Mining Minister Patrick Rouble droned on for nearly three hours on April 14 about the intricacies of Yukon’s mining regulations.
He wasn’t simply being a bore. He was talking out the clock to prevent an NDP motion, which called for an overhaul of the territory’s mining regulations, from being debated or voted on.
He succeeded in these aims. But before he did, the NDP’s Steve Cardiff made a spirited pitch to ditch Yukon’s free-entry system of staking properties, which he described as a relic from the gold rush that no longer meets the needs of the modern-day territory.
The current system places very few restrictions on where would-be miners can stake a claim.
As a result, Whitehorse’s Mount McIntyre cross-country ski trails have been staked by miners.
And in Dawson City, the occupants of the Midnight Dome subdivision may soon live within close quarters of heavy equipment if a placer miner has his way with plans to excavate the road and surrounding area in search of gold.
“The system that we have now is not fair and it’s not balanced,” said Cardiff. “It’s not the way to manage public lands in the territory. It’s not rational and it’s not thoughtful.”
Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia Prince Edward Island have all given their mining ministers discretion to deny a mining claim, said Cardiff.
But Rouble made it clear that free staking is here to stay under the Yukon Party government.
“Free entry is simply a system that allows the entrepreneurial spirit to exist, but it in no way reduces anyone else’s legitimate rights,” Rouble said during a lengthy speech that Cardiff would later call “excruciating.”
Rouble offered the assurance placer mining operations are banned inside municipal limits. Left unstated was how hardrock staking remains allowed within municipalities, which is why the claims are permitted on Mount McIntyre’s ski trails.
And historic placer claims that preceded the expansion of municipal boundaries - as is the case on Dawson’s Dome development - are also safe.
Rouble didn’t quite rule out a review of the mining regulations. But he warned that “we need to be aware of what the implications of something like this are and what the unintended consequences of this are.
“What kind of fear would that send or create in the industry? And then, what kind of impact would that have on the territory? I don’t think anyone would want us to see us return to the 2002 levels of exploration or mining activity.”
Those were the bad old days, Rouble said. “It has been referred to as the ‘U-Haul economy’- where people were leaving the territory however they could, and we’re still recovering from that.”
He insisted “it’s not a Wild West in today’s mining industry” and that “stringent standards” exist to monitor the water discharges of placer miners.
Of course, to eat up three hours you need to say a lot more than this. So Rouble digressed into irrelevant factoids, such as the total length of Yukon’s roads (almost 5,000 kilometres), and then took to reading verbatim large portions of the appendices of agreements between the territory and First Nations.
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