Parties are being invited to participate in the federal review of the four controversial amendments to Bill S-6.
Federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett sent out the invitation in mid-February, the Star has learned.
“I have directed department officials to explore solutions to these four contentious issues and to engage with all parties in a renewed spirit of respect and co-operation,” says the Bennett invitation.
“We are committed to moving forward quickly to resolve these issues in a manner that respects the prerogative of Parliament, and officials will be communicating specific consultation plans and activities in the near future.”
The federal Liberal Party and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell promised during last year’s election campaign that they would repeal the four controversial amendments.
Details regarding specific timelines to conduct the consultation and conclude the review process were unavailable from Bennett’s office.
Her staff did note in an email last week the minister is working on the review with Yukon First Nations and the territorial government.
Bennett has already met with the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. She will be meeting with the board again in the near future, the email notes.
Yukon First Nations maintains the territorial and federal governments sneaked in the four amendments at the 11th hour without their knowledge.
From the very day the four amendments were made public, First Nations vowed to challenge them in court if they were included in the legislation to amend the assessment act following the final review of the legislation.
The amendments were included when S-6 was adopted last spring by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
Three First Nations filed a lawsuit last October on behalf of the Yukon’s self-governing First Nations.
The First Nations are asking the court to order that the amendments are in conflict or are inconsistent with the final land claim agreements, and are therefore of no force and effect.
The lawsuit is still active.
Bennett specifically notes the four controversial amendments in her letter.
• time limits on the review process;
• exempting a project from re-assessment when an authorization is renewed or amended unless there has been a significant change to the project;
• the ability for the federal minister to provide binding policy direction to the board; and
• the ability to delegate the federal minister’s powers, duties and functions under the act to the territorial government.
First Nations and a fair number of Yukoners see the amendments as a threat to the environment.
They do so because they restrict timelines to screen projects, exempt projects from re-assessment and introduce political influence into what is supposed to be an independent review process.
“There is no relationship more important for this government than the one with indigenous peoples,” says the email from Bennett’s press secretary, Sabrina Williams.
“The minister is committed to resetting the relationship with the Yukon First Nations and moving forward in a renewed spirit of respect and co-operation.”
In an interview from Ottawa today, Bagnell said federal officials are currently working on the wording to remove the four amendments.
“The intent is to repeal those four items but you just can’t say repeal because they may be connected to other items,” he said. “They just have to work out the technical wording for that.”
Bagnell said in an interview this afternoon he couldn’t say whether the repeal legislation is likely to be approved before the House of Commons rises for its summer break.
“Once it gets to the House leader, I could ask him how long it will take, but it hasn’t even got there yet,” the MP said.