Question re: YESAA process - May 13, 2015

Mr. Silver: One of the recurring characteristics of this Yukon Party government is its habit of picking and choosing when it wants to listen to advisory boards and First Nation governments, and its handling of Bill S‑6 is one of the latest examples.

Last fall, the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was tired of taking the blame for this legislation and let the public know that the some of the more problematic amendments were in fact slipped in by this Yukon Party government at the last minute.

On April 16, the chair of the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board wrote to the federal government urging it to stand down on these four amendments. The chair argued that these amendments should be set aside, as they introduced an unstable element to environmental assessment in the Yukon.

Does the Premier agree with the chair of the board or does he side with his federal colleagues in Ottawa?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: We have discussed this many times on the floor of this Assembly.

There was a period between 2008 and 2012 where there was consultation on the five-year review that was mandated through the YESAA legislation, which came up with many recommendations — almost all of them unanimously agreed upon by all parties.

Since that time back in 2012, the federal government asked for comments regarding their northern regulatory regimes in terms of the consistency with enhancing those regimes in the north. We did provide comments to the federal government and we also shared those comments with First Nations at the time. That began all the way back — either it was the end of 2012, in December, or early in 2013. We’ve had full disclosure of all our comments that we provided to the federal government. We fully disclosed those comments to the First Nations. The member opposite, the Leader of the Liberal Party, continues to forget that YESAA and Bill S‑6 are federal legislation.

We feel that we were consulted adequately — that they considered our comments and our recommendations before they submitted their amendments to the YESAA legislation. We cannot speak for the First Nations or other organizations. That would be disrespectful.

Mr. Silver: Many Yukoners are extremely upset to see that the Conservative-dominated committee had decided that there would be no changes made to Bill S‑6, and it looks like the purpose of the visit to the Yukon in March by the committee was merely to say that it had done it rather than to legitimately listen to the concerns voiced there.

If the Premier had stayed for the day, he would have heard First Nations outline their opposition — instead, he spoke and left.

The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board has now addressed its voice to those opposed to the last-minute amendments slipped in by this government. The chair closed his April 16 letter by saying — and I quote: “We respectfully request that the committee recommend to the House of Commons that further consultation of Bill S‑6 be deferred until such a time as all three parties, through further dialogue, reach agreement on those four controversial elements.”

Mr. Speaker, why is the Premier siding with Ottawa instead of with the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: The assertions made by the Liberal leader are absolutely wrong. This government disclosed all of its recommendations and comments that were provided to the federal government — disclosed all of that information with First Nations that were involved in the consultation process. That began all the way back in 2012. We continue to provide to the First Nations all comments that we did provide to Canada.

We believe that having an environment assessment process that is consistent with other jurisdictions allows us to be competitive and it gives us a fair chance at securing more investment dollars for this territory, which helps create jobs, investment, opportunities and prosperity for Yukoners.

Mr. Silver: I don’t know if the Premier or any of his staff play poker but, in this case, the Yukon government gambled that it could go it alone and make unilateral changes to YESAA without First Nation support. The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board says the changes will bring an unstable element to our assessment process and they don’t support them.

Just this week, another issue — the government said it was pleased to accept recommendations from the same board. We heard about it today. It seems the government wants to pick and choose when it accepts advice from these UFA boards.

There is a way out of the hole that this government dug for itself with this mishandling of these changes. It involves, however, this government admitting that it made a mistake. Instead of blindly supporting the changes, the government could demonstrate that it is actually interested in working together with Yukon First Nations by recommending that Ottawa put the brakes on these changes before we once again find ourselves in court.

Will the Premier do that before it’s too late? It’s a simple question.

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: These amendments that are tabled by the federal government as Bill S‑6 are good for Yukon.

This is not only about a resource industry. YESAA affects all projects, whether they’re municipal projects — it may be right now as simple as someone who needs to have a power pole put in for their property. We are supportive of amendments that will ensure that our assessment process is consistent with environmental assessment processes in other jurisdictions, which allows us to be competitive, giving us a chance to see those investment dollars come to this territory to allow for the creation of good jobs for Yukoners, to create opportunities to train our young people to move themselves into trades or specialized working fields. It creates security and allows Yukoners to stay at home in the Yukon and it creates the environment to create the willingness to have their families and keep their families here and ensure that we have prosperity and security for years to come.