Question re: Mining regulatory uncertainty - November 2, 2015

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, before the session began, the Premier said the government has mostly completed its platform commitments and should be congratulated on a job well done. When he was asked what was left to do in the next year, his response was, “Not a lot.”

When your corporate tax revenues have dropped by 50 percent in just two years, I would argue that there is a lot of work left to do on our economy. The private sector is shrinking and paying less tax.

The Yukon Party platform made a number of promises about improving the mining permitting process in the Yukon and unfortunately has made little progress on achieving any of them. Its botched attempt to improve YESAA has resulted in a lawsuit and other initiatives only began at the tail end of the mandate, as the government coasted on high mineral prices instead of fixing the problems that we already knew existed. The government was well-aware, for example, of regulatory overlap when it comes to mining permitting. Why has it waited until the last year of its mandate to do something about this?

Hon. Mr. Kent: One of the important initiatives that are currently underway with respect to mine permitting is the mine licensing improvement initiative. It’s a cooperative effort being led by the Yukon government involving assessors, regulators, First Nations and industry to improve the timeliness, clarity, transparency and effectiveness of the mine licensing system.

This work will establish common standards, simplify processes and clarify the roles of regulatory agencies so as to provide certainty for companies that want to do business in the Yukon. We are currently engaged with First Nations to discuss how they want to be involved in decisions regarding mining activity and how they derive benefits from mining. The proposed changes in no way lessen environmental protections or oversight of mining activity, but instead improve the regulatory system’s ability to ensure environmental standards are met.

Again, building on the theme of earlier questions, this is just another example of how we are working with First Nations to ensure that when we emerge from this current downturn, we are in better shape, whether it is on the regulatory side or infrastructure or First Nation relations or incentives. This is part of our overall plan to make sure that we can attract those important investment dollars that are critical to a successful mining industry.

Mr. Silver: I would argue it is a little late to be beginning these initiatives. The mineral development strategy is already months behind schedule and, as the minister said, the mining licensing improvement initiative began late in the government’s mandate and will produce no results by the time of the next election. The government knew about these problems when it took office, yet, as we see, they have not got the job done yet.

Why did the government wait until its 14th year in office to address duplication and overlap when it comes to the Quartz Mining Act and the Water Board?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: This government continues to focus on those areas where we have the ability to improve the economic situation for the territory. Of course we do not have control over commodity prices, but what we can do is continue to invest in infrastructure such as telecommunications infrastructure — with the recent announcement of the redundant fibre optic cable — investments in energy infrastructure and investments in transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and airports. We continue to work on improving the regulatory and permitting process, as the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources just discussed, and how we are working in hand with First Nations and industry. We continue to invest in education — the creation of the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining and the purchase of a mobile trades training trailer to allow people in the communities to begin learning about the trades. We also have a new vision for education in the territory.

What this government has is a plan — a plan that we are implementing and a plan that will be successful for the long-term prosperity of all Yukoners.

Mr. Silver: The Premier failed to answer that question on his rush to his soapbox.

The reality is the government coasted on high mineral prices for many years and did not do the hard work necessary to keep us competitive. They got an earful from the mining industry during the recent consultation about regulatory uncertainty. Let’s recap their efforts to date. A botched attempt to fix YESAA, cooked up in a back room with the former federal Tories, has landed the government in court. The mineral development strategy is already behind schedule and will not be ready for the Geoscience Forum as promised. The licence improvement initiative — something promised in the Yukon Party’s platform; his own platform — did not get underway until the last stages of the government’s mandate and will produce no results in four years.

Why has the government failed to deliver on all three promises it made to improve the regulatory road map for our mining industry?

Hon. Mr. Kent: I find it interesting that the Member for Kondike would go down this track. As I mentioned last week during a question from him with respect to the mineral development strategy, First Nations had shown additional interest and that is why that document will not be ready as we hoped for during the Geoscience Forum. It will be delayed somewhat, but I think that is a good thing because we’re able to get more input from First Nations.

When it comes to the mine licensing improvement initiative, we are currently engaged at a working table with Yukon First Nations, talking about different aspects at that table. I mentioned we are working with assessors and regulators there as well.

The Member for Klondike criticizes us when he feels we don’t engage with First Nations. Now he is criticizing us when we are engaging with First Nations. It is very disappointing to hear that narrative from the Member for Klondike. Clearly he doesn’t understand the value of working with First Nations and the importance of doing that hard work. Even though there may be delays associated with it, in the end it will be well worth it.