Question re: First Nation participation in mining sector - May 5, 2016

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this week, the Premier received a scathing letter from the Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in that accuses the Government of Yukon of “bargaining in bad faith” over mining rules. The chief went on to say, “As the 2016 mining season commences, TH is weighing the value of our continued participation in the negotiation process. We cannot point to any concrete gains from our months of engagement. Unless Yukon takes quick action to address the issues that we have been raising, we will be forced to conclude that the political will is just not there.”

Mr. Speaker, if the Government of Yukon’s relationship with Yukon First Nations is as good as it claims, why are we seeing letters like this arriving in the Premier’s mailbox?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I believe the letter the member opposite is referring to is one that was copied to me as well as the Leader of the Official Opposition.

With respect to some of the issues raised by the Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, of course, many of those matters are being dealt with at the officials level through the devolution transfer agreement protocol table. Our government remains committed to working with Yukon First Nations to resolve a number of mining-related matters. Many of them are being dealt with at that table of course. We’re seeking practical solutions that promote a vibrant and competitive mining sector while protecting aboriginal and treaty rights.

Our government remains committed to clarifying notification requirements for staking and exploration activities, including class 1 throughout the territory. Our government is engaged in dialogue with First Nations and industry on resolving issues related to staking, prospecting and mineral development on settlement as well as on Commissioner’s land. I know this is being led through our Strategic Initiatives branch of Energy, Mines and Resources. Work continues on this front and we’re hopeful that officials can come to resolution on the issues that were raised by the Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in the letter to the Premier, which was copied to me and leaders of the opposition parties.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, we all got up in this House just a half hour ago and we all talked about how much we support the mining industry, but the reality contained in letters like this one that arrived in the mail on May 2 is telling. The letter says the government is negotiating in bad faith and that TH is set to pull the plug unless the government changes its tune. Now leadership from the Yukon Party is lacking in this file.

Deadlines for agreements have come and gone and the First Nation is fed up. For example, new rules for class 1 notifications which were supposed to be in place for 2016 are simply not happening this year. The government has taken an adversarial approach with the First Nation governments and it is causing huge uncertainty for the very mining industry that it is supposedly trying to help.

Mr. Speaker, why has the government failed to accomplish having class 1 notifications in place for 2016, as it promised it would?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. When it comes to the class 1 notification, obviously members will recall a few years ago — I believe it was the fall session of 2013 — where we were responding with changes to the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act to bring those notifications into the Ross River area.

Subsequently, we advanced those notifications into the traditional territories and transboundary territories of the unsettled First Nations and the First Nations that have asserted traditional territory within the Yukon. Again, for the settled First Nations, we’re working through the DTAP table on this very initiative.

Class 1 activity has been described to me by prospectors as their bread and butter — it’s very important to them. They need to ensure that there are thresholds put in place that perhaps will allow them to continue to use hand tools and that type of activity, while respecting some of the more invasive class 1 activities that are there. The Yukon Prospectors Association and the Chamber of Mines have provided us with a list of thresholds and we’re discussing them with First Nations. This isn’t a unilateral decision — it’s in discussion with First Nations and industry. It has taken longer than we wanted it to take, but work continues.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I can appreciate that. It takes a lot of work to build a collaborative relationship with other levels of government, but when your partner at the table says that you are negotiating in bad faith, things aren’t going well. When your partner at the table is thinking about leaving because they don’t believe that the political will is there from this government to find solutions, it is also a big problem.

Another issue the letter addressed is the stalled mineral development strategy. TH says that the government has an unrealistic deadline for finishing the project that suggests the strategy is “more about election-year politics than transparent policy-making”.

Where is the leadership on this issue? When is this government going to start reducing uncertainty for both First Nation governments and the mining industry?

Hon. Mr. Kent: That’s exactly what we’ve embarked on. This isn’t something we embarked on in this calendar year. Work has been underway for a number of months, but, of course, the member opposite was quite critical of us missing a deadline in November of this year and now is critical of us working with First Nations in continuing to move forward on this mineral development strategy. We’re looking for a comprehensive 10-year strategy that will help to guide the responsible management of our mineral resources over the next decade. It’s going to help build a sustainable industry that adheres to high environmental standards and is engaged with First Nations and communities.

We are working with First Nations — there was a workshop held here in Whitehorse by the Strategic Initiatives branch just prior to the start of this session. We feel that this is important work and we want to make sure that this document allows us to emerge from the current downturn in better shape than we went in. We’re already seeing signs of success — investments into Victoria Gold, Kaminak and Wellgreen by a major US funding partner are indications that the Yukon will be well-positioned to emerge from this downturn in better shape than when we went in.

We have mines that are currently permitted and some that will be moving through permitting. We’re in much better shape than we were in the early part of 2000-01 when it comes to the mining sector of the territory —