Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable members, for the opportunity to appear before you to offer assistance in your subject-matter study of Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
Appearing with me are Gilles Binda, acting director, resource policy and programs, and Daniel Pagowski, legal counsel with the Department of Justice.
Madam Chair, I will begin by providing some recent history of the evolution of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, known as YESAA, to give some context and understanding of how we arrived at where we are today.
In 2008, a mandated five-year review of the YESAA was launched as a requirement under the umbrella final agreement, five years after its royal assent. The review was completed in 2012, resulting in 76 recommendations, 72 of which were agreed to by all parties. Some of the recommendations required legislative change in 2014. These changes to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act were introduced in Parliament in Bill S-6, Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act.
However, the bill included additional provisions to those recommended by the review. The majority of these were part of a broader initiative to modernize and streamline the northern regulatory regime. However, Yukon first nations raised serious concerns about four of these provisions. They asserted that the four provisions—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 in the project; the ability for the federal minister to provide binding policy direction to the board; and the ability to delegate the federal minister's powers, duties, or functions under the act to the territorial government—did not respect the rights and the interests of indigenous peoples and were not developed using clear, fair, and appropriate processes.
Madam Chair, I believe you will hear from other witnesses from the Yukon, our first nations partners, and the Yukon government, who will iterate their concerns with these provisions. Suffice it to say it was clear that we all needed to work together to resolve these issues.
Following the general election in October 2015, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs committed to exploring ways to address the concerns raised about the four contentious provisions and to renew the government's relationship with first nations in Yukon.
Let's examine in detail how the government came to introduce Bill C-17. In order to resolve these issues stemming from the coming into force of the Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act, formerly Bill S-6, that ultimately led to a court action by being filed by three first nations, we began discussions with Yukon first nations and the Yukon government in December 2015.
Department officials met with Yukon first nations and Yukon government representatives on January 14, 2016, in Yukon. The outcome of those discussions was positive, and all parties agreed to meet again in the near future. The next meetings, on February 11 and 12, 2016, proved constructive, as the parties agreed to a potential legislative solution to the first nations' concerns. It was also agreed that the parties would move forward on redefining their working relationship in the spirit of co-operation and collaboration.
A legislative proposal to repeal the four contentious provisions of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act was prepared and sent to first nations and the Yukon government for review on March 14, 2016. A third meeting was held between federal officials, Yukon first nations, and Yukon government on March 29, 2016. Canada proposed a small modification to the draft legislative proposal to correct an editorial error.
The parties agreed to the revised proposal. Canada, the Yukon government, the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the self-governing first nations signed a memorandum of understanding to that effect on April 8, 2016. Representatives from industry were also provided an opportunity to comment on a draft legislative proposal. On March 13, 2017, the Yukon Chamber of Mines co-signed a letter, along with Yukon first nations and the Yukon government, to the Minister of INAC articulating their unqualified support for Bill C-17, urging that it be “passed, without change, as soon as possible”.
Madam Chair, we recognize that the mining industry has concerns about environmental assessment timelines and project reassessments in Yukon, but they also understand and appreciate the collaborative nature of environmental assessment processes in the north. All parties in Yukon want the economic prosperity that resource development can bring. However, in a political and social landscape that includes public government, self-governing indigenous peoples, and those with constitutionally protected land claims, collaboration and “made in the north” solutions are key. As the parties state in their letter of March 13:
Repeal of these amendments and addressing industry concerns through collaborative framework is critical to re-establishing confidence in the development assessment process in Yukon and to honouring the intent of Final and Self-Government Agreements.
Madam Chair, Bill C-17 is in direct response to the expressed wishes of Yukon first nations, the Yukon government, Yukon residents, and the mining industry that does business in Yukon. If ever there was an example of independent self-determination by northerners, this is it.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer any questions that committee members may have.
Thank you very much.