Yukon premier suggests bilateral accord at Bill S-6 hearings
Government, First Nations, industry meet in Whitehorse to discuss proposed legislation
Contrast typified the scene in Whitehorse yesterday, as a federal government all-party committee heard testimony from the territorial and First Nations governments and local industry on Bill S-6.
Bill S-6 contains proposed amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act. Yukon First Nations are opposed to the bill, saying it undermines the territory's Umbrella Final Agreement.
The day of hearings got off to an unexpected start, as Kwanlin Dun drummers interrupted Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski with a welcome song.
Pasloski then threw out an unexpected olive branch to First Nations, saying "let's be leaders in our house and negotiate a bilateral accord... that resolves those issues."
First Nations leaders told the committee that they appreciate the sentiment. However, they were firm in their commitment to protecting the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act, with Kwanlin Dun chief Doris Bill saying "we do not take this lightly and we will fight it at all costs."
Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation chief Eric Fairclough was blunt in his reaction to Pasloski's statement, saying: "he knew our issues on it, he knew we were concerned about it, and yet he didn't do anything.
"He's saying: 'trust me, we're going to consult with you after this is passed,'" said Fairclough. "Which, it's totally wrong. It should have been up-front and dealing with First Nations in a serious way on these matters."
Previously, the Council of Yukon First Nations threatened court action, should the bill pass.
Representatives from industry in the Yukon also had their chance to address the committee Monday, with the Yukon Chamber of Mines and Alexco Resources coming out in favour of the bill.
However, Allison Rippin-Armstrong of Kaminak Gold Corporation had a different take, suggesting that the four amendments to the bill which have become points of contention between government and First Nations be dropped, unless the government agrees to address them.
"We do believe that the bill should be held back until there's agreement," said Rippin-Armstrong. "We would like to see the federal government come back to the table and talk to the First Nations."
The parliamentary committee that conducted the hearings in Whitehorse will eventually prepare recommendations to be delivered to the House of Commons in advance of Bill S-6's third reading.