Yukon Premier Sandy Silver has added his voice to those of the other territorial premiers, saying there wasn’t “a lot of dialogue” with Canada’s prime minister before an Arctic offshore drilling ban was announced last month.
Now, the News has learned that a 1993 accord between Canada and the Yukon set the stage for the creation of a joint management regime for offshore oil-and-gas resources. But that regime was never completed, leaving the federal government free to make offshore decisions on behalf of the territory.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the drilling ban in a joint statement with U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 20. Canada has declared a five-year moratorium on new licensing in Arctic waters, with a subsequent review.
Like Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod and Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna, Silver says Trudeau only told him about the ban a couple of hours before the announcement.
“And I expressed my concern at that time that we had not been involved in this decision and that unilateral decisions for the North are obviously not something we support,” Silver told the News.
But Silver was more reticent to speak out against Trudeau than his territorial counterparts have been. Both McLeod and Taptuna have told the CBC that the unilateral decision is a step backward on the path to devolution.
Silver, on the other hand, said that Trudeau meant well.
“There’s lots of balls in the air with diplomacy, let’s just say that,” he said. “As a whole, I believe that Ottawa wants what’s best for the North, and it’s my job to show them how best to communicate with the North.”
In fact, how Ottawa communicates with the Yukon about offshore oil and gas could have been worked out by now.
In 1993, the Canada Yukon Oil and Gas Accord was completed, which transferred authority for onshore oil and gas resources from the federal government to the Yukon.
That accord also included a commitment to begin negotiating the joint management of offshore resources and a revenue-sharing arrangement.
“It’s fair to say we haven’t fulfilled that commitment,” said Ron Sumanik, the director of oil and gas resources with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Sumanik said that’s in part because the federal government wanted to complete the devolution of onshore natural resources with the Yukon and the Northwest Territories before dealing with the offshore. That process wrapped up in the N.W.T. less than three years ago.
But he said the Yukon government has pushed Ottawa to get on with the offshore negotiations, most recently within the last Yukon Party mandate between 2011 and 2016.
He said those negotiations likely would include a discussion about employment opportunities for northern people and the sharing of revenues and royalties.
But it also would have strengthened the requirement for consultation on decisions about Arctic offshore development.
The original accord does require that Canada “consult with Yukon prior to the introduction of any amendments to federal (offshore) oil and gas legislation.” But that accord wasn’t legally binding, Sumanik said.
“A formalized negotiated agreement is a strengthened final resolution of those commitments,” Sumanik said. “It would be a stronger document.”
The federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs signed a memorandum of understanding with Energy, Mines and Resources in 2008 that “brought a little flesh to the bones of the accord,” Sumanik said.
For instance, it specified that an “offshore committee” would meet “no less than once annually.”
But to date, there’s no indication that a joint offshore management regime is anywhere on the horizon. And Sumanik said the offshore drilling ban didn’t come up the last time the committee met in March 2016.
For his part, Silver wouldn’t say whether he supports the drilling ban. “We are reviewing the decision to ban oil-and-gas licensing in the Beaufort Sea, and we want to work with the Government of Canada to determine the implications and the impacts that it’s going to have on Yukon’s oil and gas industry,” he said.
There is currently no drilling or oil and gas production in Canada’s Arctic waters.
Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell told the News he’s “delighted” about the ban.
“I’ve been making the case for… at least six or seven years, probably, in Parliament, that there’s no scientific way yet discovered to clean up oil in ice-filled waters.”
Bagnell disputed the suggestion that the territories weren’t consulted, saying that Mary Simon, a special representative from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, did speak with territorial and indigenous leaders about economic development in the months leading up to the announcement.
But Silver said his government didn’t have a chance to speak with Simon because of the recent territorial election — “so no fault of the federal government,” he added.
Ted Laking, chief of staff for the Yukon Party, criticized Silver for not speaking out sooner on the issue and said his silence has been “deafening.”
“We think that Yukoners should have been properly consulted,” he said. “Ultimately, it should be northerners determining our destiny, not Ottawa.”
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org