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Dear Ryan: Don't vote for Bill S-6

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Image: Flickr/Edna Winti

Ryan Leef, Member of Parliament for Yukon

Dear Ryan,

Senator Lang's, Bill S-6, "An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act" has Senate approval and is before Parliament. It was introduced through the unelected Senate, an allowable, if questionable, route for bills to take. The short title is: Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act

Here is part of the introduction to the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act (YESAA):

"The Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board, (YESAB) was established under the Yukon Environmental Socioeconomic Assessment Act (YESAA), which came into effect May 13th, 2003. YESAA sets out a process to assess environmental and socioeconomic effects of proposed projects and other activities in or that might effect Yukon. This is a requirement of Chapter 12 of the Umbrella Final Agreement and Yukon First Nations' Final Agreements."

YESAA is a carefully written document that respects First Nations, non-native citizens, the business community, the mining industry and future generations. The process of creating YESAA was transparent. 

Bill S-6 was concocted through secret consultations between federal and territorial representatives and the mining community. First Nations were allowed to sit at the table but, if Grand Chief Massie of the Council of Yukon First Nations is to be believed, their input was ignored. The public was not informed of the process nor was it welcome at the table.

Ken McKinnon, acting chair of the YESAB, had his invitation to testify before the Senate committee withdrawn because "appearance in person will not be necessary."

When one vested interest has the ear of government and the majority of citizens are snubbed, we should be concerned about the impartiality of our governments.

Bill S-6 lacks the clarity of YESAA and is filled with gobbledygook. Is bafflegab there to create weasel room permitting vested interest groups to make self-serving interpetations?

According to the government FAQ site on Bill S-6, "The proposed amendments would streamline water licensing processes in Nunavut and ensure timely and predictable water licence reviews."

Ryan, the word "streamline" has become synonymous with the word "gut." Every time so–called regulatory streamlining has occurred under the federal Conservative government, those regulations have been degraded. For example, the streamlining of  regulations in the Fisheries and Oceans Act passed in Ominus Budget Bill C-45 resulted in far less stringent environmental assessments for all waters not considered navigable. The majority of lakes, rivers and streams in the North are not navigable waters. 

Amendments to Section 43(6) of the YESAA allow new proposals by resource extraction industries to be covered by old assessment requirements regardless of the size or scope of the new projects.  

Bill S-6 changes regulatory authority in Yukon. As a check and balance, YESAB was set up to be arm's length from the territorial government and, by extension, pressure from vested interest groups. Bill S-6 allows "the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with the authority to provide binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board." This subverts YESAA, the Umbrella Final Agreement and Yukon First Nations' Final Agreements, which are interconnected. Giving authority to the federal government is a sideways maneuver to strip YESAB of its immunity from influence.

Ryan, checks and balances were born out of an understanding that human beings are weak and that power corrupts. That is why they exist in democracies and not in corrupt authoritarian regimes.

Miners' frustrations over what they see as bureaucratic slowness are understandable.  Time delays over environmental assessments do cost money. However, miners' claims that the length of time to receive approvals has increased in the last few years is not supported by facts. 

Reasonable people would endorse Bill S-6 if they thought that it truly helped "improve the environmental review process." However, there is little in Bill S-6 to support that idea. Bill S-6 is a poorly written document filled with verbiage and loopholes. As it pertains to the Yukon, nothing directly addresses time delays for assessments. It merely removes the need for oversight of additional projects and allows a federal minister to override YESAB. 

I contend that Bill S-6 is designed to make the resource extraction industry less accountable for their actions, thereby creating wealth at the expense of the environment and the social well-being of Northerners. 

This bill is regressive. Please do not support Bill S-6.

Linda Leon

Linda Leon is not now, nor has she ever been, a member of any federal political party.

Image: Flickr/Edna Winti

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