Yukon mining industry representatives were in Ottawa last week to urge the federal government to defer a bill that would revert what they say are beneficial amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA).
However, the territory’s sole MP says passing Bill C-17 as quickly as possible is crucial because the amendments weren’t properly negotiated with Yukon First Nations, and that he would not support deferring the process.
Bill C-17, which passed its second reading in June, is meant to repeal four controversial changes made to YESAA in 2014 by Bill S-6. The changes had been strongly contested by Yukon First Nations, who said they weren’t properly consulted about them and that they violated self-governing agreements. Three of them — Teslin Tlingit Council, Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations — launched a lawsuit over S-6, but put it on hold after the newly-elected federal Liberal government promised to repeal the amendments.
On Oct. 3, Alexco Resource Corp. president Brad Thrall, Yukon Producers Group project manager Jonas Smith and Yukon Chamber of Mines president Mike Burke told the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs in Ottawa that two of the provisions to be repealed have resulted in improvements for the mining and exploration industry. One allows for permit renewals or amendments without requiring a whole new new project assessment, and another sets out time limits for assessments. Ushering in C-17 without ensuring those provisions survive could result in negative economic, social and environmental impacts for the Yukon, they warned.
“(It’s) like ripping the roof off your house before you’ve decided what to replace it with and leaving Yukoners out in the rain in the process,” Smith told the committee, describing the mining industry as “integral to (the Yukon’s) socio-economic fabric.”
YCM president Burke acknowledged that passing Bill C-17 “without a doubt … needs to occur in order to reconcile with Yukon First Nations,” but that all governments “must work immediately … to address the concerns and risks associated with the removal of the provisions addressing reassessment and timelines from (YESAA).”
The business of mining and exploration, Burke explained, is one of many variables, where a plan’s finer details often evolve and change once work actually begins at a site — for example, finding a new ore within an existing mine.
“A completely new reassessment including previously assessed impacts should not occur where a mine may want to include a new ore body, or an exploration project needs to drill some holes in a new discovery,” Burke said.
“The current process for determining reassessments has resulted in a decreased pressure on the resources of First Nations in YESAB as well as other government departments which participate in assessments.”
Teslin Tlingit Council, Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations were not able to provide comment before press time.
In a phone interview Oct. 10, however, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said he would not be supporting a deferral of Bill C-17.
“I think it’s important to get the bill through as soon as possible,” he said, adding that mining industry leaders, First Nations and the Yukon government can “carry on with their discussions about any other needed improvements” after C-17 is passed.
“I think for certainty in the mining and all industries, get this done so there’s certainty in the assessment process and then they should start discussions as soon as possible on future changes that need to be made,” Bagnell said.
“Had they negotiated those items during (Bill S-6), who knows how that would’ve happened, but it wasn’t, they weren’t negotiated, so because of the improper process, we just have to set the scene straight.”
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