Question re: First Nations/government relations - March 27, 2014

Mr. Silver:   Since coming to office in 2002, the Yukon Party government has taken a hands-off approach to working with unsigned Yukon First Nations. The federal Conservatives have followed suit and have made no attempt to either (a) reach a final agreement under the UFA, or (b) work out an alternative arrangement that would bring more certainty to both unsigned First Nations and the public, who also use the land for a variety of purposes, including resource development. Successive Yukon Party governments have been unwilling or unable to bridge the gap. The result is legal uncertainty, expensive court battles and a confused resource sector.

In January, White River offered to sit down to negotiate. They have asked for years, and I quote, for a “true process to resolve issues with Government to create certainty for all. To date, there has been no serious commitment to this from YG and the economy will continue to falter as a result with terrible uncertainty for investment.”

Have these negotiations started?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     For the record, we’ll state that this is the 33rd Legislative Assembly that I’ve in fact been the Premier of since 2011, and many or most of the members of this caucus have been here.

We worked very well moving forward to work with First Nations.

I have to say that there is no mandate for the federal government to negotiate on a land claims and self-government agreement with the three unsettled First Nations, nor is there an interest by those three First Nations.

I have spoken to the chiefs on this on many occasions. Certainly, if there was a willingness by the First Nations to enter into such a negotiation, we would, of course, support that and as well advocate to the Government of Canada.

We continue to work to ensure that benefits are shared with the First Nations when there is any sort of work within their traditional territory, whether it’s resource-based or if it’s through forestry or through oil and gas or mining. We’ll continue toward creating economic agreements to ensure that the citizens of those communities and of those First Nations directly benefit from that type of resource industry. Of course, we continue to talk about consultations with those First Nations and will continue to do so.

Mr. Silver:   The latest Fraser Institute rankings, which saw the Yukon dropping out of the top 10, cited land claims uncertainty as one of the major issues for investors. Now, I am not a big fan of the Fraser Institute, but we all know that the Yukon Party holds this conservative think-tank in very high regard.

Land claims uncertainty is an area the government can play a role in improving. Instead, it keeps going to court with the First Nations and creating more uncertainty.

In January, White River issued a public statement asking this government — not the federal government, this government — to come to the table. The Government of Yukon’s response was basically, “Not right now, we’re too busy.” White River was told to stand in line and to wait until the government had first consulted and completed that consultation with Ross River.

Mr. Speaker, why did the government reject a request from White River to start negotiation at the beginning of 2014 and instead tell them to wait their turn?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     I think my colleague, the minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, highlighted this fact very simply yesterday in terms of — the leader of the Liberal Party, the Member for Klondike, in his use of the Fraser Institute and trumpeting their results when he wants it and then downplaying it when in fact it doesn’t suit him. This speaks to the position of the Liberal Party on such issues and on such things as important as education or on resource extraction here in the territory.

Mr. Silver:   For the record, Mr. Speaker, I don’t agree with the Fraser Institute for either of those departments.

There is a price to be paid because of the government’s inability to come to some agreement or accommodation with White River First Nation. That is the question.

This price is being paid by resource companies that want to invest in this part of the territory — very simple. White River has requested a ban on staking in their entire traditional territory until this matter is addressed. There is already a staking ban in place in the entire Ross River Dena traditional territory because of this government’s inability to work with the First Nation.

Yet another lawsuit was added to the mix yesterday when this government was sued by the Kaska. So, is White River or is Kaska next? Is the government going to be forced into another huge area being banned from staking because of its inability to work with this First Nation government?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     We’ll continue to work with this First Nation and it’s also good to know what the position of the Liberal leader is on such issues going forward.

Of course, things are not always as simple as he would like to articulate. For example, the White River traditional territory has a 100-percent overlap with the Kluane First Nation, which does have land claim and self-government final agreements. So it is not as simple as he would like to describe.

We continue to work with the White River First Nation. We’ll continue to work with their officials. We’re always looking for an opportunity to ensure certainty through an agreement on a consultation protocol. We continue to work with them toward that and we’ll also continue to work to create opportunities for the citizens of Beaver Creek and for the White River First Nation to ensure that they will be able to benefit in any development that would occur in the White River traditional territory. As I mentioned, it is a complicated issue when it comes to White River because of the 100-percent overlap.

But we are vigilant. We’ll continue to work to ensure that we see benefits of economic growth. Our focus is on expanding our infrastructure and building our private sector economy, which will benefit Yukoners right from one border to the other border — north, south, east and west.