The future of mining in the NWT

diamond

I covered mining development in Labrador (the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine) and in the NWT during my 16 years as a reporter with CBC. What I’ve seen is both a boom and a bust at either end of the country. I remember the years people would line up for a week in front of the Bellanca Building in Yellowknife to see the mining recorder to get their prospecting permits. There’s no line up this year.

Mining across Canada and in the NWT is going through one of its cyclical downturns. Prices for commodities are low. Investment in exploration companies is a gamble most people don’t want to take with their savings. Known deposits remain undeveloped because there is no way to get the product to market. Who knows how long the downturn will last, but it’s a worry.

Much of our economy is directly tied to diamond production on the tundra. Diamond prices are down and miners are looking for savings; that’s why De Beers is looking at consolidating its administration in Calgary. Meanwhile, only one new mine is under construction – at Gahcho Kue. No new deposits have been found in many years. This was also the situation in the late early 90s before diamonds were discovered in the NWT.

We can make good use of this lull in action this time. First, the territorial and federal government can better resource land claim and treaty implementation talks. The political will that brought devolution talks to a conclusion needs to be applied to land claim talks. Finishing these negotiations would confirm the land rights of indigenous people and provide the certainty of land tenure that industry requires.

Related to finishing land claim and treaty implementation talks is completing land use plans for each region. Several plans are in place now while others are in development. The value of land use plans is again to provide certainty to all parties about what land is available for development.

A third task for the lull is to continue discussing the GNWT’s draft conservation plan. To repeat an earlier post, conservation is part of the development equation that hasn’t been given enough attention historically. Candidate protected areas have languished for years waiting for confirmation. Areas that are put forward for protection are reviewed for their mineral potential and the results are factored into the boundaries.

It’s important to remember that the NWT is a vast place, and that certainty of land tenure for residents and industry is key to moving forward.