We may be starting to see how the Yukon government's agreement with the NDP will work in practice, and over an issue that's been talked about for decades — how mining should operate in the future.
Coming into force shortly after the territorial election, the confidence and supply agreement is a compromise brokered between the Liberal government and the NDP. Since the Liberals failed to secure another majority, the agreement is means to prop up the the government, with the support beam coming in the form of the NDP caucus.
One area of focus is developing and implementing new mining legislation during the term of that agreement, subject to consultation with First Nations. The Liberal/NDP agreement expires Jan. 31, 2023.
This is where cracks could start to form. The Liberals and NDP haven't always seen eye-to-eye, historically speaking. If the two parties are to develop new mining legislation together, how will that play out? And while the Liberal government is primarily driving this work, to what extent is the NDP helping steer the wheel?
There might have been an early indication this week.
The fate of free entry?
NDP Leader Kate White told reporters Thursday that her party wants to do away with the free entry, a system that dates back to the Klondike Gold Rush era and enables miners to stake claims over vast expanses of land, with the exception of parks, certain settlement lands, and areas already staked. It's a system that's still upheld by Yukon's mining laws.
It's a controversial issue, particularly for some First Nations. Carcross/Tagish First Nation, for instance, has called for the system to be abolished altogether.
"We have been super clear that we believe free entry needs to end," White said. "Free entry says that mineral development supersedes every other value, and we disagree with that."
The Liberal government hasn't explicitly come out with its position on free entry since the election.
Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent pressed the government on this front during question period Thursday. He asked whether the government supports the system.
John Streicker, minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, dodged the question.
"What I'm going to support is the conversation," he said.
"For me, the Yukon Party seems to be stuck in the past, clinging to an old-school idea about mining ... Things have changed. If we want to attract investment, if we want mining to be sustainable for the long term, we need to work with First Nations, we need to be environmentally responsible, and we need to ensure that local communities benefit from resource development."
Asked by CBC if his party believes free entry should be changed or left the same, Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon said he supports the system in its current form.
"Industry, both through the Chamber [of Mines] and various industry groups, have made representations both to the government and to the [panel of Yukon's Mineral Development Strategy] about how important free entry is to the ongoing viability of the mining industry here in the Yukon, and that's certainly a position that we support," Dixon said.
'An aggressive timeline' for new mining legislation
In mid-April, the independent panel behind Yukon's Mineral Development Strategy recommended the government bring into force new mining legislation and regulations by the end of 2025.
"Achieving such an aggressive timeline will require all involved to declare the work a priority and to dedicate the necessary resources," the panel's report states.
Yukon Party MLAs sent a barrage of questions throughout the week regarding how the government intends to pull off implementing new mining legislation sooner than that — in 16 months.
Streicker told reporters the deadline isn't hard and fast, pointing out that any new mining legislation would be subject to consultation with First Nations, which could take time. He noted that a working group between First Nations and the government has been established and will set priorities.
"We need to be working, and working together to try and move all of it forward," Streicker said.
"I think that the timeline is ambitious, but the timeline also acknowledges that there's important work to happen, so let's just get to work, is what I think."
Just how long it will take to implement new mining legislation could cause friction. White alluded to this earlier in the week.
"If it takes Yukon government with a full force of drafters, researchers and others longer than 16 months to create legislation, I think we have a problem," she said. "There was a commitment from all political parties during the election that we would get this done."