Who knew? Fentie at North Slope

The Yukon Party government had several unexplained communication problems in the last five days. Staffers could not answer questions about the…

The Yukon Party government had several unexplained communication problems in the last five days.

Staffers could not answer questions about the whereabouts of Premier Dennis Fentie following his absence from Monday’s Yukon Premier’s Reception at the Cordilleran Roundup in Vancouver.

And government ministers failed to announce the gutting of a mining-incentive policy to reporters and the industry.

Fentie missed Vancouver’s roundup to attend the North Slope Conference in Whitehorse on Tuesday morning, he said on Wednesday.

“It would be very difficult for me to fly back from Vancouver and open up the North Slope Conference at 9 a.m. the next morning,” said Fentie.

While the government was simultaneously represented at both mining and environmental conferences, it won little fanfare from the media, he charged.

However, Fentie was not listed on the North Slope Conference agenda.

Monday’s mining reception in Vancouver was attended by about 350 executives. Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang delivered a speech on behalf of Fentie.

Lang’s speech didn’t announce the impending termination of the mineral exploration tax credit on March 31.

In 2004, the last year the government has records for the program, the territory returned $5.5 million to the mining industry for exploration costs.

When the tax credit was launched in 1999, mining exploration in the Yukon stood at only $13.2 million; this year, depending on who you ask, that amount will increase to between $70-$100 million.

During a highly controlled news conference on Wednesday, Lang dodged specific questions about the tax credit and told reporters to simply read his speech.

Obtained by the News, the presentation Lang delivered to mining executive notes there are 70 advanced exploration projects in the Yukon.

But there’s no mention of the termination of the popular exploration tax credit.

Instead, the speech includes only a promise that the Yukon government will, in the next few months, “be exploring tax incentives offered in other provinces, and examining potential improvements to our own tax and royalty regime.”

Fentie could offer little insight into what those new incentives will be.

“Stay tuned,” he said.

But he was clear the government’s focus has shifted from spurring mining exploration to welcoming more advanced developments and even producing mines.

Sherwood Copper’s Minto copper mine, near Pelly Crossing, is scheduled to go into production this spring.

Fentie expects the trend to continue, even without the tax credit.

“I think it’s clear that when this program was implemented in the Yukon, there wasn’t any exploration to speak of,” said Fentie.

“The government of the day took measures they felt would try to counteract that problem.”

When created in 1999, the exploration tax credit had a so-called ‘sunset’ clause that meant it would expire at a pre-set date.

When Fentie’s Yukon Party took office in 2002 it extended the program until 2007. Now the government is letting it expire, said Fentie.

“It’s clear that all the determinants for investment in the Yukon in the mining sector have resulted in a significant increase in investment,” he said. “The mining industry is hot on the Yukon.

“So I think it’s (the exploration tax credit) done its job, and the time comes when we must move on to the next level, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Fentie.

In place of the tax incentive for exploration companies, Fentie pointed to recently introduced increases in small business tax credits and the Yukon Mining Incentive program.

Sources at the North Slope conference told the News Fentie’s speech lasted about 15 minutes and he was out of the building by 10 a.m.

He initially refused requests from conference organizers to open the meeting, but then changed his mind when he realized how big the audience would be, they said.