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The issue: mining industry

We say: essential to our economy

$14.5 billion.

That’s billion, with a B.

It’s how much NWT diamond mines spent with Northern businesses between 1996 and 2018, and, frankly, it’s a staggering sum – the kind of money that really keeps an economy humming. 

The diamond mines have fallen on hard times. Ekati’s future is very much uncertain with its owner seeking protection from creditors. 

That said, everything about the NWT’s economy is struggling mightily. Covid-19 has stalled the engine, flattened the tires and knocked out the headlights. 

Our elected territorial leaders convened on April 29 to discuss the plan to get the economic vehicle back on the road. 

A fair bit of attention was paid to small business and that’s promising because many Yellowknife residents have put their blood, sweat and tears into serving the community. They should not be left swinging in the breeze as a result of the pandemic. 

But the backbone of the Northern economy was almost overlooked completely. The government’s Emerge Stronger Plan hardly made mention of it. Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly actually attempted to steer his colleagues away from trying to aid the mining industry because the GNWT doesn’t have “deep enough pockets” and cannot control commodity prices or financing.

He’s right that the territorial government is in no position to bail out mining companies. But to not bring them to the table as partners in this economic planning process? That’s simply myopic. 

While there may be a number of exciting new avenues to explore, none of those industries is likely to bring thousands of private-sector jobs into the territory. That’s what mining has done. 

None of them is likely to generate $14.5 billion in revenue for local businesses over a couple of decades. 

Some people may point to the disastrous arsenic left behind at Giant Mine and other abandoned mining messes in the NWT from poor practices of yesteryear. Yes, oversight was lacking. However, even those reclamation projects represent an influx of federal money for cleanup and major contracts for Northern businesses.  

NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines executive director Tom Hoefer has, for many years, been banging the drum about the need to plan for the NWT’s next mine. It can take decades for a mine to get permitted. 

There’s some promise on the horizon. To the south of Great Slave, Australia’s Cheetah Resources is going to finally bring a portion of the Nechalacho rare earths deposit to life in the coming years. But that’s a small scale project compared to the diamond mines. 

The Tlicho all-season road will be another piece of the puzzle that could help get Fortune Minerals’ cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper site into production in the future. 

Hoefer isn’t urging the GNWT to break the bank for the mineral industry. He suggested raising the Mining Incentive Program to $3 million from $1 million per year. He said it would be helpful for a federal 15 per cent tax credit for mineral exploration to be increased to 60 per cent to help companies raise money and overcome the higher operating costs in the North. He’s also an advocate for the Taltson Hydroelectricity Expansion Project, the Slave Geological Province Corridor Project and the Mackenzie Valley Highway.

Premier Caroline Cochrane told reporters that mining industry representatives will be consulted as the economic plan evolves. 

That would be wise. Because as our cabinet and MLAs roll up their sleeves to demonstrate their mechanical aptitude to convert this jalopy into a finely-tuned sports car, the mines have much-needed fuel left to put in the tank.

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