Diamond mines are the bloodstream for the NWT and Yellowknife, a source of economic vitality in the wake of the gold rush that birthed this city in the first place.
And one miner’s job generates many others in this thriving town: schoolteachers, shopkeepers, doctors and nurses.
But the mines, and the city and the jobs, are in trouble.
The territory’s three diamond mines – Diavik, Gacho Kue and Ekati – have reached peak production and are expected to close by 2034, according to a 2018 economic analysis by the Conference Board of Canada.
“That will lead an average of 2,300 people to leave the territory each year for other parts of Canada, 390 more than the number of people who will come to the Northwest Territories,” the report states.
In 2017, those three mines contributed $1.1 billion to the GDP, which represented 28 per cent of the NWT economy.
That’s why the discovery of a new kimberlite pipe at the Gahcho Kue diamond mine – the first substantial discovery at the site in more than 20 years – should be welcome news to all Northerners.
An exploratory drilling program at the mine discovered the diamond bearing stone – which has been dubbed the Wilson kimberlite in honour of Canada’s first female geologist Alice Evelyn Wilson.
Its discovery underscores the importance of investing in the exploration side of mineral exploration. In the NWT, $67.2 million has been so far allotted for exploration and deposit appraisals in 2019, a drop of 38.4 per cent from the $109 million spent in 2018 and a “low point for the past decade,” writes Derek Neary in Opportunities North.
This year in Nunavut, exploration companies have indicated they might spend $144.3 million, which shows that Eastern Arctic industries have come to an important conclusion: when it comes to minerals you can’t find what you aren’t looking for.
The Wilson kimberlite also underscores the importance of an essential infrastructure project that could be the key to this territory’s, and this city’s, economic future: the all-season road through the mineral-rich Slave Geological Province.
The GNWT and federal government are spending $5.1-million toward aerial surveys of the planned 413 kilometre all-season road from Yellowknife to the Nunavut border but the full cost of the project is expected to surpass $1 billion.
However, the Slave Geological province contains an estimated $45 billion in mineral wealth: you do the math.
The federal government has been loath to fund the project.
An initial project submission under Transport Canada’s National Trade Corridors Fund was not accepted in 2018. This is unacceptable.
This week the federal government put the Trans Mountain pipeline back on track after a court-ordered delay. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the multi-billion dollar project would create thousands of middle class jobs.
“By moving forward with (Trans Mountain), we’re creating jobs, opening new markets, accelerating our clean energy transition and generating new avenues for Indigenous economic prosperity,” Trudeau said Tuesday afternoon.
The Trans Mountain pipeline has been described as a lifeline for Alberta’s petroleum industry. Well, this all-season road is a lifeline for the North, which has plenty of Indigenous people looking to attain economic prosperity and news flash Justin, the post-carbon economy will not be post-mineral economy.
Here in the city there has been a long simmering rift – between those who believe minerals are the region’s greatest asset and those who believe we must diversify the economy – but the dreams of the latter cannot be realized without the dreams of the former.
When you drill down and look at the numbers, you’ll find that mining has to play a part in the future of the the city and the NWT.