A worker sifts through rock samples at a minesite in 2013. A draft mineral development strategy for the Yukon that includes 79 recommendations was released for public review on Dec. 28. (Jesse Winter/Yukon News file)

A worker sifts through rock samples at a minesite in 2013. A draft mineral development strategy for the Yukon that includes 79 recommendations was released for public review on Dec. 28. (Jesse Winter/Yukon News file)

Yukon’s draft mineral strategy open to public feedback

The ambitious report outlines 79 recommendations for a sustainable resource extraction industry

A draft mineral development strategy (MDS) for the Yukon was released for public review on Dec. 28.

The document includes 79 recommendations “to create a foundation for a healthy Yukon mineral industry within an attractive investment climate.”

The public is invited to comment on the final draft, available at yukonmds.com, until Feb. 22.

The project was spurred by a Mining Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2017 between the Yukon government, the self-governing First Nations and the Council of Yukon First Nations. The memorandum pushes for mineral development planning that balances environmentalism and reconciliation.

In 2019, a three-member independent panel was appointed to draft the strategy, subsequently conducting 16 months of consultation.

“The MDS Panel is confident that this … report fulfills the desire of many engagement participants for a bold, transformative and contemporary approach to Yukon mineral development,” the strategy says.

“The MDS Panel is also confident the mining industry will finally be able to see a clear development pathway and know the goal posts at each stage of the mineral exploration and development cycle.”

The panel is chaired by Angus Robertson, former deputy minister of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Math’ieya Alatini and Doug Eaton are also panel members.

The 38-page strategy is the result of 90 interviews, 63 written submissions, three days of focus groups, eight open houses and 2,900 survey comments. The strategy’s 79 recommendations are divided into six strategic priorities.

Aligning with First Nations treaties

The first strategic priority calls for a modern resource management regime that considers First Nation treaties and reconciliation.

That requires abolishing the Quartz Act and the Placer Mining Act, and replacing it with modernized legislation, the strategy says. It describes the current acts as a “patchwork of amendments” that are unpliable and difficult to enforce.

The new legislation and regulations should be implemented by 2023, and consider First Nation Final Agreements and the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.

While work on new legislation is underway, the panel makes several interim recommendations for enhancing First Nations participation in the industry.

Enabling social and economic returns

The second strategic priority urges recognition that mineral development can adversely affect local communities, while benefactors are frequently outside the Yukon. It calls for better involvement with Yukon businesses on mine projects, as well as increasing royalty rates.

The Yukon government currently collects less than $100,000 a year in resource royalties, or 0.03 per cent of the value of mineral production, the strategy explained.

The strategy recommends increasing royalty rates, introducing a First Nation Resource Charge, and consulting with communities that would host mining activity.

Establishing efficient regulatory processes

The panel calls for streamlined environmental assessment practices. Currently, more than 12 governmental departments are responsible for evaluations without clarity of roles and responsibilities, the report says.

The third priority asks that the Yukon Water Board should be designated as a decision body for a “single window” approach to assessment. The ensuing recommendations outline a strategy for clarifying the inspection and assessment process. They also ask for Yukon First Nation inspectors to be baked into the process.

Tapping resource potential

“Yukon has tremendous mineral resource potential, but this alone is not enough to guarantee that investment and mineral development will occur,” the strategy says.

The fourth priority aims to establish the Yukon as a competitor in global markets. It says that recent legal decisions have resulted in staking moratoriums, delaying projects and hindering investor confidence.

“Investors hate uncertainty,” the strategy says.

The strategy urges greater clarity around land access to mineral claims. It recommends land use planning projects be completed within the next five years and temporary staking moratoriums established. It also recommends clear constraints on land access to provide greater investment certainty.

Demonstrating environmental responsibility

The panel’s consultation found a legacy of negative environmental impact associated with mining, the strategy says. Water quality, environmental damage and threats to ecosystems were noted “several times.”

The panel recommends legally enforceable mine closure plans and reclamation policies. There should also be a requirement for stakers and owners to hold a Prospecting License ensuring environmental responsibility.

Prioritizing environmentalism is essential for improving the industry’s poor legacy and requires that companies should be “held to high standards,” the strategy says.

Growing the local workforce

Thousands of high-paying jobs in mining has been the industry’s “most significant net benefit,” says the strategy’s sixth priority.

“However, less than half of the Yukon’s mineral industry’s workforce currently resides in the Yukon.”

This is due, in part, to the industry’s negative legacy causing Yukoners to avoid mining careers, the strategy suggests. The panel recommends public education on the industry’s activity and benefits to mitigate this.

The last priority section also recommends better earth science education in the public school system.

It also calls on leadership in eliminating violence against women related to development projects, in tandem with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-spirit+ people report.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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