Question re: Mineral staking on settlement land - April 14, 2015

Mr. Silver: In 2013, as the result of another legal battle with Yukon First Nation governments, this government was under a court order to work with the Ross River Dena Council on what land would be available for staking in their traditional territory. I asked the minister in November 2013 if he would be forced into placing a staking moratorium in Ross River traditional territory due to this court order. We didn’t hear an answer in the House. However, only a few days after the Legislative session concluded, we found out at the government was unable to reach an agreement with Ross River.

Without a deal in place, the entire 63,000-square kilometre area was taken off the table for staking. Last fall the minister assured Yukoners that a deal would be done by the latest deadline of January 2105. Instead, since we last met, the government has extended the amount of time that this land will be off limits for another two years.

Why did the minister break his promise to have the land back in circulation by January 2015?

Hon. Mr. Kent: I thank the member opposite for the question. With respect to what the member is speaking about, there were two declarations that came out of that Yukon Court of Appeal decision. One was, of course, with respect to class 1 mining and notification. The other is what the member opposite is talking about — determining which land will be made available to staking in the Ross River area.

My understanding — again, this is being led by Executive Council Office, so perhaps the Premier will have more information for the member opposite — is that discussions did carry on up until the late stages before the January 31, 2015 deadline, but we were unable to reach a deal. At that point, caucus and Cabinet colleagues, as well as the Premier, decided that it would be beneficial to extend that staking moratorium a further two years, so we could come up with a deal that is fair to Yukoners and fair to citizens of the Ross River Dena Council.

Mr. Silver: This is what the government had to say last year — and I quote: “…the staking ban is due to come off at the end of January …” Instead, because it was unable to reach an agreement, the government has, once again, been forced to extend the staking ban for another two years. By that time, the Yukon Party will have 63,000 square kilometres of land off-limits to staking for a period of more than three years.

The minister was very certain when we were in the House last fall. He said that a deal would be in place before we met again, and it is not. Instead, the government is forced to keep 13 percent of the Yukon off-limits for staking.

The Ross River Dena Council is in full support of this moratorium, of course, because the government is not addressing their concerns. So my question to the minister is: Why hasn’t the government been able to come to an agreement with the Ross River Dena Council?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Negotiations are always between at least two parties and, in this case, that certainly holds true. When it comes to the land and the land quantum that the Ross River Dena Council wanted to keep from being open to mineral staking, we couldn’t come to an agreement with them on that in the time allotted, and that’s why we extended the time two years.

I do find it interesting, though, that the member opposite seems so outraged and appalled by the Ross River area but, at the same time, he would like to remove the entire Peel River watershed from any and all industrial development. It’s quite something to get lectured by the Member for Klondike with respect to the Ross River area and government-to-government consultations with Ross River. Again, he’s supporting mining there but, when it comes to the Peel River watershed, would prefer to see that entire area withdrawn from any industrial development.

Mr. Silver: I don’t seem to be enraged here and, with the Yukon Party government, we have 100-percent protection on the Peel right now for at least the next 20 years.

Mr. Speaker, almost 13 percent of the Yukon is currently off-limit to staking because of this government’s frayed relationships with the Ross River Dena Council. The staking ban has been extended several times now, and it stretches until January 2017. Instead of blaming mineral prices for the slump in our mining sector, maybe the government should pay more attention to resolving issues between itself and First Nation governments.

Last fall, the minister said — and I quote: “… the staking ban is due to come off in January of this year and we look forward to that very mineral-rich area being opened up to staking and additional resource development as early as this next exploration season.”

Does the government accept responsibility for the negative impact that this massive staking ban is having on the mining industry? Mr. Speaker, I would ask the minister to stick to this particular mess —

Speaker: Order please. The member’s time has elapsed.

Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, please.

Hon. Mr. Kent:  Mr. Speaker, of course, we’re supportive of a strong and robust mining sector. I realize that we need to have those types of initial discoveries so that we can have the mines.

I met last Friday with the Yukon Prospectors’ Association to talk about some of the issues of concern for them. I’m happy to report that in this budget we’ve continued with an enhanced Yukon mineral exploration program of $1.4 million. Surely the Member for Klondike will not be supporting that when it comes time to vote on the budget.

Another initiative that we have undertaken this year is to provide double credit for assessment work, which will also help some of the smaller prospectors.

Very much like farming, you need to plant the seeds in the spring to get the crop in the fall and we recognize that the prospectors in this territory play that important role of planting the seeds so that we can have those big mines like Casino, Alexco, the Coffee project and Minto come forward in the end.

 Mr. Speaker, we’re proud of our support for the mining industry. When it comes to free entry and keeping royalties where they are, lowering taxes — all things that the NDP Party doesn’t support, as well as their colleague the Liberal leader.