Question Period: holding the Yukon Party government to account on oil and gas

On Tuesday, 3 November and Wednesday, 4 November Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson and Yukon NDP Energy, Mines and Resources Critic Jim Tredger asked the following questions on land use planning and oil and gas during Question Period in the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

3 November

Ms. Liz Hanson (Yukon NDP leader): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yukon’s land use planning process has been stalled ever since this government tried to unilaterally impose their own plan for the Peel.

The Yukon government and Yukon First Nations agreed to complete land use plans throughout the Yukon because land use planning is intended to provide the clarity and certainty necessary for sustainable economic development throughout Yukon.

Now we are told the Yukon Land Use Planning Council is doing a review of land use planning — a process directed by the chair, a former Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources — the same minister who laid the groundwork for this government’s unilateral rejection of the Peel plan that undermined Yukon’s land use planning process.

Mr. Speaker, under what authority is the chair of the Yukon Land Use Planning Council reviewing the land use planning process, and does the government support the rewriting of the land use planning process outside the provisions contained in chapter 11 of the final agreements?

Hon. Mr. Darrell Pasloski (Premier): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Before us, we will have a decision by the Yukon Court of Appeal on the Peel land use decision and that’s what we’re all waiting for. As a government, we know that the outcomes of that decision will have an impact on land use planning, not only for this government, but for all future Yukon territorial governments.

What we are doing is seeking clarity because we feel that democratically elected public governments should have final say on public land. We don’t anticipate any decisions being made regarding land use planning until we are given more clarity from the courts.

Ms. Hanson: Mr. Speaker, we’re not talking about the court case today. When the final agreements were negotiated, the land use planning process was clearly described. An objective of land use planning is to ensure that the management and use of land, water and resources is done in an integrated and coordinated manner to ensure sustainable development. This government’s decision to throw out the final recommended Peel plan and force First Nations into court was followed up with a suspension of land use planning territory-wide.

Does the government believe that the Yukon Land Use Planning Council’s suspension of Yukon’s land use planning process is consistent with the process set out in the final agreements?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We continue today to see local area planning going on in different areas of the territory. We are talking about land use planning, Mr. Speaker, and so we are waiting for a decision from the courts to provide that clarity. Once we have that clarity, we will be able to move forward because this is exactly what the member opposite is asking about — clarification on the role as described in the Umbrella Final Agreement. So we are waiting for the decision from the courts. We are seeking clarity as I have said — and the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources has also stated — this affects not only this government, but all democratically elected public governments in the Yukon into the future.

Ms. Hanson: Let the record stand that the Premier has ignored the question twice.

This government’s lack of commitment when it comes to land use planning demonstrates a complete lack of political will to bring certainty to Yukon. Land use planning, Mr. Speaker, is dead in the water. The Dawson regional land use plan is on hold and the remaining land use plans agreed to by all parties and contemplated in the Umbrella Final Agreement is nowhere in sight.

One of the key outcomes of the land use planning process jointly agreed to in the Umbrella Final Agreement would be to provide clarity to those interested in investing in the Yukon. That the Yukon has only one completed land use plan highlights the missed opportunities to create essential certainty to drawing and retaining investment in Yukon.

When will the Premier recognize the fact that his government’s continued resistance toward land use planning, as set out in the agreements, is creating uncertainty at great cost to Yukon’s economy?

Hon. Mr. Scott Kent (Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources): Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the previous Yukon Party government for settling the north Yukon plan — the only one that is in existence — and congratulate the partner, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, in the successful implementation of that plan over the years.

I think the one other aspect I would like to correct the member opposite on is with respect to her assertion that the Yukon Land Use Planning Council has somehow halted the land use planning process in Dawson. Members will recall that last year we put out a joint press release with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, in which those two First Nations and the Yukon government agreed to pause the Dawson planning process and meet to determine the best path forward, once there is a final outcome to the Peel court challenge and once the government has agreed to a revised common land use process to implement chapter 11.

Again, Mr. Speaker, we see incorrect assertions being made by the members opposite. The decision to pause the Dawson regional land use plan was one made on a government-to-government basis, not by the Yukon Land Use Planning Council, as she asserted in her question.

 

4 November

Ms. Hanson: Democracy, hope and optimism were handed a victory this morning when the Yukon Court of Appeal confirmed the rejection of Yukon government’s unilateral Peel watershed land use plan. The court was clear: the government’s actions derailed the dialogue essential to reconciliation as envisioned in Yukon’s final agreements.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission says that reconciliation is about an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships at all levels of government. This government has been handed an opportunity to re-establish those respectful relationships that are so essential to reconciliation. The government has said that it is satisfied with the court’s decision. When will the government follow the court’s direction with respect to honouring the planning process set out in chapter 11 of our Yukon final agreements?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: We filed our appeal to gain greater clarity into the process and to protect the rights of all governments to make final decisions about their lands. To a large degree, this decision accomplishes those goals. It’s worth stating that we offered to deal with this matter out of court before the appeals were filed, and we remain open to that approach. It goes without saying that this government respects and upholds the final and self-government agreements, and our record demonstrates that.

Ms. Hanson: This is not just about the Peel. It has far-reaching implications for Yukon’s land use planning process and our final agreements, both of which have been undermined by this Yukon government’s actions.

The court found that the Yukon “undermined reconciliation by failing to honour the letter and spirit of its treaty obligations”. The land use planning process and the final agreements are essential pillars of Yukon’s democratic institutions. They must be embraced and respected if Yukon is to move forward with certainty founded on reconciliation. This Yukon government cannot say it supports reconciliation while simultaneously undermining the mutually agreed-upon democratic processes designed to achieve reconciliation.

When will this government accept that their refusal to honour the spirit and intent of the final agreements is at odds with the respectful relationship that reconciliation requires?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Again, Mr. Speaker, we offered to deal with this matter out of court before the appeals were filed, and we remain open to that approach. As I said in the case of the Bill S-6 amendments, there is always a way to sit down as governments and resolve these issues out of court. Our genuine hope is that we can work with First Nations on these and other issues.

Ms. Hanson: Mr. Speaker, the final agreements envision a new and respectful relationship to move Yukon into a brighter future. They are our best tool to give effect to reconciliation. They are agreements for all Yukoners and they are the way forward. Yukoners know this. Yukon First Nations know this. Even the courts have shown this. This Yukon Party government does not understand that the Peel was more than just about resources waiting to be extracted. When it comes to the Peel, this government has been rebuked by Yukoners, by First Nations and by the courts.

The government has said that it is satisfied with the court’s decision. That is good. Will the government now agree to work with Yukon First Nations to kick-start the land use planning process that has been stalled since the government’s unilateral action on the Peel and give priority to completing all of Yukon’s land use plans?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It goes without saying that this government respects and upholds the final and self-government agreements, and our record demonstrates that. We filed our appeal to gain greater clarity into the process and to protect the rights of all governments to make final decisions about their lands and, to a large degree, this decision accomplishes those goals. This is not just about today’s governments; it is also about future governments. The courts have today given leaders of today an opportunity to work together, and it is my hope that all leaders will take that opportunity.

 

Mr. Jim Tredger (Yukon NDP Energy, Mines and Resources Critic): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In a 1997 memorandum of agreement, the Yukon government agreed to include Yukon First Nations as full participants in the cooperative development of all aspects of Yukon’s oil and gas regime. On Monday, the NDP asked the Premier if he was confident that his government had met its legal obligations to consult on amendments to theOil and Gas Act. Yukoners may experience a sense of déjà vu as I table this letter because, yet again, it appears this government decided to derail dialogue rather than cooperate with First Nation governments.

Why has the government refused the request of three Yukon First Nation chiefs for formal consultation on the proposed amendments to Yukon’s Oil and Gas Act?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. When it comes to the Oil and Gas Actamendments that are before this House right now, there was a 60-day consultation period beginning on July 16 and ending on September 14. During that time, Yukon government’s consultation with First Nations included government-to-government engagement as well as meetings of the oil and gas MOA Working Group. The MOA Working Group met on two occasions: once at the beginning of the consultation period, and again after consultation had concluded. At the second meeting, the feedback received during consultation was shared with the working group members.

When it comes to the letter that was sent yesterday by the three northern chiefs identifying some concerns that they had, I can share with members of the House that I have reached out to my incoming Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, Mr. Stephen Mills, this morning and sent him a copy of the letter so that he will be able to reach out to senior officials in those First Nations and work on a path forward. That is what we’re doing and we look forward to some positive resolution.

Mr. Tredger: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The letter of November 2 from three Yukon chiefs notes that the government’s disregard — and I quote: “…gravely concern our First Nations and contribute to our lack of trust and confidence in the Yukon Government Oil and Gas branch.” Not only was the consultation inadequate, but also the government’s amendments unexpectedly expand the unilateral powers of the minister.

We know the government intends to push ahead with oil and gas development. We have been told to expect new oil and gas disposition regulations very soon, but first the government should honour the chiefs’ request for formal consultation on the Act to Amend the Oil and Gas Act.

Mr. Speaker, will the government consult with these Yukon chiefs as requested?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. We will be preparing a response to the letter received yesterday. In response to concerns raised by First Nations during the early consultation, the proposed amendment to section 68 of the act, which addressed the negotiation process for benefits agreements, has been deferred to enable further dialogue with First Nations. There is another MOA working group meeting that has been tentatively scheduled for the week of November 9. First Nations’ concerns regarding section 68 consultation process and the role of the MOA working group will be discussed at that meeting.

The proposed amendments to the Oil and Gas Act allow Yukon government to continue its commitment to constantly improve the regulation of the oil and gas sector while ensuring that Yukon residents and First Nations continue to benefit from the oil and gas sector’s growth opportunities through royalty revenue, employment and business opportunities.

Mr. Tredger: The Yukon Party approach of undermining reconciliation by failing to honour the letter and spirit of its treaty obligations is harmful to Yukon. The Premier says he wants clarity. Well, the record is clear — on the Peel, on fracking, on Bill S-6, on amending the Oil and Gas Act.

Mr. Speaker, if the government really wants to promote economic prosperity and job creation, it must honour the agreements. Will the government withdraw the Act to Amend the Oil and Gas Actuntil it has completed a full and meaningful consultation on both the act and the new disposition regulations with Yukon First Nation governments?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. To reiterate, there was a 60-day consultation on the oil and gas amendments, starting July 16 and ending September 14. Consultation with First Nations involved government-to-government engagement, as well as meetings of the Oil and Gas memorandum of agreement working group, or the MOA working group. As I mentioned, that group met on two occasions and, as I also mentioned, I have reached out to my incoming Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, who will work with officials not only in our government, but senior officials in the First Nation governments that expressed concerns — to identify their concerns and determine a path forward with respect to this important piece of legislation.

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