Question re: Mining regulatory uncertainty - April 30, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Premier. During the 2011 election campaign, the Yukon Party committed to, and I quote, “…work with industry, the federal government, and First Nation governments to establish greater certainty for access to resources, water licenses and permits by creating a clear permitting regime …” During the first two and a half years of its mandate, the government has in fact gone in the opposite direction and, according to a recent Fraser report, actually increased the level of uncertainty by its actions and inactions.

During the Geoscience Forum held last fall in Whitehorse, the Premier told delegates, “Our government has also submitted proposed amendments to the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Act or YESAA to the federal government.”

Can the Premier tell Yukoners who developed these amendments and explain why they have not been made public yet?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    When it comes to ensuring that we have a competitive permitting and licensing regime, that’s something that I take very seriously as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, and all members of the Yukon Party caucus take seriously as well.

Members will remember last week we introduced adequacy timelines for quartz mining water licences, which were received very positively by industry. As mentioned by the member opposite, we have introduced suggested amendments to the YESAA legislation. Some were done as part of the five-year review. There were additional ones that were also introduced. As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, I also funded the Yukon Mineral Advisory Board to come up with suggestions to the government on how we can improve the licensing and permitting regime to make it competitive. This is something that I am very pleased that the Mineral Advisory Board took up on our behalf, and I look forward to receiving their annual report here in the next couple of weeks and tabling it in the Legislature.

Mr. Silver:   Last fall, the government was heavily criticized by both First Nation governments and the mining industry alike when it unilaterally went forward on changes to the Quartz Mining Act. Instead of changing the way it does business, the government is continuing with its unilateral approach by developing these new YESAA amendments in a silo and not sharing them with anyone else in the development process. The Liberal caucus supports establishing greater regulatory certainty and has been asking questions about this for the last two years. Those changes must involve all of the players and should not be developed in secret by the Conservatives in Ottawa and the Yukon Party here in Whitehorse.

Why were the Government of Yukon-proposed amendments to YESAA not shared with the Yukon First Nations before they were submitted to Ottawa?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Just to correct the member opposite with some of his opening remarks, the changes that we made to the Quartz Mining Act last year came out of a Court of Appeal process. There were two declarations, and they were to deal with the class 1 notification. That’s why we made the changes to the Quartz Mining Act. Those weren’t done unilaterally. They were court-ordered.

I know the members opposite don’t take court orders very seriously, but we have to and we do. That is why those changes to the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act were made at that time.

As I mentioned, we recently introduced changes to the water licensing process, as well as changes to the YESAA process, many of which emerged from the five-year review that was conducted by the three parties — First Nations, Yukon government and Canada.

The Government of Canada has suggested that they are looking to make further amendments and we have responded to those. The Yukon Minerals Advisory Board, which has representatives of the Chamber of Mines and the placer mining industry as well as a number of executives who are engaged in the industry, has also made recommendations to us to assist in ensuring that our licensing and permitting regime remains competitive, which is something that is incredibly important to me as minister and our Yukon Party caucus.

Mr. Silver:   It is clear by the actions of this government that the only group that it is prepared to work on regulatory certainty with is the Conservatives in Ottawa. I asked the Premier to make these amendments public during the mineral Roundup and he refused. I have asked again today, and it seems that the same answer from the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources is no.  The government wants to change YESAA; that much is clear. They want to keep it secret and that is clear as well.

Why has the Government of Yukon decided to go it alone, instead of working with the Yukon First Nation governments to come up with a united position to present to Ottawa?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     In response to the Leader of the Liberal Party, quite frankly, he’s just wrong. Certainly, we have seen this many, many times with the Liberal leader. When he is talking to miners, of course he is supporting the mining industry; when he is talking to the conservationists, of course he is opposed to mining. We are certainly clear on what his position is on such areas as the Peel. It is an area that is as large as the Province of New Brunswick and larger than Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island combined.

We are doing exactly what we said we would do during the election, which was that we would be seeking improvements to our regulatory and our permitting regime. We said that in our platform during the last election. We are showing again that we are doing what we said we would do and we will continue to do that. We are continuing to work together on changes to the YESAA legislation and regulations. First Nations have also been consulted and the YESA Board provided input. The industry has provided input as well. Certainly this is federal legislation. We know that the Leader of the Liberal Party doesn’t like the answer so he’ll continue to talk over top of it. What we are doing is exactly what we said we would do. This process is a federal process. We look forward to the completion of their consultation and moving forward with these legislative amendments.