moved that Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House today, acknowledging we are gathered on traditional Algonquin territory, as we begin the second reading debate on Bill C-17, an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, or YESAA.
I would like to begin by highlighting the tireless efforts of my colleague, the hon. member for Yukon. Without all of his hard work with and on behalf of his constituents, we would not be where we are today on this critical legislation for Yukon.
The government believes that a sustainably developed resource sector is essential to the success of the Canadian economy and, if we get this right, will serve as an important foundation for future economic and job growth. However, unlocking this economic potential must be contingent on environmental sustainability and on impacted indigenous communities being engaged as equal partners. This is not only an indigenous issue, but one about which all Yukoners are extremely concerned.
Our government is absolutely committed to renewing the relationship between the crown and indigenous peoples in Canada on a foundation of recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
This not just a moral obligation, but a legal one, particularly in regions like Yukon, which are subject to comprehensive land claim agreements and self-government agreements.
Yukon is an inspiration to the rest of Canada, with so many self-governing nations and with our needing more and more first nations to get out from under the Indian Act and become self-governing. It is very important that the work we do together in partnership is well-communicated to all Canadians as an example of how things can be when we get it right.
The YESAA, as members may know, was passed in 2003 and stems from the umbrella final agreement between Canada, Yukon first nations, and the Government of Yukon. As required under the umbrella final agreement, a five-year review of the YESAA was launched under the previous government, resulting in 76 recommendations, 72 of which were agreed to by all parties. Unfortunately, despite spending years working with Yukon first nations on a comprehensive review of YESAA, the previous government added four further controversial changes at the end and pushed them through, absent meaningful consultation.
That ill-advised approach led to pointless litigation between a number of self-governing first nations and the federal government with respect to the previous bill and compromised the potential development of resources by undermining legal certainty.
By contrast, after months of discussions, Canada, Yukon governments, and Yukon first nations signed an MOU last April that outlined mutually agreed upon steps toward addressing the first nations concerns with respect to the changes to YESAA made in previous Bill S-6.
Bill C-17 is an example of what can be achieved when government works in partnership with indigenous communities at the very beginning of proposed changes. Yukon first nations were consulted from the very beginning, including on the draft legislative proposal. As a direct result of this bill's collaborative origin, Yukon first nations pursuing related legal action have adjourned their hearing dates while this bill proceeds. This bill would re-establish trust with Yukon first nations and restore legal certainty for responsible resource development, paving the way for increased investment, development and jobs.
The bill introduced in the House of Commons on June 8, 2016, would repeal the four provisions of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act that have caused the most concern.
Legislated time limits on the review process; exempting a project from reassessment when an authorization is renewed or amended unless there has been a significant change to the project; ability for the federal minister to provide binding policy direction to the board; and ability to delegate the federal minister’s powers, duties, or functions under the act to the territorial government.
With respect to the legislated time limits on the review process, the government believes that the more appropriate and consistent approach is to adhere to the timelines in the board's current rules that have historically matched or exceeded the limits under the Bill S-6 amendments.
The government of Canada believes that resource industry project proponents, indigenous communities, and other governments should work hard to reach consensus.
Canada, Yukon, self-governing Yukon first nations, and industry have agreed to continue to work in collaboration through the regulatory process to establish practical timelines.
In terms of reassessments, the need to evaluate projects requesting renewals or amendments is best determined on a case-by-case basis as informed by the clear policy guidelines created by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. The board is best positioned to work in partnership with industry, first nations, and Yukoners to develop new policies, where required, to address project changes.
Yukon first nations are also strongly opposed to the idea that the minister could give binding policy direction to the board, as they feel this is inconsistent with the umbrella final agreement and jeopardizes the independence of the board. We agree.
Moreover, the current wording of the provision allowing me, as minister, to delegate any or all of my powers, duties, or functions under YESAA to the territorial minister may also be inconsistent with the umbrella final agreement. We do not support the pursuit of a unilateral or bilateral delegating authority, as it is not in accordance with our commitment to building respectful nation-to-nation relationships with first nations based on partnership, collaboration, and trust.
When I was in the Yukon last month and had the opportunity to listen to Yukon first nations and the representatives of the territorial government, I came to understand that this bill truly represents a consensus. I also recently received a joint letter from the Council of Yukon First Nations, Government of Yukon, and the Yukon Chamber of Mines confirming their support for Bill C-17 in its current form.
In that March 13, 2017 joint letter, they state clearly:
The Government of Yukon, self-governing...First Nations, Council of Yukon First Nations and the Yukon Chamber of Mines look forward to seeing Bill C-17 passed, without change, as soon as possible.
It goes on to say:
Your support for the passage of Bill C-17 assures us that the Government of Canada is genuinely committed to reset the relationship between Canada, Yukon and Yukon First Nations.
Once ancestral rights and titles are recognized, once lands and waters are protected, and once genuine partnerships exist between local and indigenous communities, responsible resource development projects will proceed, and they will do so faster and with greater legal certainty.
I urge all members to support this bill.