Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the House on the second reading of Bill C-2, Yukon environmental and socio-economic assessment act, also known YESAA and formerly known as DAP. I am confident in seeking the support of hon. members to make it into law. I will spend the next 25 minutes giving a broad outline of the bill and how it will work.
The bill has been eight years in the making and I ask that hon. members give it careful consideration. My confidence in the bill arises from a number of factors.
The proposed legislation will fulfill an outstanding land claim commitment which is a priority of the government. In doing so it will establish a single development assessment process for projects on all federal, territorial and first nations lands in Yukon, which in turn will create certainty and promote sustainable development across the territory. I have great confidence in the bill because it was developed in Yukon by and for Yukoners through an extremely inclusive process.
Hon. members are well aware of the merits of the development assessment process. It helps us to identify a project's adverse effects on the environment, wildlife and people before they occur. This allows projects to be designed and regulated in ways that are not only economically efficient and rewarding but also compatible with a healthy environment and society.
Assessments can do more than avoid unwarranted consequences. They can also result in positive impacts. For example, development assessment processes can lead to lasting social and economic benefits in local communities, such as new employment and business opportunities. They can also help us to identify measures to protect existing livelihoods.
The practice of development assessment is not new in Canada. It has been around in one form or another for many years. It is now part of public decision making at all levels of government.
Federally the environmental assessment and review process guidelines order apply the principles of development assessment to certain projects that involved the Government of Canada as far back as 1984. In 1995 these guidelines were replaced by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, or CEAA, which hon. members know is in the midst of a statutory review.
When Bill C-2 becomes law it will functionally replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act for most projects in Yukon, although under certain limited circumstances the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act can still apply.
Why is this happening? The short answer is that chapter 12 of the Yukon umbrella final agreement requires that a new development assessment process be put in place for Yukon. This agreement was signed by the Governments of Canada and Yukon and the Council of Yukon Indians in 1993 and given effect in 1995 by Yukon First Nations Land Claims Settlement Act. The umbrella final agreement, UFA, is a template for Yukon first nations final agreements and self-government agreements which to date have been signed with 8 of the 14 Yukon first nations.
The first nations in Yukon are the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation, the Teslin Tlingit Council, the Ta'an Kwach'an First Nation, the Kluane First Nation, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, the Liard First Nation, the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, the Ross River Dena Council, the Selkirk First Nation, the Vuntut Gwitchin Tribal Council, the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation and the White River First Nation.
As a sign that this is a cooperative project between various levels and orders of government, I am delighted that today in Ottawa are Chief Eric Morris of the Teslin Tlingit Council, Chief Joe Linklater of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Chief Darren Taylor of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation, the president of Air North and Vuntut Development Corporation, Steve Mills, and Daryn Leas another member of the team.
At the time of the signing of the umbrella final agreement the Council for Yukon Indians, now known as the Council for Yukon First Nations, or CYFN, and the Yukon territorial government, YTG, agreed to work with the Government of Canada to establish the development and assessment process called for in chapter 12 of the UFA. Bill C-2 is a product of that collaborative effort.
Fulfilling Canada's outstanding commitments to aboriginal people is one of our most important obligations as legislators. It is in fact the cornerstone for renewing our relationship with aboriginal people.
Bill C-2 would see Canada fulfill its promise to 14 Yukon first nations.
Besides the fulfilment of Canada's obligations under the umbrella final agreement, the bill pursues other worthy goals.
By establishing a process that will ensure that the development activities contemplated for the Yukon will not harm the environment, residents or communities in the area, Bill C-2 will protect the quality of life in the Yukon. It will help preserve the livelihood of individuals as well as the heritage and culture of the first nations people of the Yukon. It will help protect the land, water, air, fish and wildlife of the Yukon. These are all worthwhile goals which deserve our support.
As hon. members can appreciate, this is a detailed and technically complex bill. I do not intend to review it in detail today. Instead I would like to focus on some key elements to the process that would be put in place by Bill C-2 and its supporting regulations.
Essentially Bill C-2 would establish a territory wide process to assess the impacts of development activities in Yukon for which a federal, territorial or first nations government is a proponent and a regulator, and is providing discretionary interest in land or, in the case of the federal government, is providing funding.
Hon. members will recall the recent passage of Bill C-39 in the House. That new Yukon Act ratifies the devolution of many powers and responsibilities to the government of Yukon. Those authorities given to the territory ensure that Yukon will now be able to enact its own environmental assessment legislation to mirror the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. In this way Yukon will be in a position to ensure that development proposals are evaluated in the interval between devolution and the coming into force of the bill before us today. That territorial legislation will bridge the gap until the bill is enacted and implemented.
One must consider what might happen in Yukon without Bill C-2. There eventually could be as many as 16 development assessment processes in the territory, 1 for each of the 14 first nations, 1 for the federal government and 1 for the territorial government. With such a scenario a development process could be subject to not one or even two, but possibly three or four assessment processes, each with its own requirement, its own guideline, its own decision points and its own timelines. This single development assessment process is in the best interests of all stakeholders.
A known and consistent regime will provide greater certainty for project components which in turn will help encourage investment in Yukon. It will also provide more certainty for government and regulators and more consistent protection of the environment and the livelihood and culture of Yukon first residents.
How do we plan to implement such a regime? Allow me to take a few moments to explain how this new development activity assessment process will work and how it will be implemented under Bill C-2.
As hon. members can see, the bill has three parts. Part 1 will come into force immediately upon enactment and deals largely with the administrative aspects of the development process. For example, part 1 will establish the Yukon environmental and socio-economic assessment board to administer the development assessment process and ensure that assessments are conducted in a neutral and efficient manner. The seven member board will be an institution of public government with an office in Whitehorse. The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will appoint its members based upon nominations from the federal and territorial governments as well as the Council of Yukon First Nations which will nominate three board members. The minister will also select three board members to act as the executive committee, including an individual nominated by the Council of Yukon First Nations. Consistent with the principle of local people making decisions about local matters, at all times the majority of the board members must be Yukon residents.
Part 1 of Bill C-2 would also provide for the establishment of six assessment districts across Yukon, each of which would have a designated office to assess projects. This decentralized approach will make the process more accessible to those people who are most likely affected by a project. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, DIAND, currently is working with the Yukon government and first nations to establish the boundaries for these districts within input from Yukoners.
Part 2 of Bill C-2 describes the assessment process. To provide for the smooth implementation of this new assessment regime, part 2 would come into force as much as, but no longer than, 18 months after part 1. This would give the board time to hire and train staff, to establish bylaws for the board and designated offices, to develop budgets and to establish procedural rules and public registries of information about development assessments.
Part 2 broadly describes the types of projects that will require an assessment, which, as I noted earlier, essentially includes any project in Yukon that is proposed by the federal, territorial or a first nations government that requires a decision from one of these governments or that requires federal funding. Specific activities that would be assessed under the act are identified in the project proposed list regulations, which also identify activities that would be exempted from this assessment.
Hon. members who have reviewed Bill C-2 will know that it provides for three types of assessments. The most basic is called the designated office evaluation. This is where most projects will enter the assessment process. At this level, the development assessment professionals will evaluate a proposed project and will either decide that it needs further assessment, or will recommend that the project be allowed to proceed, or that it be allowed to proceed with terms and conditions to mitigate adverse effects, or that it should not be allowed to proceed. If a more detailed analysis is required, the project can be referred by this designated office to the board's executive committee.
Certain large projects will be subject to an executive committee screening belonging to the process at this second level. Activities to fall into this category will be clearly identified in the project list regulations.
The executive committee will also screen projects referred to it by a designated office. In most cases the executive committee will make a recommendation on whether or not the project should proceed either with or without terms and conditions. However where the executive committee determines that a project might have a significant adverse effect, raise significant public concerns or involves untested technology, the project will be referred for a panel review. This is the third and last type of review. The small projects locally go in the designated offices, the bigger projects to the executive level screening and the very large and complex projects to the panel review.
The panel review is the most detailed level of assessment under Bill C-2 and would probably be used for only a few projects each year. A panel would be established by the executive committee to conduct an indepth assessment of the proposed project. As is the case with other levels of assessment, at the end of the review the panel would recommend that the project proceed, that it proceed with terms and conditions or that it not proceed. Regardless of the assessment level, all assessments must consider the same basic criteria. These include the purpose of the project and all its stages.
As well assessments must consider any possible environmental or socioeconomic impacts in Yukon or elsewhere and any possible cumulative impacts from a combination of the project and any other existing or proposed activities in Yukon or elsewhere. Assessments will also consider whether there are other ways to carry out the activity that might avoid or reduce these impacts. Protecting the rights of all Yukon residents will be an assessment criteria.
An underlying principle of this new process is that everyone with an interest in the project, including the general public, must have the opportunity to participate in and be informed about these assessments. One way this will be achieved is by placing the information and notices about assessments on to the public registries that I mentioned earlier and inviting comments from all parties.
Input will also be sought from government agencies and first nations that have provided notice of interest in assessment and from relevant land use planning commissions in Yukon. This early input should help smooth the project through subsequent regulatory processes.
It should be clear now that designated offices, the executive committee and panels can only make recommendations. The final decisions on projects would be made by decision bodies as defined in this bill. Depending on the projects location, category or authorization required, a decision body could be a first nation, the territorial minister, a federal agency, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development or another minister designated by the governor in council. The appropriate decision body would consider the recommendations of the assessment body as well as any information and traditional knowledge accompanying the recommendations. At the end of the process, the decision body may accept, vary or reject the recommendations arising from an assessment.
The new process ensures a high level of transparency by requiring both the assessors and the decision bodies to report publicly in writing to explain their assessment recommendations and decisions.
The period of time within which a decision body must release this report, called a decision document, will be specified in the proposed time lines, decision body's coordination regulations. Public input into those, as with all regulations, could be made when they are gazetted. There are also provisions and regulations to provide time lines on the various assessment processes.
Hon. members should also know that a project approved by a decision body will not necessarily proceed. There may be regulatory or policy reasons why it would not be authorized. A decision body is under no legal obligation to authorize a project, regardless of an approval made under the Yukon environmental and socio-economic assessment act.
If though a decision body does authorize the project, it must do so consistent with the decision document issued. However a project that has been turned down in a decision body will not be allowed to proceed.
If a project goes forward, decision bodies must each conform with their own decision documents when issuing authorizations or carrying out the project. Any violation of a condition imposed by a decision body will be subject to penalties under the existing laws and regulations found, for example, in the Fisheries Act or Yukon's Environment Act.
As I said at the outset, the development assessment process described in Bill C-2 will be the only assessment process that will apply once enacted to most projects in Yukon.
Having said that, if a proposed project is referred to a panel review, the Minister of the Environment, who is responsible for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, could become involved in selecting the type of panel and setting its terms of reference, or in establishing a joint panel with the Yukon environmental and socio-economic assessment board.
Bill C-2 also includes provisions to encourage cooperation and coordination of assessments with the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, Screening Committee and Review Board, in the North Slope of Yukon. The legislation would preclude duplication with that review board and provide several other mechanisms to avoid or minimize process duplication.
Under certain circumstances, Bill C-2 would allow for assessments of activities outside Yukon for which effects would likely to occur within Yukon. The bill also identifies circumstances in which the executive committee would have the authority to establish a request by the responsible government, a panel, to review an existing project, or to review plans, or programs, or policies or proposals that were not yet considered to be projects for the purposes of the bill.
Once part 2 of Bill C-2 comes into force, an activity prescribed under the bill and its regulations will not be allowed to proceed until an assessment of its environmental and socioeconomic effects has been completed and decision documents have been issued.
However, to facilitate the transition to the new process, part 3 of the bill stipulates that any assessment that was initiated prior to part 2 coming into force will be exempted from the new process unless a subsequent CEAA referral is made to a higher level of assessment.
Part 3 also contains consequential amendments to the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act and the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act. There is also a consequential amendment to the Yukon First National Self-Government Act to ensure the first nations have adequate tools, primarily fine levels, to effectively implement and enforce their YESAA decisions.
As I note at the outset, the umbrella final agreement was signed in 1993 and implementation began in 1995. As hon. members can see, it has taken some time to address the agreement's requirement for a territory wide development assessment process and it was time well used. Much of that time has been spent in consultation with stakeholder groups and, as a result, we have a much better bill and a much better process than might otherwise be the case. First nations in particular will have a more meaningful role in assessments in Yukon.
It is safe to say that virtually everyone in Yukon had an opportunity to comment on the bill and many did. The department released drafts of the legislation in 1998 and in 2001 for public review. It has since undertaken two separate tours of Yukon to meet with Yukon first nations and other residents to review and discuss these drafts.
This took time but it was time well spent. Those in Yukon who participated believe the process was inclusive, transparent and worthwhile. I am confident in the merits of this proposed legislation. I believe that a single assessment process is by far the best approach for Yukon given the unique circumstances of land ownership and governance in the territory.
I believe this process will provide certainty for all parties and that this in turn will encourage investment in Yukon while protecting the environment and first nations traditional livelihoods and culture.
Settling claims eliminates an enormous barrier to economic development and in turn improves the quality of life of first nations communities and that of their non-aboriginal neighbours living in the Yukon.
Investors can then proceed with confidence and first nations can negotiate from positions of strength. Bill C-2 represents an important step forward in implementing a commitment to first nations under the Yukon umbrella final agreement which is a priority for the government and for Canadians.
The proposed legislation deserves our support on all counts. With that in mind, I ask all hon. members to join me in voting to send it to committee for review.