Question re: Mining regulatory certainty - April 29, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. At this year’s mineral Roundup in Vancouver, the head of the Yukon Prospectors’ Association had some interesting things to say about the outlook for mining in the Yukon. One of them is that people are saying things aren’t quite as rosy as we have been led to believe over the years in the Yukon. The boom enjoyed during record high mineral prices is now over. However, the underlying problems still do exist. We lack infrastructure, particularly in regard to power. We lack skilled workers. The governments relationship with the governments that own a lot of the Yukon —the First Nations — is now at a low point. Our regulatory regime has also been subject to a great amount of criticism as of late.

What is the government doing to start addressing some of these underlying issues?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    I am happy to answer the question from the member opposite when it comes to some of the challenges facing the mining industry that he identified. When it comes to labour, we can just look back at a tribute earlier today to the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining and this government’s support for that training facility at Yukon College and the number of Yukoners who are getting trained.

When it comes to infrastructure, there is a substantial investment in our transportation infrastructure being made in this very budget that I know the member opposite will be voting against, as well as significant investments in power planning here in the territory. Something that is very near and dear to my heart as the minister is to ensure that we have a competitive regulatory and licensing regime.

One only needs to look back at the announcement made last week by Executive Council Office introducing timelines for the adequacy stage for quartz water licensing. We feel we are making progress and that it will all be in the best interest of the mining industry going forward.

Mr. Silver:   The head of the Prospectors’ Association says that companies are tired of the hype and they want action. They are annoyed to be finding out that things are not quite as rosy as they have been led to believe over the years by this government. For many years the Yukon Party rode a wave of high mineral prices and glossed over the fact that there were underlying issues.

Here’s another example. The government’s effort to market the Yukon as a good place to do business was dealt a serious blow at the mineral Roundup when the Peel lawsuit was announced. The head of the Prospectors’ Association said it was unlikely that there would be any serious exploration in the Peel watershed for many years. The blame for this uncertainty belongs with the government because of its inability, or just plain unwillingness, to come to an agreement with First Nation governments in that area. Why did the government choose this confrontational approach to land use planning?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    As members know, we chose to modify the final recommended plan that was put forward by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission. We made some modifications to it that we believe will still respect and protect the environmental integrity of the area, but also allow for some economic activity to occur in that area as well. We’re very proud of the restricted use wilderness areas that we have put in place with limited disturbance at any one time. We’re very proud of the new protected areas that we’ve created, making the Yukon with the highest percentage of protected areas in the territory.

The Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party chose, during the election campaign and before, to endorse the final recommended plan of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, but I’m very interested to hear where they would have gotten the money to purchase those claims from those existing claim holders and to buy that out, because that is something we were not willing to do — which was to put in jeopardy Yukon’s future and perhaps bankrupt the territory as the Liberals and the New Democrats would have done.

Mr. Silver:   “Modifications,” the minister says — more like outright rejections of the Peel plan.

Mr. Speaker, when the government says that it would be courting mining at the Roundup, I’m not sure that this is what they had in mind.

There was concern expressed by the industry at the Roundup that the government has been painting an unrealistic picture. The hype has not been matched by action on the ground floor, so to speak. While the Premier and his ministers were sailing around the Vancouver harbour, the industry was getting a taste of just how much uncertainty this government has unleashed with its stick-in-the-eye approach to First Nation relations. The head of the Prospectors’ Association said that there will not be serious exploration in the Peel region for many, many years.

I will ask a question, Mr. Speaker. Can the minister explain how coming up with a land use plan that has so little buy-in from Yukon First Nation governments could actually increase certainty for the mining industry?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Of course we’re looking at addressing those concerns in the mining industry. I mentioned our significant investment in our transportation infrastructure as well as our power infrastructure, the work with the Water Board, the training work with the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining, and working with Canada and First Nations to improve the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act process.

When it comes to supporting the mining industry, that’s something that not only I personally do, but our government does. We respect the contributions of that industry to the territory. We’re pleased that some of the private companies like Chihong Mining will be making a significant investment in the territory this year — $56 million.

Again, the member opposite can support the mining industry one day and not support it another day, but the fact is that —