Question re: Mining legislation

Hansard, November 18, 2013

Mr. Silver: As we begin Geoscience week, I’d like to raise some questions that I’m hearing from the mining industry. While some problems on the mining horizon are beyond Yukon’s control, there are many things that we can manage right here at home, and that includes regulatory certainty. The government has brought forth changes to our mining legislation this fall that raise many questions about security of tender and regulatory uncertainty.

A prominent local prospector said that he felt a tightening of the noose around his neck as he read the proposed changes. Several people in the industry are questioning why these changes are coming forth at all. They believe that the changes really had nothing to do with the recent Ross River court case and that this decision could have been implemented without them.

Why did the government choose to make changes to the legislation that have nothing to do with the recent court decision?

Hon. Mr. Kent: The amendments to each of the acts that are before the House right now are designed to meet the declarations of the Yukon Court of Appeal. They’re going to establish the authority to designate areas where notification requirements would be required for low-level class 1 exploration activities.

That’s what those amendments are designed to do: to meet the one declaration that was brought forward by the Court of Appeal here in the territory. The second declaration 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. We are meeting those two declarations and we’re working to a court-imposed timeline of December 27 to complete that.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, the changes this government is proposing go well beyond what is required to implement the Ross River court decision. The minister has heard this repeatedly from the mining industry. The changes are very significant, open-ended and will cause significant regulatory uncertainty. A high-profile mining executive recently said Yukon has lost its reputation as a solid place to invest, even when times are good, and it’s because of decisions like this one.

It is my understanding that industry and First Nations were working out a way to avoid major legislative changes. In the middle of that process, the government dropped this package of amendments without talking to anyone beforehand.

Why did the minister go the route of amending the legislation instead of working with both sides to come up with a solution that didn’t introduce more regulatory uncertainty?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Again, these amendments to the act are designed to meet one of the declarations of the Yukon Court of Appeal ruling.

We rely on the advice of our officials in Justice and legal people to let us know how we must accomplish meeting those amendments. The second amendment is with respect to the work that is going on, on a government-to-government basis right now. Members will know that we did appeal that to the Supreme Court of Canada. We were denied that, so we have been working at that government-to-government table very effectively here over the past number of weeks.

Again, with respect to these amendments, they are enabling amendments. There is significant consultation taking place right now by Energy, Mines and Resources with First Nations and industry organizations. In fact, I met this morning with the Klondike Placer Miners Association to discuss these amendments and what the effect will be for their industry.

We continue to have those discussions on the regulations as they’re developed as we look to meet that December 27 court-ordered deadline.

Mr. Silver: The courts didn’t tell the government that legislation had to be changed. The government has chosen to amend the legislation and I disagree with this approach. There are other ways of achieving the goals here. The changes will go well beyond the recommendations of the court and they will introduce a high degree of regulatory uncertainty into that permitting process. It did not have to be that way.

One miner I spoke to said that special operating conditions came out of the blue. The government didn’t talk to industry or First Nations before simply imposing the so-called solution.

I won’t be supporting this bill in this sitting. As I said, the industry and First Nations had already worked on solutions when government walked in and, without talking to anyone beforehand, brought forward its own answer. It included changes that go well beyond what is described in that court ruling.

Why did the government go beyond what was asked for in the courts?

Hon. Mr. Kent: As I mentioned, the court decision outlined Yukon’s duty as it relates to any mining activities and what the Yukon government’s role would be with respect to consulting on class 1 exploration activities. We’ve tabled a number of enabling amendments to the Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act that will allow us to develop regulations and establish the authority to designate areas where notification requirements would be required for low-level class 1 exploration activities.

I think one of the most disappointing things that I hear from the member opposite is that he has already determined that he’s not going to support this legislation before he has even heard from officials and received a briefing on the legislation. So he may want to rethink that after he has heard from officials as to why the amendments have been tabled and what they’re designed to accomplish.