Natural resources still hold potential – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (December 20, 2010)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario. This editorial was published on February 6, 2011.

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

EVEN as Thunder Bay and other Northwestern Ontario communities press ahead with knowledge-based industry initiatives there remain opportunities in traditional natural resources industries, but not all of them. Embracing high-tech knowledge business is essential to securing the future of northern communities.

Thunder Bay in particular is growing spectacularly in its health care research sector. Just as in other regional communities, with a number of its forest industries idled, new pursuits are essential to maintaining and growing the local economy.

A new study by the Conference Board of Canada confirms that the natural resources sector — and the industries that support it — provide the strongest potential for Northern Canada’s future economic development.

This report, Mapping the Economic Potential of Canada’s North, is one of a series of studies for the Centre for the North.

The centre’s purpose is to work with Aboriginal leaders, businesses, governments, communities, educational institutions and other organizations to provide insights into how sustainable prosperity can be achieved in the North. Over its five-year mandate, the Centre for the North intends to help to establish and implement strategies, policies and practices to transform that vision into reality.

“The economic potential of Northern Canada is highly dependent on its mining and oil and gas resources,” said Len Coad, director, Environment, Energy and Technology Policy, at the Conference Board. “These primary industries also drive growth in other sectors of northern economies, including communication, electricity and transportation infrastructure and commercial services. They can contribute to the prosperity of northern communities by providing jobs and supporting local businesses.”

For the purposes of its study, the centre defines the North as comprising the three territories and the northern parts of seven provinces — 80 per cent of Canada’s land mass in all, but it makes up less than seven per cent of the population. This study identified a collection of seven key industries — oil and gas, mining, forestry, fishing, utilities, construction, and tourism.

Forestry and fishing are both defined as “mature renewable industries that have approached or reached their sustainable harvest levels. This review has not identified any significant long-term development potential for either industry.”

That puts all the more onus on industry, government and communities to pursue the enormous new potential of mining in this area.

The indicators used to assess mining — economic output and exploration expenditures — all point to a strong mining future for the North. Potential opportunities exist in every northern region, although there are some emerging hot spots, particularly in the Yukon, Nunavut and Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire area. The report argues that project proponents and the respective governing agencies must ensure that mine development is both environmentally responsible and delivers economic rewards to residents, benefits to local governments, and returns to investors and operators.

But for all of its potential to boost the entire economy of Northern Ontario, mining continues to run into opposition from First Nations and specifically the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug band.

KI’s chief and five councillors were jailed in 2008 for defying a court order to allow mining exploration company Platinex to drill near the shore of Big Trout Lake which KI claims as part of its territory. The standoff there began a new round of talks between government and native leaders on northern land use policy in order that First Nations could properly benefit from development.

Nearly three years later, the talks — such as they are — show no signs of progress in spite of the huge potential for improvements in the economies and lives of isolated First Nation people. KI has just told diamond giant DeBeers that it cannot conduct exploration on lands around the reserve until a land use policy is worked out.

Beyond KI a number of other First Nations have reached mutually-beneficial agreements with individual mining companies, but a region-wide policy involving all First Nations, the province and the mining industry remains elusive.

For the sake of First Nations and the entire economy of Northern Ontario we would strongly urge all parties to these talks to make haste in concluding them. Surely a fair division of the spoils of minerals that lie in wait for development can be found.