A strong economy, in no small part, depends on a strong government strategy.

It also depends on playing the cards one is dealt. In the NWT, that means exploiting the only true economic generator it has aside from government – mining.

The territorial government has increased spending for a third year running on the size of its delegation to attend the annual AME Roundup mining conference in Vancouver, B.C. – up from $137,000 in 2016 to more than $236,000 this year.

The conference provides an opportunity to grease the slats of Northern investment, shore up confidence among worried mining companies, and get an idea of what’s going on in the international mining community and where the North fit in with that.

The $1 million question that many people ask is, of course, is it worth it? Or is this just another glorified excuse for NWT politicians to get out of the North for a few days and hobnob around with politicos from other parts?

According to Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann, it most definitely is.

“At some point, instead of sitting there and criticizing why we’re down here, I think someone needs to follow us around and see what’s going on here,” Schumann said from last week.

Presumably, Schumann was referring to Yellowknife MLAs Kevin O’Reilly and Kieron Testart, who have criticized the size of the delegation and the cost of sending them. O’Reilly in particular, as advocate for environmental stewardship, has been hostile to the government’s reliance on mining to keep the economy going.

In any event, no one else has an invitation and a hotel room waiting for them in Vancouver to do as Schumann suggests.

That mining is critical to the NWT economy there is no doubt. It is by far the largest industry sector in the North, representing about 25 per cent of the territory’s $3.7 billion gross domestic product, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics.

In comparison, agriculture, and other natural resource industries, represent about 0.5 per cent. If there is a way for the territory to prosper without mining we don’t see how just yet.

Indigenous groups often to get the blame for the mining industry’s perception that the territory is a poor place to invest but judging by the enormous number of Indigenous leaders from across the territory who attended the conference – 75, according the GNWT – they understand the importance of this sector too.

The GNWT is right to encourage their involvement but there must be a payoff. Indigenous communities will never again accept the environmental disasters left behind by past operations, such as Giant Mine and Colomac. Mining companies today must respect the land and Indigenous people’s desire to protect it.

The delegation’s show of force demonstrates they want the investment but it is not unconditional.

The GNWT’s goal, therefore, must be to balance between attracting mining investment to help feed the territory’s growing need for infrastructure and development while protecting the North’s environment for future generations.

Was the conference worth it? It will be if mines and the jobs come along with an understanding that the environment must be protected too.

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