Bill S-6 to face final vote in House Monday evening
Controversial bill has faced dissent from First Nations and industry, gov't set to vote on it Monday night
Bill S-6 is about to become federal law.
The Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act amends Yukon's Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act.
And it's no stretch to say it's easily the most unpopular federal bill to be considered in the territory.
The rumblings started last June, when Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, Ruth Massie, said S-6 essentially gutted Yukon's environmental law - and turns the clock back on four decades of land-claims progress.
The main sticking point for First Nations is four amendments, added after the review period.
- delegation of federal powers to Yukon government;
- policy direction to the YESAA board;
- timelines for assessments; and
- exemptions from renewals and amendments
Massie threatened then — a full year ago — to seek redress in the courts if Bill S-6 becomes law.
And First Nations have not swayed from that stance in the ensuing 12 months.
Final vote today
Third reading debate took place on Friday, under a time allocation motion, passed by the Conservative MPs.
It's scheduled for a vote this evening in Ottawa, and then it must be proclaimed by the Governor General before it becomes actual law.
Yukon MP Ryan Leef was not in the chamber for a vote on second reading. However, he has stated that he supports the bill and would have voted 'yes,' had he been in the house.
Minister inflames already tense situation
Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt made that clear during the fall sitting of the House of Commons.
A delegation of Yukon chiefs went to Ottawa then to lobby against Bill S-6.
During a meeting with Valcourt, he told the coalition they were "not real governments... under the Umbrella Final Agreement."
That assessment infuriated the chiefs, who said it was an insult.
Little Salmon Carmacks chief Eric Fairclough warned the Harper government that a lack of consultation on Bill S-6 will lead to a court challenge, with "more uncertainty, more mistrust, and more confronation… the only certainty is that Bill S-6 will end up in court."
Valcourt's comment prompted Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski to an unusual move: he issued a statement, saying Yukon First Nations are governments, and asking Valcourt to "correct the record."
Industry nervous, speaks out
The mining industry, which typically flies well below the radar when it comes to standoffs between First Nations and other levels of government, has been vocal and on-the-record when it comes to Bill S-6.
The president of Casino Mining Corporation, Paul West-Sells, started the flurry of pleas to Ottawa when he sent a letter last fall to Valcourt, asking him to recognize the industry's concerns and "the fragility of intergovernmental relations in the Yukon surrounding Bill S-6 ands the negative impact this is having on the territory's mineral industry."
Golden Predator and Kaminak Gold have each added their voices, with the CEO of Kaminak, Eira Thomas, asking the federal government to "achieve a resolution." Rick Rule of Sprott Assessment Management — which funds mining projects — said simply: "If you want my money, don't ask me to fund a dispute."
Parliamentary committee hears concerns in Whitehorse
The standing committee on aboriginal affairs and northern development travelled to Whitehorse at the end of March, to hear directly from Yukoners on the proposed legislation.
They said they cannot live with the four amendments — which includes the ability of the federal minister to transfer binding authority to a territorial counterpart — and say they have no option but to defend their land claims agreements in court.
Grand Chief Ruth Massie told a town hall a few days before the committee hearing that "we will not back down from the integrity of our agreements. We fought too long and too hard — and we gave up a lot."
Yukon premier Darrell Pasloksi has not wavered in his defence of Bill S-6, telling opposition NDP and Liberals here they are "wrong" about the legislation, and sticking to his message track: "consistency will ensure a greater opportunity to attract business and investment that will create jobs for Yukoners."
Clock ticking towards midnight
Bill S-6 will pass without amendments suggested by opposition MPs. That means, after the vote later today, and once it is proclaimed into law, the clock has struck midnight — and all bets are off.
Investors and mining companies will be watching closely to see the reaction from Yukon First Nations leaders.
That response could include seeking a court injunction on application of the new law, as well as a lawsuit bearing the signatures of the majority of Yukon First Nations.
If that happens, the ensuing paralysis on Yukon resource development would make the Peel lawsuit look like small potatoes.