The territorial government sent a delegation of five cabinet ministers, two MLAs and 21 staff and senior management to Vancouver, B.C., for a gathering to advance mineral exploration.
This year nearly all cabinet ministers attended with the exception of Environment Minister Robert C. McLeod, who could not attend for personal reasons, and Education Minister Caroline Cochrane, who is in St. John’s, N.L. for a meeting of ministers responsible for labour.
The GNWT did not provide information on the full cost of attending the conference. Last year’s total, when 44 people attended, was estimated to have cost the GNWT $235,700. The trip drew criticism from some observers who questioned the decision to spend a quarter million dollars to attend the mining conference. The trip cost $137,000 in 2016 and about $200,000 in 2017.
A year ago, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly asked whether there were procedures to report on accomplishments from the trip, to which Premier Bob McLeod said the annual gathering was vital to raising awareness about mining potential in the territory.
Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann offered a similar line this year.
“When I got this file, it was quite clear travelling the country as (minister) that people that are into this industry did not clearly know what devolution was or that it even took place,” said Schumann.
“Over the last three years we’ve brought our Indigenous partners to this, who are clearly on side around resource development, particularly in the Tlicho region where heavy mining activity is taking place.”
Two regular MLAs — Cory Vanthuyne and Herb Nakimayak — are attending this year, alongside Premier McLeod and ministers Abernethy, Schumann, Alfred Moses and Louis Sebert. A delegation of 30 participants from Indigenous governments paid their own way to Vancouver.
The GNWT does not track specific results for events like the Association for Mineral Exploration’s 2019 Mineral Roundup.
The conference involves three days of mining-related discussion, including an Impact Benefit Agreement for the Prairie Creek all season road, which was signed today between NorZinc and the Naha Dehe Dene Band. A community signing took place Jan. 15 in Nahanni Butte.
“It shows that things like this can be done. I don’t think you’re going to see Prairie Creek go forward without that road,” said Schumann.
Fortune Minerals, the proponent of the NICO mine project outside of Whati, also signed a socio-economic agreement Jan. 29 with the GNWT.
The company has committed to employing a labour force comprised of 35 per cent NWT residents during construction, including nearly 18 per cent who are to be Indigenous.
During operation, the company promises 60 per cent of the employees will be NWT residents and 30 per cent will be Indigenous.
Showing off the GNWT’s proposed legislative changes to industry
At a private meeting Tuesday between the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines and NWT diamond mine executives, Schumann planned to discuss key upcoming legislation, including the Mineral Resources Act and Petroleum Resources Act.
Schumann anticipates both of those pieces of legislation will be tabled on the second day of the February session of the legislative assembly.
Once tabled, there will be 120 days for citizens to read the proposed legislation for public input in hopes of sending its “made-in the North” legislation to third reading by the May and June session.
“Not everyone is going to be happy with it. I’m not happy with it. Indigenous governments won’t be happy with it. Industry isn’t going to be happy with it,” said Schumann. “If that’s the case, I think it’s going to be a very good piece of legislation for the territory to chart investment in an area that’s very tough to raise capital. This will bring certainty around a lot of things for these investors.”
“It’ll be a piece of legislation that’s totally different than the rest of Canada,” he continued.
At an NWT night hosted by the GNWT, NWT leaders and mineral industry leaders will network with each other, along with keynote speakers Premier McLeod and Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie. The GNWT will livestream its NWT Indigenous Partnership Luncheon and panel Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.