Getting down to business in the Northwest Territories

Getting down to business in the Northwest Territories
NWT Premier Bob McLeod.File photo.

From gold and eggs to golden eggs, Premier Bob McLeod’s office saw a steady stream of advisors hoping to make the NWT a better place to do their brand of business last week.

McLeod heard good things on the subjects of tourism and agriculture, but the business junket started with a meeting with the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, whose nose is out of joint after a perceived snub of the mining industry in the 18th Assembly’s post-election priority-setting process.

“They had some concerns about the fact that we don’t pay enough attention to them, that our policies make it unattractive for companies to invest in the NWT,” McLeod told the Journal. “They pointed to the Yukon and Nunavut where there is a lot more investment in exploration. They attribute that to the fact that the NWT is not very welcoming, our regulatory regime is not conducive to mining companies to spend in the NWT.”

The chamber’s executive director, Tom Hoefer, and president, Gary Vivian, also president of Aurora Geosciences, reminded the premier the mining accounts for about 40 per cent of the territory’s GDP.

“Yes, the markets are down and explorers have had increasing difficulty in raising money to explore anywhere in the world, but the fact is that the NWT’s problem started about eight years ago, in 2007,” Hoefer said in an email to the Journal. “When our investment doesn’t track NU, Yukon or Canada (or global), it means we have done something structurally different that is having an effect. While it is regrettable, it is also encouraging because it means it is not the marketplace, and it is therefore, something we can collectively control, that is if there is a will to do so.”

The meeting came weeks after De Beers Canada announced it would cease mining at Snap Lake and put about 430 of its 700 employees out of work. McLeod had a meeting with De Beers Canada and three other cabinet ministers scheduled for Jan. 21, according to his press secretary.

“We (replied that) we know without mining we wouldn’t have an economy right now and we would work with them to show the NWT is a good place to live, work and invest in,” McLeod said.

“We talked about what some of the reasons for the fact that mining companies had preference to invest elsewhere knowing the commodities market is way down now. So we’re having that discussion and we’re going to have ongoing discussions as we go forward.”

Settling land claims, a goal of McLeod’s for the 18th Assembly, would go a long way to assuage the chamber’s concerns.

“The biggest reason, they said, was too much land being protected where these large interim withdrawals are, so land was not available for access for exploration,” McLeod said.

This map shows a portion of TerraX Minerals’ drilling rights.

Photo: Map courtesy of TerraX Minerals.

This map shows a portion of TerraX Minerals’ drilling rights.

Asian aurora tourism up 38 per cent in the territory

Strike while the iron’s cold

In his meeting with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett earlier this month, McLeod brought up the fact that the government of Canada and the GNWT are behind schedule in negotiating an agreement for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort Delta; the NWT devolution agreement states a position should have been reached within six months of implementation.

Likewise, creating a regulatory regime for hydraulic fracturing on-shore was devolved to the GNWT in that same agreement and McLeod said with no oil or gas development likely to happen for a decade, now is the time to prepare to manage both types of resource extraction.

“We also feel that the Inuvialuit should be part of those negotiations because they have offshore subsurface rights in the Beaufort as well,” McLeod said. “When I raised it with Minister Bennett, she agreed obviously this would be one of the best times to negotiate it, with no activity going on. We have a lot of time to get it right and when I go to the communities, most of the people say they don’t understand the issue, they don’t have enough information. So, we see ourselves as educating the public so they can make an informed decision at the appropriate time.”

TerraX hopes to strike gold

McLeod met with TerraX Minerals co-founder Joseph Campbell, who updated the premier on the company’s fully-funded 2016 exploration program. TerraX was one of a number of companies benefiting from $400,000 in exploration funding from the GNWT for 12 gold and diamond projects in the North Slave and Sahtu regions last June.

“I think it’s quite commendable in this downturn of the commodities market, the way they are able to raise money to do their exploration program this year. It sounds like they have a real project that will be coming into place in the near future.”

The company plans to spend $3.1 million drilling on some of the 116 square-kilometres of land it has the rights to north and south of Yellowknife, including near Walsh Lake, where drills could be active within just 100 metres of tourist cabins.

“I know they were planning to meet with the owners of the cabins, or the holders of the recreational leases,” McLeod said. “They’ve been drilling close to the cabins for at least 20 years. I think it’s manageable.”

Coming out of their shells

McLeod also met with the Northwest Territories Egg Producers Board, who are increasing their production and looking to modernize. The five-person board has their chair selected by the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment and are responsible for the industry side of the regulated egg marketing system in the NWT, including the allocation of quota and the collection and remission of levies.

“The egg producers are doing very well, their production continues to increase,” McLeod said. “They are very optimistic about the future, they have a tremendous expansion proposal and agriculture is an area that can really help us diversify our economy. They’re very gung-ho about what they’re doing (and) they realize they have to modernize their production methods.”
He said the egg producers could have a major role to play in improving food security in the NWT.

“As the lady from the Northern Farm (Training) Institute has told me many times, the best way to fix the issue is to make land available for farming and agriculture and we won’t have those problems anymore.”

Growing tourism

Despite a downturn in the economy, tourism continues to be a bright spot in the NWT. Unlike the chamber of mines, the NWT Tourism Association had uplifting news for the premier. McLeod said the tourism sector grew by 48 per cent last year, with spending increasing 24 per cent, driven largely by a 38 per cent boost in the number of aurora borealis tourists visiting from Asia.
“They’re looking to expand and develop new products in Aboriginal tourism, with more operators,” McLeod said. “We hope we can keep it going, especially being faced with these fiscal challenges as a government.”

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