The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines faced criticism a citizen Monday night for being out of touch with the city’s interests as city council and the chamber pledged to advocate for the mineral industry. 

Kerry Penney, left, director of economic development and strategy with the City of Yellowknife, and Todd Slack, then consultant for the city’s Giant Mine Remediation project, are pictured in February 2020. Slack said this week that the municipality entering an memorandum of understanding with the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines is ill-advised because the mining lobby group’s “core interests are different from the City of Yellowknife.”
NNSL file photo

Todd Slack, a Yellowknife resident, argued in a presentation during the meeting that the chamber of mines serves its members’ interests and those objectives do not necessarily align with the best interest of all residents.

“The chamber of mines has routinely worked against Yellowknife’s interests,” he charged, noting that over two decades, the chamber has failed to advocate for the responsible closure of mines while consistently calling for looser regulations, including indefinite land use permit renewal.

He also alleged that the organization’s advocacy has worked against Indigenous rights and the values of local residents in seeking to protect some areas from development – notably Thaidene Nene and the Ramparts.

Slack also pointed to Dominion Diamond Corporation moving its headquarters out of Yellowknife to Calgary in 2016.

“The one that really burns me personally is where was the chamber when Dominion pulled out for Calgary?” he said. “Did we hear a word from those guys? No, not one peep. Who did we hear from? We heard it from Richard Morland at the chamber of commerce. He stood up loud for our city” 

“Their core interests are different from the City of Yellowknife.

“Let’s (sign memorandums of understanding) with folks who support the city’s development as well.”

Slack said he does not want to make the issue personal because there are many good advocates and residents who sit on the chamber’s board and who do have the best interest of the city at heart. He also supports responsible mining as a potential benefit for the city in the future, he said.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU), which was passed on Monday, had initially come to council at the Jan. 25 governance and priorities committee meeting. City administration has defended the approach as a way to work cooperatively with a key sector of the economy that is struggling.

Last April, council approved the first draft of its Economic Development Strategy, 2020-2024, prepared by Vancouver-based FWCO Consultation Group. The report’s consultants called on the city to address a declining local economy and a contracting mineral industry. It also also identified six sectors that need the city’s attention to continue to grow or retain economic development. Other than the mineral industry, the others are tourism, agriculture, downtown business, cold-weather testing and a polytechnic university.

“The City of Yellowknife needs to take an aggressive economic approach to developing economic development,” FWCO president Ted Weicker told council last April. “There is a window before the mine closures are anticipated to occur. It is critically important that the city act during that time period.”

Kenny Ruptash, a representative of the chamber of mines who also made a presentation on Monday night, defended the MOU. He stated that the chamber has working groups with other orders of government to promote all areas of the economy related to mineral development, from exploration to closure. 

“This (MOU with the city) isn’t to message what the chamber wants to message or to message what the city wants to message,” Ruptash said. “It’s to bring insight into projects or developing projects that the city could benefit from, and we can jointly pursue initiatives that would be mutually beneficial.” 

Senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett said it’s important to cooperate with industry leaders as diamond mines reach their final years of production and while there will be demand for other minerals, which would benefit the city. 

“While we know that the life cycle for some of our current mines will soon be sunsetting, mineral potential in the NWT is considerable and activity in the sector, including exploration mining remediation as well as the secondary and tertiary industries, is very important to our economy,” said Bassi-Kellett. “And so for this reason, we are really looking to recommend that we commit to cooperate with the mineral industry on common interests – to be a positive and productive rationale for Yellowknife to pursue so that together we can ensure a robust economy for Yellowknife and the North overall.

Coun. Shauna Morgan was the only councillor who opposed the MOU. She said she had problems with some of the wording in the document that might commit the city to advocate for streamlined or regulatory changes when it is ill-equipped, especially staff-wise, to do so. 

“I do think there are some specific issues of common interest of the public and the city with the chamber of mines but I don’t see a reason – and some potential harm – of hitching to the chamber of mines with some of the wording that was in the MOU,” Morgan said. “I think it is silly to imagine that our territorial and federal government is not supportive of the mining industry and I don’t see the point in positioning the city as somehow trying to convince either level of that support for mining.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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