Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to talk about Bill C-17, an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act. To be honest, this bill is regressive. It reverses several positive steps taken by the former Conservative government in Bill S-6 in 2015. It is a poorly conceived piece of legislation that, if passed, will gain votes in the southern part of this country at the expense of northern Canada.
on October 3, the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs heard testimony by Mr. Brad Thrall, the president of Alexco Resource Corp. He summed up the problem up best, in stating:
...I'm urging deferral of Bill C-17's passage until all affected and interested parties can deliberate, and mutually determine language to preserve the reassessment and timeline provisions currently within the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. Repeal of the reassessment and timeline provisions, as anticipated in Bill C-17, without replacement language ready to go, will perpetuate economic uncertainty, and will negatively impact the competitiveness of Yukon, and will diminish economic and social opportunities for all Yukoners.
Why would we want to pass legislation that would diminish economic and social opportunities, especially in the north? The population of Yukon, according to the last census in 2016, was just under 36,000 people. It is a small jurisdiction. Therefore, we can understand how the benefits and opportunities of one operation can have tremendous benefits for first nations and all Yukon residents in terms of tax dollars, health care, education, employment, and benefit agreements.
The mining industry contributes 20% of Yukon's GDP and Bill C-17 would immediately increase the regulatory burden on project proponents. It would slow down the review process by increasing the number of projects that need to be reviewed and remove the timeline for approval. Mining representatives testified that over the past eight years, the time period required to deem project proposals adequate was increased more than fivefold. Removing the timelines put in by the former Conservative government would damage proponent and industry confidence in the regulatory regime and cause companies to take their investments elsewhere. It is already happening in this country.
The Prospectors & Developers Association told us that it has definitely seen a decline in investment in Canada in the past two years. If members do not believe me, they only need look at what Shell did with the Carmon Creek project in Alberta, an investment of roughly $2 billion. Shell sold its assets in Carmon Creek while going to Europe, citing a more stable investment regime there compared to Canada. This was a major opportunity lost not only for the people of Alberta but the people of Canada and northern Alberta.
Mr. Thrall went on to testify at committee on October 3 as follows:
The current legislation allows proponents of certain projects to apply to the decision body, usually Yukon or first nation governments, under section 49.1, to allow a project to proceed without the need for reassessment. This allows previously assessed projects to proceed to the authorization process without duplication.
As we all know, the reality of mining is that during the process, new ore bodies or extensions to them may be identified. These discoveries may require slight modifications to mine operating plans under the current legislation, but the resulting modifications would generally not require a complete project-wide reassessment.
However, if Bill C-17 is passed, they would, even though there is no significant environmental or socioeconomic impact and no change in the production stream.
Mr. Thrall went on, continuing on October 3:
On the environmental side of our business, we were required to go back through an entire environmental assessment to maintain a water licence to extend the operating period for various water treatment facilities. Ironically, these same facilities were mitigating historic environmental liability, but this simple extension required 134 days of YESAB's time to assess the entire project yet again. Please understand that we firmly support a rigorous environmental assessment process for the Yukon, for new projects and when fundamental changes are made to existing projects. However, small changes to a mine plan or to environmental facilities should not require a “back to square one” assessment. If set back to the previous legislation, uncertainty will prevail, and investment, jobs, benefits, and opportunities for residents and communities will be compromised.
This is just another example of the Liberals making promises without thinking of consequences. The Liberals could have worked to find a solution, addressing everyone's concerns, rather than rushing forward and choosing to handicap Yukon's development for years to come, possibly even decades.
Mr. Jonas Smith, the project manager of Yukon Producers Group, gave compelling testimony to our indigenous affairs committee on October 3 of this year. His focus was on the matters of reassessment. Mr. Smith explained the burden that will be placed on industry, municipalities, and all Yukoners by Bill C-17. He told us:
The absence of a reassessment provision not only negatively affects proponents, but places a strain on the financial and human resources of publicly funded assessors and governments as well.
Another very recent example from a Yukon mine ramping up to production revealed that in these last few months when Bill C-17 has been making its way through Parliament, the company was once again subjected to an expensive, time-consuming, and ultimately unnecessary reassessment. In this case YESAB ultimately determined that reassessment and any further mitigation beyond the original assessment were not required. Yet despite this relatively favourable outcome, the process that led to it still consumed considerable resources from the company and the YESAB assessment office.
He means there were more delays.
It resulted in a missed season of work for the company [up north], where those financial and human resources could have been put to far better use employing citizens of the affected first nation and the community where it operates.
As I mentioned previously, since section 49.1 was enacted in 2015, over 100 projects have applied for exemption from reassessment. These were not only mining proponents, but municipalities as well. The City of Whitehorse, a major employer in our territory's capital, received this determination under section 49.1 for one of its permanent renewals:
“The project has been assessed once by YESAB in 2013. Since that time, the only changes in relation to the project were minor and regulatory in nature. There have been no significant changes to the project and therefore an assessment is not required.”...
It has been suggested, given the number of Yukon's economic sectors that have benefited from this reassessment provision, including industry and municipalities, that removing it before its replacement is in position is like ripping the roof off your house before you've decided what to replace it with and leaving [in this case] Yukoners out in [the cold and] the rain [and the snow] in the process.
Yukon's mining industry is modern, responsible, and innovative. It is a partner at the forefront of research and relationships that balance economic, social, cultural, and environmental values. It and its supporting service and supply companies are our territory's largest private sector employers. It contributes [as I mentioned] 20% to our GDP, a significant number in a small developing jurisdiction [of just under 36,000] otherwise dominated by the public sector.
The mineral industry is committed to working with all orders of government to provide opportunities that allow Yukoners to grow up in the territory, study and train in the territory, and pursue rewarding and well-paying private sector jobs and careers.
In closing, Mr. Smith added at that October 3 meeting:
In conclusion, Madam Chair and committee members, the Yukon Producers Group proposes that a committee of interested and affected government and industry parties be struck to work on replacement for the reassessment and timelines provisions and provide its recommendations for this replacement before Bill C-17 receives royal assent.
If replacement provisions are not in place beforehand, industry, municipalities, and all Yukoners will suffer.
Mr. Burke, the president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, told us the following on October 3:
I would like to draw your attention to Minister Bennett's commitment in a letter to the Yukon Chamber of Mines dated July 6, 2017, “Once amendments to Bill C-17 have been made, the department is willing to work with Yukon first nations, the Government of Yukon, and stakeholders such as your organization to review these issues in order to identify possible short-term administrative or long-term legislative solutions.”
We appreciate this commitment. However, it is imperative that all orders of government work to undertake and implement solutions to these issues in advance of the passage of Bill C-17 to ensure continuity for all parties involved. The time to start this work is already in the past. Our concerns for the future of our business have been shared with all levels of government. We strongly urge you to begin this work and establish a timeline to report progress on this front.
Mr. Burke went on to tell us the following at that October 3 meeting:
The Yukon Chamber of Mines and our membership support the need for a robust environmental review process. We represent a science-based industry composed of geologists, engineers, tradespeople, and other professional and non-professional occupations, that has made and will continue to make significant investments in reducing the impact our business has on the environment. We do not want to save money at the expense of the environment. That is a myth.
Let me repeat that: “We do not want to save money at the expense of the environment. That is a myth.”
We are at the forefront of reconciliation as we invest in the backyards of Yukon first nations. We are at the forefront of reconciliation as we partner with Yukon first nations and provide economic opportunities where, in many cases, [as we know] few other opportunities exist [in the private sector in this country].
We support the passage of Bill C-17 in order to reconcile with Yukon first nations. We urge the federal government to immediately engage with first nations governments and the Yukon government to find short-term administrative or long-term legislative solutions to the impact of the removal of the reassessments and timelines contained in Bill C-17. The impact of Bill C-17, without addressing these concerns, will have a serious negative impact on investment and mining and exploration projects in the Yukon.
The Yukon Chamber of Mines urges that this work be undertaken to implement solutions to these issues in advance of the passage of Bill C-17 to ensure continuity for all parties involved.
The government has claimed that all stakeholders are 100% behind Bill C-17. That is simply not true. The support was not an unconditional rubber stamp. In fact, the support is contingent on what has been promised by the now Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. They emphatically told the committee:
The federal and territorial governments must work immediately with first nations governments to address the concerns and risks associated with the removal of the provisions addressing reassessment and timelines from the act.
I will reiterate the commitment the minister made to the Yukon Chamber of Mines when she was there in July. She wrote: “Once amendments to Bill C-17 have been made, the department is willing to work with Yukon first nations, the Government of Yukon, and stakeholders such as your organization to review these issues in order to identify possible short-term administrative or long-term legislative solutions.”
I hope the minister is listening to what stakeholders are telling her. We had three excellent people who came to our meeting on October 3 to address this situation. However, it was back in July that the minister addressed these concerns in Yukon. Now we are into November. The months have passed. All stakeholders, including Yukon first nations, are ready to collaborate to ensure the regulations have something in place to address these major concerns, but the minister's office remains silent, surprisingly. It is imperative that the minister follow through on her commitment that she made in July, and do so very quickly.
Bob McLeod, Premier of Northwest Territories, told the Arctic Circle assembly on October 13, a month ago, that people of the Arctic want what everyone else wants. They want good jobs, they want a good standard of living, they want to be healthy, they want to be educated, and most of all they want a sustainable future for themselves and for their families based on their own vision and their own priorities.