Question re: Yukon Minerals Advisory Board annual report - May 19, 2015

Mr. Silver: The 2014 annual report from the Yukon Minerals Advisory Board made for interesting reading over the weekend. It opens with the board confirming the worst-kept secret in the Yukon — that there is no investor confidence right now. It goes downhill from there.

We know the Government of Yukon likes to pin this on low mineral prices, but there is no mention of low mineral prices in this report. The board lays the blame squarely on this government and laments the fact that the Yukon is now — and I quote: “predominantly an exploration jurisdiction” and not a mining jurisdiction. The report voices many of the same concerns that I have been raising this session — about this government’s inability to work with First Nations, regulatory uncertainty and our poor performance in the latest Fraser reporting on mining.

Does the minister accept the criticism from the board that the Yukon has become predominantly just an exploration jurisdiction?

Hon. Mr. Kent: While we do have a substantial amount over the past number of years that has been invested in exploration activities, we are also seeing continued production, of course, at the Minto mine, as well as opportunities for some of the other mines that have gone through our permitting process and are awaiting capital from the markets to go back into production.

There is a very large production industry in the member’s own riding. The placer mining industry continues to be a constant producer and contributor to the economy. I believe the numbers that we talked about recently are approximately $70 million, which that important industry provides for production here in the territory.

When it comes to the Minerals Advisory Board annual report, I would like to thank the members of the Minerals Advisory Board for producing that report. We are in the process of developing a response. We’re treating this as an opportunity to do things better. We’re engaged on mine licensing improvement initiatives and a mineral development strategy so we can emerge from this current down-cycle in better shape than when we went in, and that’s something we’ll continue to work closely on with the Yukon Minerals Advisory Board and other stakeholders in the months and years ahead.

Mr. Silver: The YMAB report opens by saying it wants to help regain competitiveness and investor confidence in the Yukon — regain. It obviously believes that under this government we are not as competitive as we should be and there is a lack of investor confidence in the Yukon right now.

This is strong criticism for this government from the industry itself. It comes on the heels of comments this winter from a mining executive that it is impossible to open up a mine in the Yukon right now. One specific criticism is of this government’s refusal to provide the Water Board with adequate resources so it can reasonably meet timelines in processing mining applications.

Why is the Premier refusing to adequately fund the Water Board so it can respond in a timely way to mining applications?

Hon. Mr. Kent: With respect to that particular recommendation that has been put forward by the Yukon Minerals Advisory Board, there has been approval of the hiring of two new permanent positions to be located in the secretariat — a licensing manager and a technical advisor. Those are now in the recruitment process.

As I’ve said, we’re currently preparing a response to the recommendations put forward by the Yukon Minerals Advisory Board. I would again like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Mark Ayranto, the chair, and all the members of the Minerals Advisory Board, for providing us with advice. The member opposite mentions it as criticism, but I really want to assure members that we’re focused on this as an opportunity to do better through initiatives like the mine licensing improvement initiative as well as the mineral development strategy — regulatory improvements that we’re looking at. We currently have a working group established with First Nations to look at a number of different initiatives for the mining industry.

When it comes to this report and the Fraser Institute report, we see opportunities that are built in there for us to do better and that’s exactly what we’re focused on doing.

Mr. Silver: This minister has referenced the mine licensing improvement initiative several times; he has done this before as well and so does the board in this report. Despite the fact that the government is well aware of regulatory duplication and uncertainty when it came to office three and a half years ago, it did little to address it. Yukon is now paying the price for this inaction and we are now predominantly an exploration and not a mining jurisdiction, according to YMAB. The government should have been spending the last three and a half years addressing this concern.

YMAB is very critical of this government. This is a clear urgency to move past talking and actually implement some of the regulatory improvements the minister talks about and the reform he talks about. The situation has worsened, of course, because of this government’s refusal to admit that anything is wrong in the first place.

So, Mr. Speaker, the final question would be: When will any of these reforms the minister speaks of actually be implemented?

Hon. Mr. Kent: When it comes to the mine licensing improvement initiative, we have a number of partners that we’re also working with. This includes First Nations. It includes industry groups like the Yukon Minerals Advisory Board as well as other stakeholders. It also includes the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board as well as the Yukon Water Board. We’re looking to make improvements to our licensing and regulatory system that, of course, won’t compromise the high environmental standards that we know are important to all Yukoners, but again we want to make sure that it’s a consistent and competitive assessment and regulatory and permitting regime with other jurisdictions across the country.

We hear constant criticism from the Member for Klondike with respect to this. We’re focused on ensuring that we emerge from this current downturn in the mineral economy in better shape.

That said, Mr. Speaker, we still have producing mines. We still have the very strong and robust placer industry. The Minister of Environment, the Minister of Economic Development and I were able to see first-hand how exciting the placer industry is, and it has been a continual and constant producer. I’m surprised that the Member for Klondike wouldn’t recognize that when asking questions. It’s something that’s very important, I know, to his riding. Once again, he does not recognize the importance of that segment of the mining economy to the Yukon and the territory as a whole.