Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will try to stick to the 10 minutes as much as possible.
I want to first congratulate you, Mr. Chair, on your new role in this committee.
Just to remind members, one of the first things our Conservative government did after coming into power in 2006 was to put in place a comprehensive northern strategy. We have been delivering on that strategy ever since.
Bill S-6, the Yukon and Nunavut regulatory improvement act, is just the latest example. This is about improving and enhancing social, economic, and environmental procedures in Yukon, and the water licensing procedures in Nunavut. The bill is the last and final legislative step of our government's regulatory improvement agenda in the north. Many of you will already be familiar with our government's efforts to modernize and strengthen regulatory systems in the north.
As you may remember, the first of these legislative initiatives was the Northern Jobs and Growth Act, which received royal assent in June 2013. The second was the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, which received royal assent a year ago tomorrow, on March 25.
The regulatory changes proposed in bill S-6 would build on this progress and ensure that development assessment legislation in the Yukon and Nunavut will remain strong and more effective and in keeping with the spirit and intent of the land claim agreements—which I remind members will remain the law of the land in these regions.
Allow me to take a moment to briefly describe the evolution of the development assessment legislation in Yukon, which has been the subject of most of the debate as this bill has moved through Parliament.
When negotiating the Yukon Umbrella Final Agreement, signed in 1993 by the Government of Canada, the Yukon government, and Yukon first nations, a whole chapter—chapter 12—was dedicated to the establishment of a development assessment process. This chapter outlines the objectives of this process, describes how the government should bring about legislation consistent with the chapter, and sets out the parameters of what should be contained in this legislation.
This legislation, called the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, YESAA, was developed in accordance with the agreement and was passed into law in 2003. The agreement also called for a five-year review of the act, and that was provided by paragraph 12.19.3 of the umbrella agreement. That started in 2008.
The review itself was extensive and examined all aspects of the Yukon development assessment process, from YESAA and its regulations to implementation, assessment, and the decision-making process, as well as process documents such as rules, guidelines, and forms. It was completed in March 2012. At the end of the review the parties jointly agreed to 72 out of 76 recommendations, many of which could be addressed through administrative changes. A few, however, required legislative amendments, which are included in Bill S-6.
In December 2012, following the completion of the five-year review, the passage of amendments to CEAA—the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, and our government's announcement of the action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, we contemplated further changes to YESAA to ensure consistency across regimes, including
legislated “beginning to end” timelines.
There is also the ability to give policy direction to the assessment board, to create cost recovery regulations and to delegate certain powers of the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to a Yukon minister, as well as the possibility of allowing projects seeking renewal or an amendment to be exempt from a subsequent assessment if, in the opinion of a decision body for the project, there is no significant change to the original project.
While these amendments were not discussed as part of the five-year review, my department did consult with Yukon first nations on them throughout 2013 and 2014. Critics of the bill have argued that the consultation process and the amendments are inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the agreement.
I want to be very clear that all of the amendments in bill S-6 keep in mind the objectives of chapter 12 of the agreement, which includes the concepts of timeliness, avoiding duplication and providing certainty.
Not only are these changes consistent with the spirit and intent of the agreement but paragraph 12.19.4 of the agreement also states that:
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent government from acting to improve or enhance socio-economic or environmental procedures in the Yukon in the absence of any approved detailed design of the development assessment process.
The fact of the matter is that Yukon first nations were consulted at every stage in the development of this bill from 2008 onwards.
While we know that not everyone agreed completely with each amendment, it does not mean that the consultation was inadequate. It is our view that we met our duty to consult and that this does not require consent, for if the umbrella agreement required consent, it would say so.
More importantly, this bill not only continues to protect the interests of Yukon first nations as set out in the umbrella agreement, it provides for greater protection of those rights. For example, clause 9 of the bill specifically amends the legislation to ensure that the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board takes into account the interests of first nations, including Yukon first nations without settled land claims, in conducting its review.
Another important fact, which we must all keep in mind, is that the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act doesn't only impact Yukon first nations; it impacts all Yukoners. This legislation requires every project, including municipal projects that are not exempt under YESAA's regulations, to go through a full environmental assessment before it receives the green light to proceed or be renewed, regardless of whether or not any changes to the original project were made. This may include everything from culverts and hydro poles to a winter road or a subdivision, or larger projects like a placer mining project or a copper ore mine.
The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources completed a review of this legislation last fall, and at the end of their review they endorsed the bill unanimously. They correctly recognized, I submit, that the passage of this bill will improve and enhance the development process in the Yukon, help foster economic development in the region, and create jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity in an increasingly global marketplace. Once passed, it will ensure that Yukon and Nunavut remain competitive and attractive places in which to live, work, and invest for years to come.
Mr. Chair and members, I urge this committee to do the same and vote this bill into law.