Question re: Mineral development strategy - October 29, 2015

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, after spending the initial part of their mandate coasting on high mineral prices, the Yukon Party government decided last fall to do something that might actually improve the mining industry. In mid-November 2014, the government announced plans for a mineral development strategy.

Now, with our economy shrinking for the third year in a row under this government’s watch, that’s a very good idea. A news release at the time said — and I quote: “The strategy, which will be complete in a year …”

We are only a few weeks away from the government’s own timeline and it is obvious that this will not be met. Public consultations were supposed to have begun in August and they haven’t materialized.

Mr. Speaker, why is the mineral development strategy not ready on time, as promised by this government?

Hon. Mr. Kent: I’m certainly proud of the work that Energy, Mines and Resources has put into the mineral development strategy. We’re looking at a comprehensive long-term plan to guide mineral exploration and development in the Yukon and help build a sustainable industry that adheres to high environmental standards and is engaged with First Nations and communities.

The Yukon government is currently in discussions with First Nations and industry with the intent of building this strategy, and I guess that lends to part of the delay, Mr. Speaker. Obviously we wanted to have it ready for the upcoming Geoscience Forum, but First Nations showed a great deal of interest in this and so we’ve slowed it down a little bit to engage them and ensure that we incorporate their input into this. While I’m disappointed with the delay, I think it’s for a good reason when you’re engaging First Nations and ensuring that it’s reflective of their priorities, as well as those of the government and other Yukoners.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, our economy has shrunk over the last two years in a row under this government, and it is forecasted to shrink again. Over the summer, the Yukon Party didn’t release this mineral development strategy as promised, but they did go to court — two weeks in court fighting with the First Nation governments over the Peel watershed. The last-minute four amendments to YESAA that it championed also have resulted in another lawsuit being filed.

One of the few good initiatives of this government, the mineral development strategy, hasn’t moved much beyond the drawing board in about a year after its announcement. One of the main themes of the strategy is First Nation engagement.

When is the government going to start engaging First Nations instead of fighting them in court?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Respectfully, for the member opposite, I certainly want to repeat the answer that I gave in my first response. It is precisely because of First Nation engagement and interest in this mineral development strategy that the product is delayed. Obviously, when we first initiated this, we wanted to have it ready for the upcoming Geoscience Forum and launch it there, but I felt it was important — once I heard of the interest of First Nations — to engage with them further and take the necessary time to incorporate their thoughts into what the final product looks like. I had the opportunity, along with the Minister of Economic Development and the Minister of Environment — when we travelled to Vancouver to meet with a number of mining companies — to share the reasons for the delay with them. I’ve shared it with other industry organizations. Everyone on that side is pleased with the fact that we’re engaging First Nations — not only on this, but the mine licensing improvement initiative as well.

It’s unfortunate. I know the member opposite would criticize us if we didn’t seek First Nation input; now he seems to be criticizing us for seeking it.

Mr. Silver: On the contrary, but before this session began, the Premier said that the government had almost completed its platform commitments and it should be congratulated on a job well done. When he was asked what he had left to do in the next year, he said, “not a lot”. When your GDP is going to shrink by over six percent in one year, I would argue that there’s an awful lot more work to be done.

The government’s poor relations with First Nations have severely hindered our mining industry. The fiasco at last year’s Roundup, where the Yukon Party ministers refused to attend the First Nations forum on engagement, was a prime example where there was no improvement since.

Maybe the minister can answer this question — it’s my understanding that the government’s strained relationship with Yukon First Nations is one of the main reasons for the delay in moving forward on this new mineral development strategy.

Can the minister explain to us why he has missed his own deadlines for this important new strategy?

Hon. Mr. Kent: As I mentioned in the first two answers to the Member for Klondike with respect to the mineral development strategy, we had hoped to have it ready for Geoscience forum. As we were working our way through First Nations consultation on an early engagement report, I received correspondence from one of the First Nations that they would like to take a bigger role within the mineral development strategy. We’ve reached out to them; it has led to some delays in the release.

Again, I think it’s something that’s worthwhile, obviously — when you’re engaging First Nations. We’re working very closely with them on the mineral development strategy. We’re working closely with them on the mine licence improvement initiative in EMR, and each and every minister on these benches works closely with First Nations on a number of policy initiatives or developments, as I think members can well appreciate.

When it comes to this mineral development strategy, what we’ve targeted with it is the opportunity to emerge from the current downturn in better shape than we went out. Whether it’s in our licensing and permitting regime, in our infrastructure, in our training, in our investment climate or in our relationships with First Nations, we want to ensure that coming out of this downturn, we’re well-positioned.

We’re very well-positioned project-wise, much more so than we were coming out of previous downturn in about 2002-04. I’m confident that with this work and other work that is currently underway, we’re going to be in great shape for the next boom.