Thank you, Mr. Chair. I thank the drummers as well for their welcome.
Mr. Chair, we're here today to convey our support for the passage of Bill S-6 as it pertains to the proposed amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, YESAA. We believe that after this bill is passed, there is work to be done here in the territory among first nations and the Yukon government.
As you will no doubt hear today, Yukoners are proud capable people. We like to resolve our own issues as much as possible. We like to work things out Yukoner to Yukoner, government to government. Today I hope we can broaden your appreciation of the Government of Yukon's perspective regarding the benefits of amending this act. I hope to share with you a path forward that I believe advances all interests.
Last year marked 10 years since the devolution of responsibility for lands and resources from the Government of Canada to the Government of Yukon. Devolution, or evolution as I like to call it, marked a turning point in Yukon's modern history. In that pivotal moment, we set out on a road to self-determination and managing our own resources.
The benefits of devolution are tremendous. In our view, what is good for Yukon is good for Canada. When the Yukon Act came into effect on April 1, 2003, Yukon gained law-making authority with respect to the vast majority of our natural resources. This has enabled us to develop sustainable management regimes, working cooperatively with first nations and industry. Since 2003 we've experienced steady prosperity, and private sector contributions to our economy have soared. Our population has increased for the 10th consecutive year.
Over the same period, Yukon's leadership and governance capacity has grown alongside our population. The 20th anniversary of the Umbrella Final Agreement was marked in 2013. The Umbrella Final Agreement, UFA, is a framework for individual Yukon first nations to negotiate their land claim agreements. To date, 11 of Yukon's 14 first nations have modern-day treaties and self-government agreements. This represents almost half of the modern first nation treaties and self-government agreements that exist in the entire country today.
That growth in governance capacity has also informed the modernization of our regulatory regime. For the past 10 years, Yukon has enjoyed a reputation as having one of the most advanced regulatory systems in Canada. Yukon's resource economy has grown since devolution, with the mining and mineral exploration sector continuing to expand and develop.
That said, it is becoming increasingly clear that changes to the legislation before you today are essential in order for Yukon to remain a competitive place to do business.
As you likely know, YESAA is the implementation of chapter 12 of the UFA and the final agreements. Yukoners worked hand in hand for years to create the legislation that came into force on May 13, 2003. Federal, territorial, and first nation partners all play important roles in ensuring that projects undertaken in Yukon are in accordance with the principles that foster economic benefits. Each and every order of government helps appoint the board, acts as a decision body, and informs every assessment. As partners, we ensure protection of the ecological and social systems on which communities, their residents, and societies in general depend.
The proposed amendments to YESAA will, in our view, improve environmental and socio-economic outcomes. Since it came into force, some Yukoners, including some first nations, have expressed concern about the narrow scope of activities that YESAA looked at when considering the possible cumulative effects of projects. These amendments help address those concerns.
Under the proposed legislation, assessors will now consider the socio-economic and environmental effects that are likely to occur from projects, both those that have occurred and those that are going to occur. Taking into account the effects of potential activities is a positive step forward in our environmental stewardship and demonstrates our commitment to Yukon communities.
This act applies throughout Yukon as a single-assessment, neutral process conducted at arm's length from governments. Over the last decade, this process has demonstrated a high level of transparency, with decisions and actions made available to the public through the Yukon online registry system.
However, like most new legislation YESAA requires some, mostly minor, amendments. These mostly minor amendments will enable YESAA to continue to serve our territory well into the future. When Canada pursued amendments to the act, it engaged with the Yukon government, the Council of Yukon First Nations, individual Yukon first nations, and the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, YESAB. The changes that have been tabled are a result of the close work of these parties, as was mandated by the YESAA five-year review process.
These changes were also informed by the federal action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes. During the review phase, Canada asked the Government of Yukon to provide input into several amendments that focus on improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the assessment regime.
I cannot and I will not speak to first nation views on consultation. To do so would be disrespectful of first nation leaders, who will share or have shared their own views with you. However, I can and I will speak for the Yukon government. In our view the Yukon government was adequately consulted during this phase, and our feedback and our comments were taken into consideration.
Together, these changes stand to benefit Yukon because they focus on the following areas: clarification of roles and responsibilities, cost-effective and efficient processes, and the value and timeliness of the assessment process. It is also essential that Yukon remain competitive with other jurisdictions while aiming to protect and promote the environmental and socio-economic well-being of the territory and its people.
Although in the past YESAA has worked well for Yukoners, we believe these proposed amendments are necessary to remain competitive. The amendments outlined in Bill S-6 update the requirement that only the federal government can fulfill. YESAA is, after all, federal legislation.
It is also important, however, that Yukoners resolve concerns among themselves as far as possible. The last time I met with the chiefs, I was clear that I wanted to focus on those issues that we can control. I stand by that statement, and I think Bill S-6 offers us just such an opportunity.
Yukon government and first nations have a long history of working together to resolve issues that arise from federal actions and legislation. We did it with the devolution transfer agreement and the oil and gas accord. In both of these cases the federal government did its part, and leaders here in Yukon did our part to iron out differences that held up success. We let the federal legislation or action stand and we negotiated bilateral arrangements that made them work for us as Yukoners.
Today I'm proposing that Yukon leaders once again take up that challenge. I have heard and understood the first nations' concerns with these amendments. Let's be leaders in our own house and negotiate a bilateral accord on implementation that resolves these issues. We've done it before and we can do it again. If there are concerns about policy direction, or capacity, or delegation, let's agree on how those functions will be implemented on the ground. Working government to government is not new to us in Yukon; it is our preferred way of doing business.
We appreciate the federal leadership shown on this matter. We would like to thank our member of Parliament Mr. Ryan Leef, our Yukon senator Hon. Daniel Lang, aboriginal affairs and northern development minister, the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, and the former minister, the Honourable John Duncan.
Now is the time to come together as leaders, as chiefs and premier, and as neighbours to find a way to make these amendments work in a way that fits with our values.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, I believe that the changes Canada has proposed to this legislation will ensure that Yukon continues to be a progressive and responsible place in which to invest and do business and an even better place in which to live, work and play, and to raise a family. I encourage Canada to pass these amendments and would ask the chiefs to sit down as partners in this territory to make our own way.
I thank the committee members for their time. I'm going to ask the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources to say a few words.