Question re: Mineral staking on settlement land - November 20, 2013

Hansard November 20, 2013

Mr. Silver:   I have more questions regarding this government’s answer to the Ross River Court decision. This government is responding to one aspect of the ruling by making changes to our mining legislation. The second part of the ruling is being met through government-to-government discussions with the Ross River Dena Council and Yukon government, as far as identifying lands in the Ross River area that will no longer be available for staking.

The minister said that he was working toward a December 27 deadline in those discussions with Ross River. He mentioned earlier today that he has been in discussion with the chief from RRDC. When did the discussions that the minister is referring to between Ross River and government begin? Could the minister tell us when that last meeting was?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    I don’t have details with me with respect to the scheduling of meetings. I can inform members of the House that meetings are underway. There is a team from the aboriginal relations branch in Executive Council Office that is leading the discussions from the Yukon government side and Ross River Dena Council has representatives at the table as well. Again, we’ve instructed officials to work diligently and quickly, of course making sure that we can match the schedule put forward by Ross River, as far as when they’re available for meetings.

The Court of Appeal has asked us to have these declarations dealt with by December 27 and that’s what we’re working toward at this moment. With respect to face-to-face meetings, the Premier and I did meet — as I mentioned — with the chief of Ross River Dena Council, as well as one of the councillors, for approximately an hour and a half, or 90 minutes. I believe it was in October that those discussions took place, but I’m not sure of the exact date at this moment.

Mr. Silver:   I appreciate the answer from the minister. There are only six weeks or so left in the deadline the minister says he must meet, and there is no agreement in place so far with Ross River. A session at the Geoscience Forum on this very subject was cancelled at the last minute because there was no progress to report.

After this court decision was announced last December, the government was given 12 months to come up with a solution. Instead of getting to work, the government decided to appeal and to wait until it was told “no” in September, even before talking with Ross River. Nine out of the 12 months were lost and now we’re down to about six weeks left to reach an agreement.

What are the outstanding issues that remain unresolved? Does the minister believe an agreement will be in place before December 27, 2013?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    We’re working toward that December 27 deadline that was put in place by the Yukon Court of Appeal. As far as the discussions at the table, it has always been my experience that it’s best to leave officials from both parties to have those discussions with respect to this. It is identifying those lands within the Ross River area that will not be available for staking.

As I mentioned in a previous answer, the court decision did not question the free-entry system and the Yukon government is not questioning it either, but those discussions need to take place and we need to allow them to develop at the table, rather than engaging in speculation here on the floor of the Assembly.

Mr. Silver:   Given how little time is left on the clock until the December 27 deadline, many mining industry people are very concerned about an agreement and not being able to reach that in time. The cancellation of the planned discussions at the Geoscience Forum only added fuel to that particular fire.

People I have spoken to in the industry have told me that a moratorium on staking in the Ross River traditional territory is being considered by this government as a possible option to meet the court’s ruling. Now, it would be very unfortunate if it came to this. However, given the government’s inability to show any real forward progression with the First Nation, it is cause for much concern.

For the record, is a moratorium something the government is considering, or can the minister please tell Yukoners that he has ruled this out?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Again, I don’t think it’s fair to speculate on the discussions that are taking place on a government-to-government basis between the Yukon government and the Ross River Dena Council with respect to which lands are going to be identified to be withdrawn from staking.

I find it interesting that the member opposite is so concerned about a staking ban in the Ross River area when he asked me during this sitting to extend the staking ban in the Peel watershed. Obviously the member opposite would like to see the withdrawal of 68,000 kilometres of the Yukon from exploration and did ask me to extend the staking ban in that area but then, in trying to show that he is a supporter of mining, he wants me to not have a staking ban in the Ross River area.

Discussions are underway at that table. I’m not going to speculate about those discussions on the floor of this House. Whether it’s support for the Peel or the infamous map-staking do-over of 2011 that the Liberals have done or the fact that he looks to seek political gain from struggles in the mining sector — he can’t have it both ways, which he always tries to do on the floor of this House.