Premier Bob McLeod had a full dance card in Vancouver last week as he spent two days meeting with mining sector companies at an annual conference.
Mineral Exploration Roundup 2016 attracted nearly 7,000 delegates to Canada Place Jan. 25-28, including the NWT premier, Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod and Health Minister Glen Abernethy.
McLeod met with several companies, most already operating or exploring in the Northwest Territories, and hosted an NWT Night reception attended by about 300 people.
“The message I was giving to industry is ‘we have a new government in the NWT with a fresh mandate to find investment for infrastructure growth, training and education,’ and also that sustaining and growing our mining sector will help us move forward with our priorities,” he said in a conference call with reporters Jan. 26. “We now have devolution, we have localized resource control, a proven ability to nurture and support major projects and we also have some of the largest proven mineral reserves in Canada virtually untapped. I also gave the strong message that we need the federal government to partner with us especially to invest in strategic infrastructure projects that will help to unlock our economic potential.”
The conference brought together geoscientists, prospectors, investors, suppliers and First Nation partners to share ideas that will help shape the future of mineral exploration and development, according to the event’s website, which implies the challenges facing the mining industry in the NWT are present elsewhere.
“Mineral deposits are becoming harder to find; we must now travel to more remote locations, search deeper beneath cover, and sometimes settle for lower grades. These aspects, coupled with the challenging market conditions, remind us that we must be more creative and collaborative as we explore to discover and develop new mineral deposits.”
McLeod said an important aspect of his approach to the mineral sector is supporting businesses that are already here. After attending the CEOs’ breakfast at the conference’s outset on Monday, he held meetings with Dominion Diamonds, the NWT Mineral Industry Advisory Board, Mountain Province, Kennady Diamonds, Crossworks Manufacturing, Canadian Zinc, Devonian Metals, Avalon Rare Earth Metals, Fortune Minerals and MMG.
He also had a meeting with B.C. Premier Christy Clark, a lunch with three Yukon cabinet ministers who collectively hold the portfolios for energy, mines, roads (Scott Kent), the environment (Wade Itschenko) and economic development (Stacey Hassard) and co-hosted an open house with the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
The chamber board was impressed with the fact McLeod made himself “minister of mines” by retaining the Industry, Tourism and Investment portfolio, according to executive director Tom Hoefer.
“This was the first time our members were able to meet and discuss with our new Minister for Mines what could be done to improve exploration and mining in the NWT and I can say we were very pleased with the Premier/Minister’s understanding of our industry,” Hoefer wrote in an email. “We left believing that Minister McLeod is in a great position to help.”
McLeod continued the mining junket with talks with Selwyn Chihong Mining, which has applied to expand a 79-kilometre mining road that loops through the Sahtu and Dehcho en route to the Yukon highway network, and De Beers Canada. They discussed the status of Snap Lake, where mining operations ceased before Christmas, and Gacho Kue, which when it starts producing this coming fall will be the world’s largest new diamond mine.
“Certainly we welcome that they’ll start production this year, it will be a welcome addition especially since Snap Lake diamond mine is now in care and maintenance,” he said. “We feel we would need more new projects to start, but we think it is important for us to maintain what we have. The mining sector in particular provides a very real means for raising the revenues necessary to bring the citizens of the NWT the changes they have tasked us with providing in our newly elected 18th Assembly.”
McLeod said he was there in part to express concern that the commodities market is in a “very significant downturn” not expected to reverse itself for 18 to 24 months, but also ended up talking about the GNWT’s unique dynamic with its Aboriginal governments.
“We also had very significant Aboriginal representation (at the conference),” he said. “There was very significant interest in the media about our working relationship and collaboration with Aboriginal governments on matters related to lands and resource management. We also gave the message that we are the only government in Canada committed to ensuring Aboriginal governments share in the benefits of economic development both by sharing royalties and by direct employment and contracting, and that our intergovernmental council is a key and innovative feature of our devolution agreement with Canada.”