Question: Mineral staking on settlement land - December 4, 2013

Hansard December 4, 2013

Mr. Silver:   Earlier this week, the Premier received a letter from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation in Dawson regarding Bill No. 66. This bill is the government’s response to the 2012 Ross River court decision.

The letter from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is only the latest in the string of correspondence the Premier has received from First Nations and from the mining industry. A common message in all of the mail the Premier has received concerns a lack of consultation because of a rushed nature of the government’s actions. The letter from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in begins, and I quote, “We write this letter under the pressure of an unrealistic deadline imposed by the Yukon Government.”

The Premier had 12 months to meet the court deadlines, but didn’t talk to anyone until the first six months were over and now we’re out of time. Another option available to the government was to ask for an extension from the courts.

It’s not only the Ross River Dena Council who is looking for these timelines. Why was an extension never considered as an option?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Just again to outline the process going back to December 2012 when the Yukon Court of Appeal issued the two declarations with respect to this case. The Yukon government decided to accept one of the declarations — that’s the one that we’re speaking of now — with regard to the class 1 activities and notification of class 1 mining activities that take place within the Ross River area. In March 2013, a letter was sent to First Nations letting them know that we would be appealing the other declaration, but accepting that declaration.

In June and July there was a 60-day public consultation that included submissions from 10 of 14 First Nations, I believe, as well as industry submissions and discussions with other interested parties. Throughout August, September, October and November, we built the enabling amendments and have built the regulatory package that led to the deadline for comments and submissions of the day before yesterday. So that’s when many of these letters started to arrive from First Nations.

We’ll certainly be responding to all of the letters after we’ve been able to give them full and fair consideration. Again, with respect to the extension of the deadline, we would certainly want to have assurances from Ross River that they were able to support any extension and to date we have not received those indications from the Ross River Dena Council.

Mr. Silver:   The government had the option to seek an extension from the courts. They could have asked for more time and I would say that, given the concerns raised by lots of different First Nations and industry, that might have been the right thing to do.

An extension was never even considered by this government and the result is that the stakeholders are angry at this government for its rushed approach. Here’s what the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in had to say about the consultation process, and I quote, “Alongside other Yukon First Nations, we have cooperated with Yukon’s last-minute and irregular schedule as much as we could.”

Now, the Teslin Tlingit Council had described the consultation process as vague, confusing and contradictory. The mining industry said simply back in June that the consultation period for amendment is too short.

Why is the government ignoring these requests for more time to discuss these major changes to the territory’s mining legislation?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    This court action is between the Ross River Dena Council and the Yukon government. That’s what the Court of Appeal ruled on in coming up with the two declarations last year.

We would certainly want some indication from the Ross River Dena Council that they would be in support of going after an extension. I’m curious as to how the member opposite can characterize that the government has never considered an extension. That’s certainly something that surprises me — that he would say something like that. In the latest correspondence from Chief Ladue of the Ross River Dena Council, he has indicated to me and the Premier that they would not be in support of an extension to the December 27 court-ordered deadline.

We are working to that deadline with respect to the class 1 notifications. We are working to that deadline with respect to identifying land in the Ross River area that will not be available for mineral staking going forward. That is what we are committed to doing. We’re committed to meeting those two declarations of the Court of Appeal: the one that we accepted; the one that we appealed and were denied appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada in September.

Again, this court-ordered deadline of December 27 is fast approaching, but we’re confident — especially with respect to the class 1 notification — that we can meet that deadline.

Mr. Silver:   The reason why I continue to ask about extensions is because we have yet to hear an answer from the minister as to whether or not they did. If you could say that in the House today, that would be great.

It’s bad enough that the government has allowed so little time for consultation to occur. It’s even worse that the government ignored almost all of what it did here. Stakeholders didn’t even see the legislation until it was tabled in this House because it wasn’t ready until then.

With regard to the regulations, stakeholders were given 14 business days to review them — 14 days. Here is what Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in says of the bill, and I quote: “…we were astounded to discover that our efforts had borne virtually no fruit. Not only did most of our recommendations go unheeded, but the tabled bill is also inconsistent with the Discussion Paper…”

They went on to say, and I quote: “TH is troubled by the Yukon’s tabled amendments and regulation plans…”

My question is simple: what does the minister have to say about Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s submission?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my initial answer, we have received a number of letters from many First Nations with respect to this issue and we’ll be giving those letters full and fair consideration and responding to each letter that we receive from our First Nation partners.

Again with respect to options that we’re considering, I have mentioned that, especially with the declaration related to the areas to be withdrawn from staking, it serves no purpose to discuss those issues on the floor of this House. I don’t believe it helps with the process. We have received in correspondence from the Ross River Dena Council that they’re not willing to support an extension to the deadline imposed by the courts of December 27. We’re working through notification and consultation, as well as dialogue with affected First Nations, industry stakeholders and others, throughout the fall in developing the regulatory package and the amendments.

That’s what we’ve been engaged in. With respect to the extension that Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and other First Nations have asked for, we certainly have not received indication from the Ross River Dena Council that they are willing to support an extension so we’re not prepared to seek one.