Question re: Mining sector development - April 15, 2015

Mr. Silver: For many years, the Yukon Party insisted that the upturn in mining in the territory was a direct result of their actions taken. Now that the mining industry is in decline, the government is trying to shift the blame to world mineral prices. The government is trying to have it both ways: take credit during the good times and assign the blame during the bad.

Here’s what the owner of the Eagle Gold property near Mayo said this winter — and I quote: “Everybody is a bit uneasy about the Yukon these days.” He said that the mining industry is uneasy because the Yukon government’s efforts to streamline the permitting process had been met with so much opposition. He also said that investors fear it is impossible to open a mine in the territory right now.

Mr. Speaker, this is happening under the Yukon Party’s watch. Does the government accept responsibility for the fact that investors are now saying it is impossible to open a mine in the Yukon?

Hon. Mr. Kent: When it comes to the mining industry in the Yukon, we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished, whether it’s with respect to the hardrock industry or the placer mining industry.

We are currently in a world economic downturn when it comes to this industry and that’s why we feel this is the time to make strategic investments in infrastructure. It’s time to train Yukoners for jobs and opportunities. It’s also time to take a look at our permitting regime. That’s why we’ve launched the mine licensing improvement initiative. This is on top of amendments that we made to timelines in the water licensing process last year. We’re embarking on a mineral development strategy with our First Nation partners and industry. This is something the Yukon Minerals Advisory Board and the Yukon Chamber of Mines are participating in. We want to emerge from this global economic downturn in better shape than we went in and be a world-class destination for mining investment globally.

Mr. Silver: The chickens are coming home to roost, it seems. The Yukon Party spent years crowing about how it was responsible for a mining boom in the Yukon. Now investors fear that it is impossible to open a mine in the territory due to the uncertain created by this government.

The president of Victoria Gold told local media in January that the mining industry is uneasy because the Yukon government’s efforts to streamline the permitting process have been met with so much opposition. He went on to say that it would be naïve to include the opening of his mine in any short-term economic forecast, yet that’s exactly what this government continues to do.

Here’s a quote from the Yukon Party during the good times: “We will take credit for becoming a mining hot spot in Canada.” Mr. Speaker, why is this government now unwilling to accept the major role it has played in making the Yukon an undesirable to invest in?

Hon. Mr. Kent: The simple answer is, because it’s not correct. We are working extremely hard over a number fronts to ensure that we emerge from this current global economic downturn in better shape than we went in.

The Premier and I recently travelled to Toronto and met with a number of investors accompanied by several chief executives from junior mining companies that are active in the Yukon, including the one that the member opposite referenced. On top of investing in infrastructure and training, and trying to streamline our permitting and licensing process, we are also — through the Department of Economic Development — active with the Yukon Mining Alliance. The Chair of that organization is the individual the member is referencing.

That organization is a public/private partnership that seeks investment in many of the major financial centres around the world, including New York, Toronto and centres in Europe and Asia.

We are working hard to ensure that when the cycle returns, we are well-positioned to take advantage of that and we are the number one mining jurisdiction in the world.

Mr. Silver: It is quite interesting to watch the government try to shift the blame to world mineral prices. When times are good, the Yukon Party dismisses the role that mineral prices played in the success of our mining industry. They said it wasn’t a factor. They said it was all the Yukon Party’s doing — that they single-handedly made the Yukon a hotspot for mining. Now the shoe is on the other foot and the government refuses to take any responsibility for this downturn. Investors are saying it is impossible to open a mine in the Yukon right now. We are dropping like a rock in the Fraser Institute’s survey on mining. Thirteen percent of the Yukon is under a full staking ban because of this government’s unwillingness to work with First Nation governments. The Wolverine mine recently closed and another court battle with Yukon First Nations is on the horizon.

Does the minister accept any responsibility for these events that have occurred under his watch?

Hon. Mr. Kent: I think the government is being very proactive in trying to address the concerns that are raised by industry and we have heard in the financial centres around the world — whether it is Toronto, New York or other places — that we do need to improve our mine licensing. When it comes to the Yukon’s responsibilities, it is the Waters Act and the Quartz Mining Act and the associated licences with those two different pieces of legislation. We are working through the mine licensing improvement initiative. We are embarking on a new mineral development strategy. We are investing in things like the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining and capital construction at not only the Whitehorse campus of Yukon College, but throughout the Yukon through the mobile trades trailer.

Of course the government can play a role when it comes to investment attraction and we recognize that there are some things that are in our control that we need to address and we are going to address them, so that when this current global downturn in the mining cycle reverses itself, we are very well-positioned to emerge as one of the leaders globally for attracting mining investment and ensuring that it is a first-class destination for everything from early stage prospecting to mine development and production.