Premier Dennis Fentie is no Cinderella: he missed the ball completely.
On Monday, about 350 mining executives gathered at the Empire Landmark Hotel in Vancouver for the “Premier’s Reception” held by the Yukon government during this year’s Cordilleran Roundup mineral conference.
They all received personal invitations from Fentie.
But he didn’t show up.
“There was some chuckling going on,” said Porter Creek South MLA Don Inverarity from Vancouver on Tuesday after attending the dinner reception.
“Everyone was wondering why they’d bill it as the ‘Premier’s Reception’ when he wasn’t even there,” he said. “It seemed a little comical to me.”
Whether a travel gaffe or an intentional snub, the mining industry could have been told something important at Monday’s Yukon reception.
As of March 31, the mineral exploration tax credit program — which currently returns 25 per cent of the expenses that exploration companies incur searching for minerals in the Yukon — is being cancelled.
The program was started in 1999 and returned $1.4 million to companies in its first year
In 2004, the government returned $5.5 million to mining companies through the program, said David Hrycan, assistant deputy minister of finance.
“Over the years it’s grown,” he said.
There were no caps on how much could be returned to mining companies under the program, he added.
Enter a bit of a problem for the government’s accountants.
The corporate taxes the territory collected in 2000 stood at a heady $8.3 million. But by the most recent year they had fallen to just less than $2 million.
“The (mineral exploration tax) credit’s a large part (of the loss), there’s no doubt about that,” said Hrycan. “That would be the largest reason; there might be some other factors in there as well, but clearly it’s eating up a lot of the corporate tax.”
The tax-credit program is being “terminated,” he said.
In 1999, exploration companies spent about $13.2 million. In 2006, that had grown to $53 million, said Hrycan.
The tax credit remains until the end of March this year but companies can expect a maximum of $300,000 returned for gas, food and transportation receipts.
But, because Fentie was a no-show, the termination of the popular program wasn’t announced at Vancouver’s roundup.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang covered for Fentie, but didn’t announce the bad news.
In his speech, obtained by the News, Lang makes no direct reference to axing the tax program.
Instead, he promises the government will explore tax incentives in other provinces to improve its tax and royalty regime.
“The premier wasn’t here,” said Lang in a telephone interview from Vancouver on Wednesday. “I was the minister here representing the government of Yukon.”
Asked about the mineral exploration tax credit program, Lang provided little detail.
“I gave a presentation in the room as I always do at these roundups,” he said, before suggesting reporters read his speech.
There were 5,500 mining industry types at the Cordilleran Roundup, said Lang.
He pointed to more than 70 exploration projects in the territory as proof of the health of the mining industry.
This year, the government expects up to $100 million in exploration work, he said.
Inverarity hobnobbed with several mining company presidents and CEOs at the premier’s reception.
“(Fentie) wasn’t there; he didn’t make it,” said Inverarity. “The room was full.”
Government officials couldn’t provide details about why Fentie was not at the reception before press-time.