Panel recommends 'bold, transformative' overhaul of Yukon mining industry

·4 min read
A mining claim in Dawson City, Yukon. An independent panel appointed by the Yukon government says it's time for new mining laws in the territory to ensure the industry is sustainable and benefits local communities. (Julie Landry/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A mining claim in Dawson City, Yukon. An independent panel appointed by the Yukon government says it's time for new mining laws in the territory to ensure the industry is sustainable and benefits local communities. (Julie Landry/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Yukon's mining regime needs a major overhaul, according to the final report from an independent panel appointed by the territorial government.

The Yukon Mineral Development Strategy report was released on Thursday, and it includes 95 wide-ranging recommendations for how to modernize the mining industry and ensure it's socially and environmentally sustainable, and beneficial to local communities.

Recommendations include updating mining legislation — namely the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act — streamlining land use planning and revamping the royalty system to make it more equitable.

Math'ieya Alatini, one of the three panel members appointed to draft the report, said the overall goal is to "move the industry forward," in co-operation with the Yukon government and First Nations.

"Not just the industry, but the entire relationship, [moving] forward in a holistic manner — so really that was our approach," she said.

"[It's] a very pragmatic approach to how we can do better, by working together."

A central tenet of the strategy is ensuring First Nations rights are respected and that the mining sector's competitive edge isn't dulled.

"The whole of Yukon government must embrace the principles of reconciliation and work to build the trust and respect of Yukon First Nation governments, and the entities and agencies borne of the modern treaties and agreements," the strategy states.

The timing of the release — just days after the territorial election and before the next government is sworn in — was strategic, Alatini said.

'[It's] a very pragmatic approach to how we can do better, by working together,' said Math'ieya Alatini, one of the three independent panelists who drafted the Mineral Development Strategy.
'[It's] a very pragmatic approach to how we can do better, by working together,' said Math'ieya Alatini, one of the three independent panelists who drafted the Mineral Development Strategy. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

It's meant to show that the panel and its work are independent of government, she said — but it also puts it on the front-burner for the next territorial government, as well as First Nations.

"In the report, there are priorities and, to us, there are some clear first steps. But it will really be up to the governments to have that discussion and to come up with the top priorities and how those top priorities are going to be implemented," she said.

The report is the culmination of about 16 months of work by the three-person panel. That panel was appointed after the Yukon government and First Nations governments signed a memorandum of understanding on mining in 2017.

A draft strategy was released late last year for public review and Thursday's document is the final product.

'Social sustainability'

The strategy "fulfills the desire of many engagement participants for a bold, transformative approach to Yukon mineral development now and into the future," it reads.

One of the goals is to move the industry toward "social sustainability," the report says. That would mean moving the territory farther away from how mining was approached in the past, when the North was plundered for resources to send south, and benefit other regions.

"Recognition that the adverse effects of resource development are borne locally, while many of the benefits are exported outside the Yukon, is crucial to social sustainability."

Recommendations in the report include:

  • overhaul or replace Yukon's century-old Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act with new legislation

  • ensure that First Nations can capitalize on resource development projects

  • change royalty and tax structures to ensure more money comes to Yukon

  • implement a profit-based placer gold royalty

  • introduce a payroll tax on out-of-territory workers in Yukon

  • implement a First Nation Resource Charge, to help First Nations cover the costs of reviewing and monitoring mining and exploration projects

  • introduce a new tax for all industrial water users

  • accelerate the land use planning process across Yukon

Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society welcomed the report and recommendations, saying it's time to fix Yukon's "ecological horror show."

"Now, we don't agree with all of [the recommendations], but by and large what the panel is proposing will be a great improvement on what we currently have," Rifkind said.

'It's not going to be a perfect improvement, and there's a lot of room for changes and a lot of room for devil-in-the-details,' said Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society.
'It's not going to be a perfect improvement, and there's a lot of room for changes and a lot of room for devil-in-the-details,' said Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society.(CBC)

Rifkind said an overhaul of Yukon's mining legislation is overdue, but the panel's recommendation to complete that work by 2025 might be unrealistic.

"That's ambitious," Rifkind said.

"Rewriting one of the three major pieces of legislation of the Yukon government may take longer than that … but it does need to be redone."

Rifkind also questioned whether a profit-based placer mining royalty would have any real benefit for Yukon, since mining companies typically reinvest any profits into further developing their operations.

Still, he said, the report's recommendations need to be considered seriously.

"It's not going to be a perfect improvement, and there's a lot of room for changes and a lot of room for devil-in-the-details."

CBC News also requested an interview with Ed Peart, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, about the newly-released strategy, but was told Peart wanted time to review the document before commenting.

CBC also sought comment from Chief Roberta Joseph, of Dawson City-based Tr'ondek Hwëch'in First Nation, but she was not available.