First Nations leaders have flatly rejected an offer to sit down and discuss their concerns with Bill S-6 after it’s passed by the House of Commons.
Premier Darrell Pasloski proposed a bilateral accord during his presentation Monday to the House of Commons committee to address First Nation issues with proposed amendments to the Yukon Environment and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
In the same way the Yukon government and First Nations have entered into other accords to overcome concerns with federal legislation, they can come together to address concerns with Bill S-6, he told the standing committee. (See Monday’s Star.)
The First Nations have promised they’ll take the federal government to court – and win – if the bill is approved with the four amendments they strongly oppose.
In a joint press conference Monday, Grand Chief Ruth Massie of the Council of Yukon First Nations and several other chiefs maintained their position, as they had all indicated in their presentations to the seven committee members, including Yukon MP Ryan Leef.
“I think if the premier was serious about it, we would have had these consultations before we came to this point,” Chief Eric Fairclough of the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation said at the press conference.
“He is saying, ‘trust me, we are going to consult with you after this is passed,’ which is totally wrong.
“Besides, I do not believe this premier is going to be around much longer,” said Fairclough, a former NDP and Liberal MLA for the Mayo-Tatchun riding.
The chief said he is hopeful the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development can come up with a solution to address the issues raised by the First Nations.
The First Nation opposition to Bill S-6 is clear, and entrenched, and a promise to sit down and talk about those concerns after the bill is passed just doesn’t cut it, Fairclough indicated.
The First Nations have accused the Yukon government of slipping in the four controversial amendments without consulting them, after the parties had agreed to more than 70 other amendments during the five-year review of the assessment act.
The committee heard from more than 20 individuals Monday from all corners of the Yukon.
It heard both support and opposition.
There was a suggestion Bill S-6 should be withdrawn until the issues can be straightened out.
A legal battle will only create greater uncertainty in the assessment process and the potential for investment in the territory, the committee heard.
“I think we achieved what we wanted in getting our message across,” Massie said of her address to the committee and the address of eight other First Nation leaders
“We are definitely opposed to the amendments, that being Bill S-6.”
Massie, however, emphasized Yukon First Nations are very serious about resolving their issues with Bill S-6 outside the courts.
Fairclough said the committee needs to examine the points made by First Nations during the hearings.
“They have to take Yukon First Nations seriously,” he said.
The territorial government has not taken their concerns seriously, he added.
Fairclough said he is hopeful the standing committee can come up with something of a solution after hearing what the First Nations had to say.
Asked if there is any division among First Nations on the issue, all chiefs quickly shook their heads, indicating no, there isn’t.
Bill S-6 has already been passed by the Senate and has received second reading by the House of Commons.
The First Nations and other organizations in the Yukon say the four controversial amendments will undermine and reduce the quality of the assessment process and take away from the independence of the assessment board.
After the amendments surfaced last year in Bill S-6, the First Nations and others began a comprehensive public campaign detailing their opposition to the federal legislation.
See story on chiefs’ remarks to committee.