Question re: Mineral staking on settlement land - November 13, 2014

Mr. Silver:   Mr. Speaker, in 2013, as a result of another legal battle with Yukon First Nation governments, the Yukon government was under a court order to find a way 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, we did find out days after the legislative session concluded that this government was unable to reach an agreement with Ross River on what area would be withdrawn.

In lieu of said agreement, the entire 63,000-square kilometer area was taken off the table. The government has extended the staking ban more than once since then and it continues to be in place today. Is the government any closer to reaching an agreement after a year of negotiations?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Of course, the member opposite is talking about the Yukon Court of Appeal declaration that came into effect last year around Christmastime. There were two declarations — one dealing with class 1 or low-level mining exploration activity, and we’re making progress on that. In fact, we have recently signed an MOU with a number of First Nations and are working through the Yukon Forum that was held in late May of this year to set up a working group to address the class 1 mineral exploration activities.

When it comes to the other declaration that deals with the withdrawal of the Ross River area, of course, it is something that we had to do because of a court order. We are working with the Ross River Dena Council. It is something that is being led by Executive Council Office. My understanding is that the staking ban is due to come off at the end of January and we will have lands identified within the Ross River area that will no longer be available for staking at that time.

Mr. Silver:   Almost 13 percent of the Yukon is now currently off-limits to staking because of this government’s frayed relationship with the Ross River Dena Council. The staking ban has been extended twice and now stretches until January 2015. It will have been in place for more than a year if a deal is reached by this time. If not, it will be extended once again. The government’s strained relationship with the First Nation government is not good for the economy as it marginalizes the mining industry. It must be difficult for the Yukon Party to come across as pro-mining with an ongoing inability to work with the First Nation government when it comes to the resource sector. What would be some of the outstanding issues that remain unresolved?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Of course, as I’ve mentioned on the floor of this Legislature before, it serves no purpose for us to negotiate on the floor of this Legislature in public. As I’ve mentioned, discussions are ongoing, led by Executive Council Office with the Ross River Dena Council on this particular issue. As mentioned, 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.

It is interesting to note though, again there are constants that we always come across in November. We always set our clocks back an hour and we can count on the Liberals to come up with some sort of pro-mining stance, but the Leader of the Liberal Party broke that trend yesterday when he voted against a motion brought forward by the MLA for Watson Lake to address regulatory certainty. He has asked about regulatory certainty every November that this House has sat, and now he has changed his tune. When it comes to the identity crisis that the Leader of the Liberal Party seems to have with respect to supporting responsible development, he may want to check the calendar. It’s November; he is supposed to support mining in November.

Mr. Silver:   Yesterday I voted against a unilateral approach by this Yukon Party government — which clearly has a problem with economic development, as we can see by the GDP numbers.

Mr. Speaker, 13 percent of the Yukon remains closed to mining under the leadership of this Yukon Party government. One hundred percent of the Peel has been banned from any exploration because of this Yukon Party government. So, let’s stick with the actual question and let’s see if we actually get an answer from the minister. Maybe I can ask him one question and get an answer without getting heckled from the Minister of Economic Development.

Could the minister at least comment on the fact of whether or not he has sat down and negotiated with the government, and when was the last time he and the Ross River Dena Council have met?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     What is not good for the economy is the Liberal Party and the NDP. That is quite clear. We saw it again yesterday when both parties voted against this strong regulatory system — improving our regulatory system for responsible resource extraction and responsible resource industry in this territory.

The Leader of the Liberal Party does not support the YESAA amendments, even though the Senate Liberals unanimously supported them in Ottawa. For the record, we know where the Liberal leader is when it comes to the Peel. He wanted the Peel shut down. Now he is calling for us to open it up — another example of the leadership that we see from the Liberal Party, depending on who he is talking to and who he supports. That’s what we expect and that’s what we get.