Question re: First Nation participation in mining sector - May 5, 2014

Mr. Silver:   On Friday morning, the Premier held a private meeting with the Yukon First Nation chiefs to discuss changes to the class 1 mining thresholds. At the meeting, the Premier announced that new class 1 restrictions imposed in the Ross River traditional territory last year are going to be put in place in the traditional territories of both the White River and the Liard First Nations starting July 1 of this year. He also said that notification for class 1 activities would be introduced Yukon-wide sooner rather than later. These new class 1 thresholds are results of the Ross River Court of Appeal decision handed down last year. The Yukon Party has insisted, since the decision was released, that it only applied to Ross River and not to other First Nations. Now, on the eve of another exploration season, the government has now changed its mind. Why?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     Certainly this government meets with Yukon First Nations on a regular basis. We have our officials within departments who work with First Nations on a daily basis and in fact, I took the opportunity in the last session to talk extensively on just some of the things this government does to continue to work with Yukon First Nations, either collaboratively or on a bilateral basis.

As you know, Mr. Speaker and the members opposite are also aware, I also meet informally with Yukon First Nations leadership where we have a chance to talk about a lot of different issues and continue to have a chance to really understand our problems and opportunities that each of us face and how we can continue to work toward moving Yukon forward on many fronts — economically, socially and politically. This government will continue to do that.

Mr. Silver:   Last fall, the government passed amendments to the Yukon Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act to address the issues decided in the Ross River Dena Council v. Yukon government court case. These amendments required notification for all mining land use activities on claims, regardless of the environmental impact. At that time, the government assured prospectors that they would be consulting with First Nations to exempt activities with no significant environmental impact from these requirements. In December, industry associations were informed that new class 1 thresholds would be implemented in February, so that exploration companies would have a clear set of rules going forth into the summer exploration season. To date, none of this has happened and the exploration season is about to start.

What is the government doing about that commitment that it made in December?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    I thank the member opposite for that question; it is extremely important. Obviously the class criteria or the thresholds that we want to adjust for the class 1 activities are something that is very important to the industry — to the prospectors and others — who are engaged in early stage or class 1 exploration activity, but it is also something of course that is important to the First Nations. To that end, we will be engaging with First Nations and industry in the coming months to establish what that class criteria — those new thresholds — will look like.

It’s something that’s important to both those groups going forward, and we’re pleased to have both those groups being engaged in developing those thresholds for class 1 activity throughout the territory.

Mr. Silver:   Last fall, officials from Energy, Mines and Resources told the mining industry officials that they would adopt and implement new thresholds proposed by the Yukon Prospectors’ Association for class 1 mining land use activities.

Has the government consulted with First Nations concerning these proposed new thresholds for class 1 activity, as they committed to do last fall?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Perhaps the Member for Klondike didn’t hear my second answer, so I’ll repeat it.

Last fall, during consultation on the amendments to the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act, the Yukon Prospectors’ Association put forward some potential amendments to the class criteria and the thresholds. It is something that we weren’t able to consult on at the time and it’s something, as I mentioned in my second answer, that we’re happy to have industry and First Nations engaged on setting those thresholds going forward, and it’s something that we’re committed to and will be led, from a Yukon government perspective, through the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. I look forward to those discussions taking place very soon and coming up with thresholds that make sense for those who are engaged in the industry and also for First Nations that are users of the land and would be those that required notification for class 1 activities.

Again, I can commit to the House that those consultations will be getting underway very shortly and we look forward to a resolution at some time in the very near future.