Question re: Mineral development strategy - April 16, 2015

Mr. Silver: Under the watch of this government, the Keno mine closed in 2013 and we had the second-lowest GDP of any place in Canada. In 2014, spending on mineral exploration dropped 22 percent. Across the border in the Northwest Territories, we saw a 32-percent increase in spending that same year. We began 2015 with news of Wolverine mine being closed, leaving many Yukon companies owed more than $4 million in unpaid bills. After insisting that we were a mineral hot spot in Canada, the Yukon Party has changed its tune and now blames low mineral prices for the downturn that we are currently experiencing. As we head into an election cycle, the Yukon Party has sprung into action, announcing that by 2016, a mineral development strategy will be in place.

Why did the government wait until three-and-a-half years into its mandate to begin working on this plan?

Hon. Mr. Kent: I’m proud of the work that we have embarked upon when it comes to the mineral development strategy. This is on top of a number of initiatives that we started throughout our mandate. Of course the member didn’t reference the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining, which has been established to train Yukoners for job opportunities in the mineral sector. Whether it is placer mining or hard rock mining opportunities, there are a number of different opportunities that Yukoners are being trained for right now — not only Yukoners in Whitehorse, but Yukoners in the communities through the mobile trades’ trailer. The member opposite didn’t reference all of the significant investments that we have been making in infrastructure — such as highways, airports and telecommunications, as well as energy infrastructure — including our plans for our next generation hydro, as well as plans to upgrade the power line from Stewart Crossing to Keno City to ensure that there is enough power capacity for that important industrial corridor, including the mine that the member opposite referenced.

There are some incredible success stories that have been built out of the latest exploration boom. Again, through the work of the mine licensing improvement initiative and the mineral development strategy, we want to emerge from this current downturn in the world metal markets in better shape than we went in and, once again, claim our spot as one of the top mining jurisdictions in the world.

Mr. Silver: The facts remain the same — that we are not turning exploration projects into actual mines. Exploration has dropped off ever since this government came into office, in actual fact. Two mines have closed and the one that the government kept insisting was going to boost our GDP, never ever opened. Another problem the government was well aware of when it came into office was the overlap between the Water Board and other regulatory agencies. Finally, after years of inaction, the government has started a mine licensing improvement initiative and is trying to address this problem.

Why did this government sit on the sidelines until 18 months before an election to try to fix this particular problem?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Again, what the Member for Klondike is not telling Yukoners with his question is what we have done with respect to licence improvements. There have been improvements made to the Yukon Waters Act. There have been timelines instituted for the adequacy phase with respect to type A licences for quartz projects. Through the work of the mine licensing improvement initiative, we will continue to address some of those overlaps that exist between the licensing and permitting issues. We are doing so in partnership with First Nations, moving forward to ensure that we can come up with a licensing and permitting system that is responsive to the needs of industry, but of course protects the environment in the long run, which is one of the utmost purposes that we are looking for.

The member opposite mentioned exploration projects — I think that coming out of the last exploration rush we have seen projects like the Coffee gold project that is owned by Kaminak Gold Corp. — Wellgreen platinum has moved forward with their activities. In fact, Mr. Speaker, early estimates for exploration this year are in the $100-million range, which is up from $80 million in 2014. Again, these are estimates that are put together based on announcements by companies at this point, but we see those numbers trending in the right direction and we are proud of the work that we do to support the mining industry.

Mr. Silver: The fact remains that the government came into office after a summer of record mineral exploration in 2011 and not a single mine has opened up in three and a half years since. In fact, two mines that it inherited have closed under its watch. Exploration has declined every year that this government been in office. One thing that is on the rise under this government is court action. The government’s legal battles between First Nations have seen 13 percent of the Yukon removed from staking until at least 2017. Another legal battle with Yukon First Nation governments is on the way unless this government backs down on its changes to Bill S‑6.

So I will ask this question: What involvement will First Nation governments have in the development of these two new initiatives that are finally underway?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: One thing is for certain in three and a half years, which is that in three and a half years, this Liberal leader and the Liberal Party has opposed and voted against every initiative that this government has put forward and fundamental industries within this Yukon economy. What we know for certain is that he has flip-flopped on a number of issues through three and a half years. What we know for certain is that he has no position on anything and he has no plans for anything.