Question re: First Nations/government relations – March 27, 2013

Mr. Silver: Last fall the Premier cancelled a scheduled meeting of the Yukon Forum on very short notice. Chiefs from around the territory had already travelled to Whitehorse for a meeting, only to be informed that the Premier would not be able to meet with them. It is an example of this government’s frayed relationships with Yukon First Nation governments. One of the items on the agenda was a new resource royalty agreement. On October 29, 2012, the Premier announced that a new deal with the Yukon First Nations was in place, but he said he wouldn’t be making it public until it was signed at the Yukon Forum. It turns out that announcement was premature as the deal isn’t done after all.

The forum has now been postponed indefinitely. It has been almost five months since the proposed deal was announced, but it remains under wraps. As of this week, it sounds like it might not get signed at all.

Will the Premier release the terms of the new resource royalty agreement that was referred to in the October 29 news release?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: As the member opposite stated, there was an agreement reached for royalty sharing back in October. That was really based upon an MOU that was signed between the self-governing First Nations and the Yukon in May of 2012.

As we have also stated, this agreement is over and above any responsibility that this government has, because we continue to have an obligation and an agreement signed in chapter 23 of the Umbrella Final Agreement that clearly states out what the formula is to share resource royalties in the Yukon. With the agreement to expand the royalties that Yukon will be able to keep in Yukon — with the agreement with the Government of Canada and the Prime Minister in August of 2011 — that agreement and that whole process was done in conjunction and consultation with Yukon First Nations. This government said we wanted to move ahead as partners and to ensure that selfgoverning First Nations do share in the increased royalties that Yukon will be able to reap on a going-forward basis.

Mr. Silver: I must note, too, that a lot has happened in the north since ink hit the paper in the original Umbrella Final Agreement. As recently as August of last year, the government said it wasn’t interested in giving the First Nations a better deal after all. I’m happy that the Government of Yukon is going ahead with improvements to the resource royalty sharing agreement with the First Nations. After initially refusing to give Yukon First Nations a bigger share, the government has changed its mind and has decided to negotiate. Given this government’s rocky relationship with First Nation governments, this could be a good news story, and I am glad that the government is still working on this issue.

News this week that the government has made a take-it-orleave- it announcement with the First Nations is obviously a setback. The Yukon Forum would be an ideal place to discuss these differences. When will the next Yukon Forum be held?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the Member for Klondike is again not speaking factually. Ever since there was a unified commitment to go forward to discuss and increase the royalty sharing for Yukon back in 2010, Yukon First Nations and the Government of Yukon have worked together on coming forward with an agreement that was reached between Yukon and Canada in August 2011.

Since that time there has always been a negotiation on this government’s part to recognize and share some of those additional royalties with First Nations. Eight of 11 of the selfgoverning First Nations have in fact signed that agreement, and in the last day I have in fact spoken or met with the three chiefs of those First Nations that have not yet signed that agreement. It was an opportunity to be able to have a good face-to-face communication and to deal with any concerns or questions that they may have. I am quite optimistic that, going forward, we will be able to announce the complete agreement of all the First Nations and move forward at that time.

Mr. Silver: I am pleased to hear that, based upon the Premier’s supplementary that the negotiations are going well and we should be seeing an agreement very soon. Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Forum would be a perfect place to hammer out an agreement like this; however, this government doesn’t seem to have much interest in this forum. Last month the forum was cancelled. Since the Premier was elected, I believe there has only been one meeting of the Yukon Forum. It is supposed to meet four times a year. That never happened under the previous Yukon Party government, and nothing has changed since that last election.

It is probably the most important relationship that government has with First Nations, and it’s being badly neglected. The forum could be a valuable tool to discuss common interests, agree on priorities and to resolve these disputes. Instead, the government usually just meets the First Nations in court or in front of a judge.

Why is the government so uninterested in using the Yukon Forum as a mechanism for getting along with First Nation governments?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Of course, as this territory and this government sees increased revenues from this new royalty sharing agreement that was signed with Canada, all Yukoners will benefit from those royalties because, when the government uses that money to help to build schools, to help fund doctors and to build hospitals, to build roads and bridges, all Yukoners will benefit from that return to Yukon of enhanced royalties.

I think it’s a good thing that we have the opportunity to talk about this and to talk about the position that this government is in as a result of devolution and land claims and strong Yukon Party policies that have been in place for the past decade where we, in fact, have been leading the nation in a growing economy because this is not a discussion that we would be having 10 years ago after the successive Liberal and NDP governments, where thousands of people moved away and there were no jobs.

Mr. Speaker, as we speak now, officials are working on finalizing a date for the next Yukon Forum, putting together the information that needs to be done so that it can be presented to the leadership so that we can have good, frank discussion and move forward on topics of mutual interest and benefit for all Yukoners.