Mr. Speaker, today we begin third reading debate on Bill C-17, an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, or YESAA.
I want to acknowledge that we are gathered on traditional Algonquin territory.
We know that a sustainably developed resource sector is essential to the economic success of Yukon. A prosperous resource sector will serve as an important foundation for Yukon's future economic and job growth.
Yukoners have also made it clear that unlocking this economic potential must be contingent on environmental sustainability and on impacted indigenous communities being engaged as equal partners. They understand that this is not only essential to support reconciliation, but a legal obligation as well.
This is even more significant in regions like the Yukon, which are subject to comprehensive land claim agreements and self-government agreements. The original 2003 YESAA stems from the umbrella final agreement between Canada, Yukon first nations, and the Government of Yukon, which required a five-year review of the YESAA. This was carried out by the previous government and resulted in a number of mutually agreed upon recommendations.
Bill S-6, the Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act, was introduced in the Senate in June 2014 and received royal assent in June 2015.
A large part of the bill implemented the consensus provisions based on the recommendations from the five-year review.
Unfortunately, despite spending years working with Yukon first nations on the comprehensive review, the previous government added four further controversial changes outside that process and pushed them through absent meaningful consultation. As members are now aware, these controversial changes included legislated time limits on the review process; exempting a project from reassessment when a authorization was renewed or amended, unless there had been a significant change to the project; the ability for the federal minister to provide binding policy direction to the Yukon environmental assessment board; and the ability to delegate the federal minister's powers, duties, or functions under the act to the territorial government.
This disregard for meaningful consultation reflected the previous government's unfortunate and misguided paternalistic approach regarding indigenous people in Canada. Rather than working in partnership with indigenous communities to find common ground and mutually beneficial solutions to issues, it forced indigenous peoples to resort to the courts to assert their rights. This not only led to unnecessary costs for all parties, but often caused unnecessary delay, legal uncertainty, and undermined reconciliation.
It also positioned the federal government to lose court case after court case.
In response to the passage of these four contentious provisions, three Yukon first nations launched a court challenge in the fall of 2015. The court petition claimed that the amendments were in violation of the Yukon umbrella final agreement and that there was inadequate consultation. Despite their court action, Yukon first nations entered into subsequent discussions with the governments of Yukon and Canada about how to resolve this situation outside of court. These discussions led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding in April 2016, which clearly outlines the steps required to resolve the first nations' concerns with Bill S-6.
As a direct result of that collaborative process, the Yukon first nations pursuing 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. It would also remove a key impediment to increased investment, development, and jobs in Yukon.
The vast majority of Yukoners support this bill.
In fact, a unanimous motion supporting Bill C-17 was passed by the Yukon legislature last spring. In addition, the Council of Yukon First Nations, Yukon government, and the Yukon Chamber of Mines issued a joint letter last March, urging the passage of Bill C-17, without change, as soon as possible.
The letter also stated that they looked forward passing the bill so, “the Yukon economy can benefit from the certainty established by the final and self-government agreements in Yukon.” My office spoke with the Yukon Chamber of Mines earlier this week and it confirmed its support for passing the bill on an expedited basis, with the understanding that issues, including reassessments and reasonable timelines, would be dealt with through other policy mechanisms shortly thereafter.
First nations and the Governments of Canada and Yukon agree that issues, including reassessments of projects and reasonable time limits for assessments, require a strong policy framework. Canada, Yukon, self-governing Yukon first nations, industry, and the board are all committed to working in collaboration through the regulatory process to establish practical timelines for the assessment processes and clear and sensible rules for when reassessments may be required.
The Conservative opposition told the committee that the bill should be set aside not just until the process moved forward, but until it was finalized.
The members claim that this is in response to concerns expressed by some industry representatives about delays in moving forward with the regulatory discussions I referenced above. Yukon first nations have been clear. Passing Bill C-17 is an important show of good faith and a first step in moving forward with these important discussions.
It is disingenuous of the Conservatives to cite delays they caused by filibustering this bill last spring as justification for further delaying moving the legislation forward and the subsequent needed regulatory discussions. By trying to further delay, or even derail the bill, the Conservatives risk driving this matter back into litigation and undermining the very certainty for industry for which they claim to be advocating.
Bill C-17 clearly demonstrates our intent to work closely with all partners, including Yukon first nations, the Yukon industry, and the Yukon government, to re-establish trust with Yukon first nations and restore legal certainty for responsible resource development.
I hope all members will support this bill.