EDITORIAL: Painting the economy green

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It ought to be no question that unfettered industry can have disastrous consequences for communities if not properly monitored.

Yellowknifers know this firsthand. Giant Mine, along with Con Mine, was the most important employer in Yellowknife for decades. But it’s complete disregard for the environment, and the regulatory blind eye toward that disregard, has saddled Canadian taxpayers with a $1-billion-plus clean-up bill.

Toxic effluent from the mine was blamed for widespread illnesses, including the death of a two-year-old child in Ndilo who, in 1951, drank contaminated water and died. Giant Mine’s arsenic legacy continues today and for the foreseeable future.

Climate change is also a very real concern. Northerners have front row seats to its effects.

Thawing permafrost, severe drought and violent forest fires. The NWT Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Report states that temperatures in the territory have increased twice as fast as the global average over the past 100 years.

That report states that in the Mackenzie Valley, average annual temperatures have risen by about 2 C since the 1940s when records started being kept, while annual temperatures in Inuvik have increased by 3 C.

But there is a twin concern. While Nunavut is going gangbusters with an expected nine per cent economic growth this year, the economic forecast for the NWT remains “grim,” according to the Conference Board of Canada.

The diamond mines that replaced gold as the economic engine for the territory are expected to begin winding down over next decade, and no mine or other substantial industry is waiting in the wings to replace it.

There has been much excitement in recent days about the NWT Chamber of Commerce’s decision to bring Vivian Krause to Yellowknife as a keynote speaker at the organizations annual general meeting last night. She has gained notoriety in recent months as a critic of environmental organizations and charities.

According to the chamber, she was billed to speak about the effects regulations are having on industry.

Krause has become a thorn in the side of environmental groups for making claims that many of them are being funded by Big Oil interests outside Canada in a sly attempt to stifle the country’s own oil and gas industry.

France Benoit, an environmentalist and proponent of the Yellowknife Farmer’s Market, said it “isn’t the conversation we should be having. We should be be talking about the potential of the green economy.”

She was joined by former Yellowknife city councillor Dan Wong and now river paddling guide, who said the chamber’s invitation to Krause has shown is out of touch with its members, while stating, “we’re trying to building an economy that is built to last!”

Perhaps Krause’s views are beyond the pale, chamber members can decide that, but we’re left asking, how exactly does the territory build a “green economy” where the non-resource sector represents 37 per cent of the economy? At $1.8 billion, mining is by far the largest economic driver in the territory and always has been.

There never seems to be a realistic answer to that question.

The failure to police Giant Mine has shown Yellowknifers why strong regulatory oversight has been critical in the development of safe mining practices in the territory. Mining is not the greenest industry but in the Northwest Territories, it’s definitely cleaner than it once was.

As for a “green economy,” if there is ever one that can replace mining, it must be green with the billions of dollars the mining industry currently produces for the territory’s economy. Otherwise, it will always be a solution that can’t solve the problem.