. After that Ottawa could make an order on the recommendation of the minister to extend the timeline by an unlimited amount of time.

Those rules could actually work against the interests of proponents, said McKinnon.

If a project is so big and complicated that the board does not think it can be dealt with in the allotted time, the board could ask the minister for a review by a panel of the board, which is a “major, major review,” said McKinnon. That level of review has not been used to date in the Yukon, and would likely end up costing the proponents a lot more time and resources.

“We’re acting on behalf of proponents, in saying, ‘Hey look, have you really thought this out really carefully?’”

Those concerns were outlined in the board’s written submission to the Senate committee, but committee members will now no longer have an opportunity to hear directly from McKinnon and have their questions answered.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at