After Teck Resources shelved its Frontier oilsands mine proposal in northern Alberta on Feb. 23, some industry figures worry that Canada and the NWT will become less attractive for mining investment.

One of the main voices expressing that anxiety is the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines, whose president Ken Armstrong issued an open letter to the public and Indigenous government leaders on Feb 25.

The decision by Teck Resources to cancel its Frontier oil sands project in northern Alberta has led to concerns that investors will rethink investing in Canadian resource operations. Photo courtesy of Osisko Mining Corporation

Armstrong pointed out that investors “need legal and policy certainty before investing” and while he noted that there are differences between mineral mining in the North and oilsands mining in Alberta, he questioned if investors would make that distinction.

“We are concerned that investors may not distinguish between the two, and may no longer want to invest in any resource development in Canada, including the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. This would not be good for either territory, given that our minerals industry is providing significant employment, business, royalty and other benefits to Indigenous Northerners and their governments.

“We are getting feedback from our industry members that the impact of Teck’s decision is being talked about by national and international investors. While we are hopeful that the NWT and Nunavut don’t get painted with that same brush, it would be good for leaders – territorial and Indigenous – to speak out in support of investment in a responsible and sustainable northern minerals industry that works with governments and communities to ensure benefits accrue to the territories and their residents.”

Industry watchers might find more reason to worry about the big picture after a report issued by the chamber Feb. 27 pointed to a projected decline in mineral production of 13 per cent from 2018 to 2019.

“On the NWT side … diamond production declined by several million carats and diamond prices are down as well,” Armstrong said.

The report cited data from Natural Resources Canada showing mineral production in the NWT last year came to $1.8 billion, a drop of $262 million.

The GNWT, for its part, seems unphased by the fallout from Frontier’s cancellation as it sends a senior representative to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto on March 1 to 4.

Minister at conference

Katrina Nokleby minister for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), told News/North in an email Feb. 27 that as she prepared to head to Toronto for the event, investors need not be discouraged.

“I will be sharing the message that investment in our jurisdiction is low-risk, for a number of reasons, including that our approach is one that is built on partnerships with industry stakeholders and the Indigenous governments that make up our territory,” she said.

“The way that our government does business, and more importantly the way the 19th Legislative Assembly has committed to do business, includes ensuring Indigenous governments and communities are part of the conversations as they relate to projects in our territory. In many instances these groups are direct participants in the projects themselves. This model is at the forefront of Indigenous participation in mining, exploration, and development and is empowering and shaping Indigenous governments, businesses, and communities to take control of their future.”

Nokleby added that the government plans to boost incentive programs for mining in the territory.

“We’re going to complete a review of our territory’s premier incentive program for mining (Mining Incentive Program) and identify new ways to support advanced projects, and increase funding for mining incentive programs by 50 per cent over the next four years.”

The nervous mood from industry spurred by Teck’s move contrasted with the positive response from environmentalists and some Indigenous people in the NWT.

Norman Yakeleya, national chief of the Dene Nation, applauded Teck’s decision and has criticized the oilsands mine proposal for its potential to release toxic chemicals into the Athabasca River that flows downstream to the Slave River and Great Slave Lake.

The chief explained that the situation with Teck shows the need to consult with Indigenous people over natural resource projects.

“That status quo isn’t enough,” he said.

“(Industry) needs to engage with the people who will be affected for years to come. After 153 years of Canada’s way of doing business, people are coming to the realization that they need the input of the Aboriginal people and to look at what damage (industry) can cause to their way of life.”

Yakeleya acknowledged the need for development and employment for Indigenous people but he stressed that the right balance has to be struck between economic and environmental concerns.

“We’ve always had the oil and mines here. But we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt our land. We’ve got to find a way to keep our water clean and land clean and make sure our animals are plentiful,” he said.

Garry Bailey, president of the NWT Metis Nation, shared the Dene national chief’s sentiments on the need for consultation with Indigenous communities.

“It’s good that Teck pulled out because people aren’t willing to play with their water. Our animals could’ve been affected by that project,” he said.

But Bailey differs from some people in the mining industry who are concerned about investors being scared off, and thinks that many companies that come here usually do a better job of consultation than Teck did.

“I don’t think it’ll discourage investors. Teck Resources never followed proper consultation to begin with when it came to dealing with the NWT. They didn’t consult properly with the downstream communities. We were opposed to it. We’re not opposed to development.
“Other developers have followed the proper procedures in the NWT.

“They’ve been coming and consulting with us first hand. They’re successful agreements. We’re not afraid of development. We just want to make sure it’s done safely and that we benefit from it.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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