Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act a Step Backwards
On December 5, 2002, MiningWatch Canada made a submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources regarding Bill C-2, the long awaited Development Assessment Process for the Yukon, now known as YESA, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
In an indication of the level of cynicism and arrogance of the Liberal government, the Bill was passed by the Committee with virtually no changes, despite the serious concerns expressed by many intervenors, including Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Kaska First Nation, Yukon Conservation Society, and MiningWatch Canada. Even the relatively innocuous suggestion, that the legislation be reviewed after five years, was rejected.
In a complicated and poor piece of legislation, the most egregious problem from our perspective is the clause of section 79 that allows decision bodies to determine that mitigation measures should be ignored if the decision body is of the view that the mitigative measures are excessive, or if they could undermine the economic viability of a mining project. This section simply reserves to the decision bodies and the Minister the ability to override the recommendations of the Board.
As our brief noted, this is a serious violation of the fundamental principles of environmental assessment and responsible public policy. Environmental assessment is meant to objectively evaluate the ecological, economic, social, and cultural impacts of a given project, activity, or policy in order to protect the natural environment as well as the health and well-being of human communities.
In any rational discussion of sustainable development, the economic viability of a given project is seen as the outcome of a thorough consideration of all of these factors. Environmental assessment is also a public decision-making process, both transparent and accountable to the public. It is inappropriate for this process to be overruled behind closed doors based on political and economic interests. If, at the end of the day, the decision body can overrule the independent assessment work and allow the project to proceed based on economic considerations with full disregard for the environment and the communities faced with the development, what indeed is the point of going through the assessment process, or even establishing such processes in the first place?
Bill C-2 is not yet in force; it must still go through the Senate before being passed into law.
See the submission to the Standing Committee.