Yukoners were surprised to learn at a forum last week the details of the federal government’s plan to change environmental assessment laws, said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie.
Thursday’s forum was hosted by a coalition of Yukon First Nations that oppose some of the changes in a bill to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, or YESAA.
About 150 people attended to receive information, ask questions or make comments.
“They were very, very surprised that the proposed amendments were so advanced in the Parliament process,” said Massie in an interview this week.
Bill S-6 has passed the Senate and has passed first reading in Parliament.
The governments of Yukon and Canada insist that much consultation with First Nations and the public has occurred to lead to this point, and refer to a mandated five-year-review process that began in 2008.
In fact, Bill S-6 has very little to do with matters discussed during the five year review, according to information compiled by the First Nations.
Of 76 recommendations that came out of the review process, only five required legislative amendment.
Bill S-6 contains 40 amendments, and more than three quarters of those were not brought up during the review.
The First Nation coalition takes issue with four amendments in the bill in particular.
Those would give the federal minister new powers to give binding policy orders to the assessment board, give that minister powers to delegate responsibility to the territorial minister, allow a decision body to determine if a project needs to undergo a review in the event of a change to the project or licence renewal, and set overall assessment timelines for projects.
Those contentious amendments were not addressed during the five year review, according to the First Nations.
That came as a surprise to a lot of people who came to last week’s forum, said Massie.
First Nations saw these proposed amendments for the first time this spring, and were given less than two months to provide comments, she said.
They were sworn to secrecy, and First Nations that did not attend meetings in person were not provided with digital copies of the draft amendments.
The public was not privy to the proposed changes until the bill was tabled in the senate in June of this year.
Neither the federal government nor the Yukon government has conducted a public consultation on the majority of the amendments in the bill, including all of the changes that the First Nations take issue with, said Massie.
“I’m really surprised they haven’t brought this to the public, because it does eventually effect everybody,” she said.
The First Nations argue that the amendments are at odds with their final agreements with Yukon and Canada, and have threatened to sue if they move ahead as proposed.
“Even though it is the First Nations that signed these agreements, these agreements affect each and every person that lives in the Yukon, and these agreements belong to them, too,” said Massie.
Massie and other First Nation representatives plan to spend the first week of December in Ottawa meeting with parliamentarians about the issue.
NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson plans to go to Ottawa then, too, and has called on Liberal Leader Sandy Silver and Premier Darrell Pasloski to come as well and present a united front backing First Nations on their opposition to Bill S-6.
Silver has accepted the invitation.
Pasloski has not wavered in his support for the federal amendments.
The uncertainty that more conflict with First Nations will create with investors is not worth the efficiencies that the premier says these amendments will provide, said Hanson.
“We’re dealing with a challenging marketing environment at this moment. It’s not pretty. From my perspective, what the government of Yukon should be doing at this time is not creating more uncertainty and feeding into that.”
Pasloski did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
A Yukon Party news release called the opposition’s planned trip to Ottawa “a simple case of expensive grandstanding.”
A series of posts were added to the premier’s Twitter feed and Facebook page on Tuesday listing myths and facts about the YESAA amendments.
The information appears to have come from the website for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
Later that same day the posts were deleted.
“Questions about YESAA amendments? Please check out Myths & Facts from the Gov of Can,” reads Pasloski’s latest tweet as of Monday morning, including a link to the Aboriginal Affairs fact sheet.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at