Question re: Mineral Staking - March 26, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have question for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Last year the Government of Yukon lost another round in the courts as it continued its antagonistic approach with the First Nation relations. As a result of this court loss, the government was under a court order to find a way to work with the Ross River Dena Council on what land would be available for staking in their traditional territory.

The government was given a year to come up with a solution and spent most of that time on a fruitless appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada. Meetings with Ross River produced no agreements by the December 27 deadline just before Christmas, and the government banned staking completely in Ross River’s traditional territory in order to meet the court order. Ross River area is 63,000 square kilometres and the ban is set to expire on April 30, 2014.

Mr. Speaker, has an agreement with Ross River been reached?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Just to clarify a couple of the comments made by the Member for Klondike in his question — there were, of course, two declarations with respect to the Yukon Court of Appeal. The first one dealt with notification of low-level or class 1 mining exploration activity, and that is one that we accepted. The second declaration has resulted in work in the staking ban referenced by the member opposite, and the work that is underway, being led by the Executive Council Office, the Aboriginal Relations branch, working with the Ross River Dena Council to identify areas within their traditional territory where staking will not be allowed.

As the member referenced, that staking ban is in place until April 30. I know that the Premier would have more information on this, but the sides continue to negotiate and we do have the class 1 notification provisions in the Ross River area underway right now. Obviously, the declaration with respect to the low-level mining activity has been enacted and the work continues on identifying areas within the Ross River traditional territory that won’t be available for staking.

Mr. Silver:   The way the government works with First Nations — or, more appropriately, doesn’t work with First Nations — has consequences for the economy. Just this morning the government was served another lawsuit from Yukon First Nations over a similar issue. The Kaska now want to know why the court decision does not apply to their traditional territory as well. Thirteen percent of the territory is now off limits to mining — indefinitely, it sounds like — because this government cannot reach an agreement with Ross River over what areas will be available for staking.

Media reports in February said that negotiations between the government and the Ross River Dena had broken off completely.

Can the minister tell Yukoners when the last negotiation session was held and when the next one is scheduled?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Before Christmas, in the fall sitting when we addressed this issue on the floor of this House, I stated that I didn’t think it served any real purpose to carry out the negotiations with the Ross River Dena Council on the floor of the Legislative Assembly and I still believe that. As mentioned, April 30 is the deadline for the staking ban to come off, and officials within Executive Council Office, in aboriginal relations, are working hard with the Ross River Dena Council to meet that deadline and identify those areas within that traditional territory that we feel need to be removed from staking activity to meet that other declaration of the Court of Appeal.

I find it very interesting — again, the Member for Klondike. Clearly there’s a mining conference in town because he’s supporting mining now when he often takes a different tack and supports environmental interests or other interests. One only has to look at his support for the recommended Peel watershed plan, which would have removed a huge region of the Yukon from staking. So a huge staking ban in the Peel but mad about the staking ban when we’re working with the First Nation in Ross River. Yukoners won’t be fooled by the member’s approach.

Mr. Silver:   Clearly there is a 100-percent ban on staking in the Peel because no one is going to go in there after the mess that these guys have decided on.

The Yukon Party can spend as much taxpayer money as it wants attending conferences to promote mining, but it won’t matter if it keeps going to the courts with the First Nations. The Yukon took an extreme tumble in the Fraser Institute’s mining report card this year and one of the reasons given was for uncertainty for land. The new executive director for the Chamber of Mines has said that uncertainty created by lawsuits between the Yukon government and affected First Nations is scaring away investment. It’s not just me, Mr. Speaker. A lot of people are pointing the finger to the Yukon government when it comes to mining.

The Yukon Party says it’s supporting mining but sabotages its own efforts by continuing to meet First Nations in front of a court. What options is the minister considering if a deal is not reached by April 30 with Ross River?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    I’m not going to speculate on what’s going to happen in the future. Obviously I’ve mentioned that the Executive Council Office, Aboriginal Relations, is working with the Ross River Dena Council to meet that April 30 timeline and we continue to work toward that.

Mr. Speaker, I had the pleasure of giving opening remarks at the First Nation resource conference held here in Whitehorse this morning, and it was great to hear a number of chiefs and the mayor of Whitehorse speak about the opportunities that exist between First Nations, industry as well as the Yukon government to advance the resource sector, be it mining, forestry, oil and gas opportunities, or even some of the land development opportunities that we have.

Mr. Speaker, I find it funny, though, that the member opposite references the Fraser Institute rankings, because it seems to me that, when I was the Minister of Education, he was outraged at the Fraser Institute for the rankings of schools — but again, he picks and chooses what he wants to say on the floor of this House. As I mentioned, he’s pro-mining some days and he’s against mining other days, so Yukoners won’t be fooled by his position.