In the wake of last week’s Peel River watershed appeal ruling, another case of First Nations accusing the Yukon government of poor consultation has come forward.
The chiefs of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun recently penned a letter to the minister of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) expressing frustration at the draft amendments to Yukon’s Oil and Gas Act.
“Bill 93 was tabled in the legislature ... without further engagement with Yukon First Nations,” the letter stated.
“Accordingly, we are writing you to inform you that we object strongly to Yukon government’s approach.”
The bill containing the amendments to the oil and gas legislation was tabled in legislature Oct. 28.
It contains alterations that modernize the act and clarify well abandonment and re-abandonment requirements and procedures.
In a statement, EMR Minister Scott Kent said the changes enable the government to “continue in its commitment to improve transparency” and ensure First Nations “continue to benefit from the oil and gas sector’s growth opportunities.”
There is one major revision which the three First Nations claim to not have been consulted on adequately.
If passed, the bill would provide the minister with the power to extend the term of an oil and gas permit indefinitely.
Previously in the act, a permit would last a maximum period of 10 years.
The argument from the distressed First Nations goes back to a memorandum of agreement (MOA) the Yukon government signed back in 1997.
Essentially, it recognizes First Nations as “full participants” with the government in management of oil and gas regimes in the territory.
In a discussion document that was distributed during a 60-day consultation period for the Oil and Gas Act, the number used in the permit extension was 12 years – not the “beyond 10 years” which appears in the draft legislation now.
“In this instance, it appears the Yukon government has chosen to ignore its legal obligations,” the chiefs wrote in their letter.
Last week, NDP MLA Jim Tredger tabled the letter and pressed Kent to address the concerns of the chiefs.
“Not only was the consultation inadequate, but also the government’s amendments unexpectedly expand the unilateral powers of the minister,” Tredger said.
In his defence, Kent reiterated that there had been two months of consultation, beginning on July 16 and ending on Sept. 14.
“During that time, Yukon government’s consultation with First Nations included government-to-government engagement as well as meetings of the oil and gas MOA working group,” Kent said, indicating that the working group had met twice.
Kent pointed out that after consultation closed, two substantive changes were made.
One section in the act – which addressed the negotiation process for benefits agreements – had been deferred to enable further dialogue with First Nations.
“We also extended the opportunity for the extension of leases,” Kent said.
“This was something that we heard from industry. This wasn’t strictly a government-to-government consultation with First Nations. It involved the public. It also involved industry.”
The What We Heard document from the consultation period shows a mixed bag of support and opposition for the permit extension, which in the document, is limited; a one‐time extension of two years.
One respondent in support said, “As long as the permit holder can demonstrate a rational need for an extended permit term, there should be legislative provisions which allow the government to grant any number of extensions of any duration.”
Another simply stated, “There has been no evidence produced that indicates 10 years is insufficient.”
In the legislature, Kent noted that he had provided a copy of the letter from the chiefs to his incoming deputy minister, in order to respond to the First Nations.
So far, the legislation has only passed first reading.
Another MOA working group meeting was scheduled for this week.
The chiefs of the three First Nations were unavailable for comment.