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Yukon drops in Fraser Institute's mining rankings

The Yukon has slipped for the second consecutive year in the Fraser Institute's annual ranking of mining jurisdictions.

The Yukon has slipped for the second consecutive year in the Fraser Institute’s annual ranking of mining jurisdictions.

The territory dropped one spot, to ninth place, in the annual report’s overall ranking, known as the investment attractiveness index. And the Yukon continues to slide in the policy perception index, dropping to 26th place from 19th in 2013 and eighth the year before.

Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said the results show the importance of ongoing work to improve the Yukon’s regulatory framework, and the need for improved cooperation with First Nations.

“Yukon used to be in the top of those jurisdictions, and a very strong presence in the Fraser Institute rankings in the past,” he said. “In order to get back into that place, we need to do better in First Nation relations in the territory. There’s no question about it.”

Yukon ranked first overall in two consecutive previous years before beginning its two-year decline.

Kenneth Green, senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute and the director of the survey, described the policy perception index as a “report card” for the governments of the ranked jurisdictions. “Governments can’t really do anything about mineral potential, but they can do something about policies,” he said.

Green noted that the Yukon’s scores went up in sub-categories including skilled labour, security around socioeconomic agreements, and overall security. “But what declined was uncertainty over the legal system, uncertainty over regulatory duplications, and uncertainty over the administration of existing regulations. The worst elements of where things declined were in protected areas, disputed land claims, and environmental regulations and regulatory duplication.”

Several comments about the Yukon from mining companies that participated in the survey were included in the report. One said that the December 2012 court decision in favour of the Ross River Dena Council over staking rights “has caused confusion and uncertainty and has dissuaded juniors from investing.”

Another praised the workings of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for providing “tight control on timelines for moving through environmental licensing process and on insuring relevancy of issues that can be raised as part of the process.”

Green was blunt about the Yukon’s showing. “You’re pretty much dropping steadily,” he said.

“There’s room for improvement. The Yukon has the opportunity to improve, and while you’re not exactly a slouch in terms of where you rank globally - you’re still in the top quarter of the pack - what I would say is that, it suggests that the Yukon government needs to dig into the survey, see the areas where people are reporting concerns, and then try to satisfy those concerns.”

“Nobody can control commodity prices, nobody can control global economic consumption, but these policies can be controlled,” Green said.

“To be attractive, you need to be transparent, you have to have really good qualities of regulation - non-duplicative, reasonably timely, solid property rights and mineral rights defined so that people know what they’re going to get out.”

And stability is critical, he added. Miners like to know the rules of the game - he characterized their attitude as, “Tell us what we need to do, and then leave us alone. Don’t change it, leave it as is.”

The report comes out as Yukoners wait to hear about an appeal date for the Peel case, the latest round of mining-related litigation between the Yukon government and First Nations. In December, a judge agreed that the government violated the land use planning process laid out in the Umbrella Final Agreement, and ruled in favour of the Peel plaintiffs, a coalition of Yukon First Nations and conservation groups.

The comments in the Fraser Institute survey are anonymous, but some miners have also been openly airing their dissatisfaction.

In December, two mining companies, Kaminak Gold Corp. and Casino Mining Corp., urged federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt to compromise with First Nations over proposed changes to the assessment board process.

“The goal of regulatory reform is to improve on the existing process and provide additional clarity and harmony,” Kaminak president Eira Thomas wrote in a letter to the minister. “Regulatory reform that creates tension between governments does not achieve these goals. Instead, it creates a climate of uncertainty, mistrust and confrontation.”