Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in this House to speak to this critical bill. I want to begin by correcting the record. The minister who just spoke characterized support from Yukon first nations in a way that is simply not the case.
I am proud to be part of the NDP, the official opposition that stands with Yukon first nations. We categorically oppose Bill S-6, not as the minister said. We oppose it along with many Yukoners, members of the legislature, members of organizations, environmental organizations, esteemed Yukoners who were part of putting together YESAA, and members of industry. They are all expressing their opposition to this bill. I am proud that we are standing with them today to do so as well.
The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development travelled to the Yukon to hear testimony from those who will be affected most by Bill S-6. We now know that Yukoners do not want this bill. We know that first nations do not want this bill. To pass it would be imposition on their right of self-determination, and in the case of Yukon first nations, it will be a breach of the final agreement.
The callous disrespect that the Conservative government repeatedly shows towards treaty rights is both outrageous and, frankly, illegal. It knows that. It knows that Bill S-6 will send them into the courts, battling against Yukon first nations.
The fact is that Conservatives do not care. We know that the government is currently engaged in litigation with 95 first nations. It has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars fighting indigenous rights in court. Enough is enough.
As I attended the truth and reconciliation closing events this week, I saw thousands of Canadians who are ready to repair the ongoing violence of colonialism. However, we need our government to be a partner in this great task. Knowingly brushing off the Yukon first nations final agreement is illegal, immoral, and it will be expensive. More importantly, this week, it is also opposite to the spirit of reconciliation.
It is perhaps most disappointing in this case that Yukoners of all kinds are in fervent disagreement with Bill S-6. They want to uphold the final agreement. They see it as their agreement as well. The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, known as YESAA, is a made in Yukon program, and they worked hard to achieve it. They want to be good neighbours and good business partners with first nations and the federal government.
What is clear, since hearing testimony from Yukoners, is that the territorial Yukon government does not speak on behalf of the people. This is clear, as it supports this legislation.
I remember communicating with the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, Ruth Massie, who stated:
This whole process attacks the integrity of our constitutionally protected agreements and Yukon First Nations will stand by their agreements even if it means going to court, they give us no choice. We did not sign our agreements to implement them in the courts but we will protect them.
The people of the Yukon and first nations alike are baffled by the contents of Bill S-6. The YESAA recently underwent a five-year review, through which recommendations were made. However, the four amendments that are the cause of concern appeared nowhere as recommendations in the five-year review.
These four changes are contrary to the intent of the land claims agreement and undermine the neutrality of the YESAA process. The changes are that the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs will be endowed with the authority to provide policy directives to the YESAA board; that the federal minister will be given the power to delegate his federal powers to the Yukon government; that the exemptions for renewal and amendments could work to eliminate requirements for projects that could have major effects on the environment and communities; and, finally, that the condensed timelines on the YESAA assessments will limit the thoroughness of environmental assessments and limit the opportunity for first nations input.
Grand Chief Ruth Massie said this of the amendments in Bill S-6:
Yukon First nations have met with the Government of Canada, specifically [the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada] and have asked them to remove four problematic amendments proposed to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act [that was] established in Chapter 11 of the Umbrella final agreement and each final land claim agreement of the eleven Yukon First Nations.
1. Yukon First Nations are opposed to the proposed amendments to YESAA because they undermine our Aboriginal rights, titles and interests.
2. The four proposed amendments were not discussed with the agreement signatories prior to being considered, a complete surprise to Yukon first Nations. This is a direct breach of the constitutionally protected agreements for all eleven Yukon First Nations in regards to consultation and accommodation.
3. Canada's decision to impose the four proposed amendments will likely result in litigation with Yukon First Nations. This will affect the Yukon economy and cause [an impact on] any future resource development. Very unnecessary actions!
The question, why is the current government taking actions that it knows are unlawful and will lead to litigation? Why do Conservatives consistently force first nations, Inuit, and Métis communities into costly, protracted court battles that they will ultimately lose? The answer, I am afraid, lies in the Conservatives' willingness to put the perceived interests of extraction companies above environmental and first nations rights.
As with so much other legislation we have seen in this Parliament, the Conservatives intend to obliterate the environmental assessments and protections that Canada has established. I am speaking of Bill C-45, the omnibus bill that destroyed the navigable waters act; or Bill C-38, which made sweeping changes to Fisheries and Oceans.
What is most interesting about Bill S-6 is that a good portion of the businesses and extractive corporations with interests in the Yukon are also opposed to it. Industry is learning faster than government that in order to have sound, productive business dealings on or affecting indigenous lands, industries must secure meaningful consent and partnerships first.
I would like to read from a letter sent by a CEO of the Casino Mining Corporation, Paul West-Sells, who wrote to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs:
On behalf of Casino Mining Corporation...I am putting forward our company's concerns regarding the fragility of intergovernmental relations in the Yukon surrounding Bill S-6 and the negative impact this is having on the territory's mineral industry.
It is imperative for Casino that the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act...has the broad support of all governments in order to ensure the confidence of both project proponents and Yukon residents in the YESAA process and to facilitate investments in the territory.
In other words, if there is no confidence that first nations will support the government's environmental assessments, there can be no confidence in the investments that businesses want to make there. Bill S-6 could have disastrous implications on the Yukon economy.
I have been told that Yukon is proud that YESAA is homegrown and serves Yukoners and first nations. It is their tripartite agreement that created it. The current government is focused on destroying the protections over so many local and beloved waters and ecosystems. Yukoners know that YESAA is unique, and that it stands to protect the biosphere and their relationships with the indigenous communities they live with.
One of the repeated concerns that has been raised by Yukoners is that their voices have not been heard throughout this process. I quoted Grand Chief Ruth Massie, and I also want to read into the record the voices of other Yukoners who have been fighting Bill S-6.
Mary Jane Jim, councillor of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, provided testimony before the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. She said:
The CYFN and Yukon First Nations assert that the federal government would breach its constitutional duty to uphold the honour of the Crown when it proceeded unilaterally with amendments to the YESAA.
A great friend, Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson, said in October 2014:
Eleven years ago, devolution gave the Yukon government province-like powers for land and resource management. This was an important step in Yukon’s history and crucial in Yukon’s ability to determine our own future, a future grounded in respectful relationships among Yukon First Nation governments and the Yukon government.
With these proposed amendments to what is a made-in-Yukon environmental assessment process, YESAA, it’s no longer ours.
The NDP leader Liz Hansen also said:
What we need, what is sorely missing, is a willingness to engage in an open and honest manner. We need a relationship built on dialogue and respect, rather than on lawsuits and secret negotiations.
A Yukon news editorial in June 2014, entitled “Environmental assessment reform should be done in the open”, wrote:
A long list of people deserve raspberries for this needlessly shady behaviour. At the top of the naughty list are Senator Daniel Lang and [the member for Yukon], who are supposed to ensure that the interests of Yukoners are represented in Ottawa. Instead, they’ve kept the public out of the loop, other than [the member for Yukon] uttering vague generalities about the forthcoming changes without offering any meaningful specifics. Shame on them.
Chief Eric Fairclough, chief of Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, is quoted as having said:
—YESAA originates from and is rooted in our land claim agreements. It manages the use and the development of lands, waters, and resources in Yukon. As a result, implementation of YESAA may affect the exercise of aboriginal treaty rights. In this case, the crown has not acted in accordance with its constitutional duties owed to Yukon first nations. The crown has breached its duties to work with Yukon first nations and take steps to accommodate our concerns. The crown has not acted honourably or fairly. The crown has breached its constitutional duty to act in the honour of the crown.
Chief Carl Sidney of the Teslin Tlingit Council is quoted as having said:
Industry and development come and go, but we are here forever and we carry that sacred responsibility. YESAA is connected to those beliefs and values through our agreements and should not be amended without our consent. We entered into the agreements as a way forward as an expression of who we are as people. An essential part of that vision was the recognition of and respect for our land, our water, and the air we breathe. They are a part of us and we are part of our environment for all time. It is our collective responsibility as a treaty party to ensure these unique relationships will be part of our future.
The amendments in Bill S-6 imposed by Canada at the last minute undermine what we have created together. It is critical to success that we continue to work together as was the vision under our agreements. Canada's stated intention in entering into final agreements was to create certainty about the use and ownership of Yukon land and natural resources. Substantial aboriginal rights, including title, were exchanged for constitutionally protected treaty rights. That was a high price to pay to achieve certainty for all Canadians and the Yukon first nations who have signed agreements and have paid it in full.
I would like to read into the record Chief Angela Demit's words, the Chief of White River First Nation, who said:
We participated in meetings with Canada about the changes to YESAA. Through that experience we have understood that the changes being proposed by Canada have much more to do with an agenda made in Ottawa than with the recommendations that came out of the YESAA five-year review process.
Mr. Tom Cove, director of the Department of Lands and Resources for the Teslin Tlingit Council, said:
If I may, if the bill passes as is, the potential for litigation is a virtual, absolute certainty and is a great concern to Teslin Tlingit Council, other first nations, and a lot of Yukoners, and to investors outside the Yukon who have an interest in investing further in natural resource development, but in many other ways as well. It's of great concern and it is a virtual certainty. I'm not exactly sure, but the last time I looked I think there are five law firms already hired to prepare the work that's necessary in anticipation of this bill going forward. That's a lot of momentum in that direction.
Chief Doris Bill, the chief of Kwanlin Dün First Nation, stated:
Providing a single party with authority to direct the board is fundamentally inconsistent with any legislation that stems from our tripartite treaties. While the treaties obligate Canada to enact YESAA, it does not own YESAA and cannot choose to dictate its own policies on the independent assessment body.
Ms. Millie Olsen, deputy chief of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, stated at committee:
YESAA currently has timelines for assessors to review each iteration. This approach encourages proponents to prepare comprehensive applications that minimize iterations. Proponents who prepare adequate applications quickly are rewarded under the current process because they can proceed quickly.
On the other hand, the Bill S-6 approach of applying a beginning-to-end timeline will reward proponents who prolong the adequacy review phase by using up time with multiple iterations. The approach will penalize assessors and reviewers like first nations because it will shorten the most important public review phase, infringing on our right for comprehensive reviews of projects.
Chief Steve Smith, the chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, testified at committee. He stated:
Bill S-6 is a roadblock to reconciliation. The unconstitutional bill demonstrates the federal government's unilateralism and lack of understanding of the relationships that arise from the final agreements, the federal government's failure to abide by the collaborative development assessment regime mandated by the final agreements, and the federal government's indifference to fostering productive and collaborative treaty relations with Yukon first nations. This is fundamentally unacceptable.
Ms. Wendy Randall, the chair and executive committee member of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, YESAA, stated at committee:
It is important to note that YESAB is not part of government. We are not a regulator. We do not issue permits or authorizations, and we do not make final decisions on projects. We are an independent board that conducts environmental and socio-economic assessments and makes recommendations to decision bodies. Those decision bodies are the three orders of government that have control over land and resources in Yukon, so federal, territorial, and first nation governments....
We have 10 years of experience conducting environmental assessments on projects, from very small projects to very large [ones]. We have flexibility now in timelines that we have established under our rules, which for the most part, I feel, work fairly well.
Certainly there are areas in which things can be improved. We have proponents. We have first nations. We have other groups with sometimes different interests who feel there could be improvements made. I'm unsure until I see how these changes would play out or be implemented whether they would accomplish that or not.
Ms. Allison Rippin Armstrong, vice-president, Lands and Environment for the Kaminak Gold Corporation, stated:
—Kaminak is concerned that the process through which YESAA is being amended is creating increased distrust between governments and uncertainty in the assessment and regulatory process for current and future projects in Yukon.
I have shared the voices of Yukoners of Yukon first nations who have stood up against Bill S-6. They are standing up against the government's agenda.
As a proud northerner myself, I stand with them, along with my colleagues in the NDP, in solidarity against Bill S-6.
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“this House decline to give third reading to Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act, because it:
(a) 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;
(b) provides the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with authority to unilaterally issue binding policy direction on the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, which undermines the neutrality of the environmental and socio-economic assessment process;
(c) provides the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with authority to delegate powers to the territorial minister without the consent of First Nations;
(d) provides broad exemptions for renewals and amendments of projects; and
(e) includes proposed timelines on the assessment process that will affect the thoroughness of environmental and socio-economic assessments and opportunities for First Nation input on major projects.