Question re: Mining sector development - November 19, 2015

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, yesterday the 43rd annual Geoscience Forum wrapped up here in Whitehorse. It brought together representatives from the mining community, from the Yukon government and also from First Nation governments as well, just to mention a few.

Now, I do know that the Premier attended part of the forum. My question is: What did he hear from the mining industry about the current state of our mining in our territory?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Mr. Speaker, certainly what we heard from the mining industry is that never have they — I spoke to some people who have been in the mining industry for 40 years, and they’ve said that they’ve never seen a situation as we’re in today where all the commodity prices are at such low levels. Typically, you’ll see some of the commodity prices at a good level and some of them can be down, but they’ve never seen a situation like this, Mr. Speaker.

They’ve applauded this government for the work that it is doing during this downtime to ensure that we are in a better place when the markets rebound, Mr. Speaker. They applaud the investments in infrastructure; they applaud the investments that we are making in terms of training and education, and they certainly support the initiatives in improving our permitting and regulatory regimes, working with industry and working with First Nations to ensure that — not only as the Fraser Institute says — this jurisdiction has the best geology in the world for mining — that we move our position from ninth to number one when it comes to the best mining jurisdiction in the world.

Mr. Silver: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. With all due respect, I’m not sure the Premier and I attended the same forum. I heard a lot of concerns about the damage that this government’s poor relationship and court battles with the First Nation governments have caused for the industry. I’ve also heard a great deal of frustration and resignation about the government’s unwillingness, or perhaps inability, to address regulatory uncertainty.

I was also told that these problems were known way back in 2011, but this government hasn’t properly addressed it or moved forward properly. These are made-in-Yukon issues that have nothing to do with world mineral prices. These two issues that were brought up by almost everybody that I talked to and the onus was put on this government squarely to fix the solution.

Did the Premier not hear these concerns at the Geoscience Forum?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I also, of course, attended a number of meetings and talked to a number of the delegates at the Geoscience Forum that wrapped up yesterday. Of course the government has been working on a couple of initiatives: the mineral development strategy and mine licensing improvement initiative. I was very pleased and proud to announce at the Geoscience Forum that we’ve created a new unit in Energy, Mines and Resources — Strategic Initiatives — that will be headed up by an ADM-level individual to bring the mineral development strategy and the mine licensing improvement initiative to fruition. They are going to be two very important initiatives that will help to restore confidence and make sure that as we come out of this current downturn, we are in much better shape.

I think it’s important for Yukoners to know that the last downturn started in about 1997 and rebounded in 2003-04. It bottomed out in 2001-02 with only $7 million in exploration and $1 million in development. With this latest downturn — while we’re very much affected — the effect has been less than that and I think there are a number of things that Yukoners can be proud of since then: devolution; the settlement of additional land claims; the work of the Yukon Party government with respect to the Miners Lien Act and the royalties.

So we are feeling the effect, but it is a lesser effect than what happened around the turn of the century. Again, we’re proud of the progress, but we know that there is more that needs to be done.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With our GDP and our economy about to shrink for the third straight year, it’s time that this government changed its approach on these long-standing issues to our industry. It is my opinion — and that of others — that the government has squandered the largest commodity boom of the past 100 years. They have proven unable to keep the momentum going forward and their attempts to improve the relations with First Nations and to fix the known regulatory problems — well they have quite simply failed, Mr. Speaker.

I have had an opportunity to speak with many organizations and company officials who were consulted on the mineral development strategy and they confirmed that there is a general lack of trust and confidence in our assessment and regulatory processes.

Will the Premier or the minister responsible admit that this is also what they heard at the Geoscience Forum last week and during the consultation for the mineral development strategy during the summer, and commit to changing their approach for the sake of our economy?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: In light of the pledge that the Leader of the Liberal Party made only a few minutes ago, it’s disappointing — the rhetoric that he has now. I guess he forgot that pledge very quickly.

Mr. Speaker, this government continues to work with industry and First Nations because mining truly is a cornerstone of our economy. It is through the mining growth that we’ve seen in the last decade that we’ve seen an increase in the population of this territory of over 20 percent. As a result of that, we continue to diversify our economy. We’re moving forward with initiatives such as creating a second fibre optic line, which will see the knowledge economy continue to grow. We continue to make heavy investments in tourism with the Yukon Now program; and we continue to focus on enhancing the role of the Yukon College and Yukon Research Centre.

We’ll continue to work with First Nations on many issues, such as the recent signing of the education MOU with Kluane First Nation, such as the LNG plan partnership we’ve done with Kwanlin Dün First Nation, and such as the affordable housing unit that we just partnered on with Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. We will work with First Nations. We will work with industry and together we will see us come out of this economic downturn much stronger than we went into it.