Harper sells vision of economic development in North as Arctic tour continues – by Bruce Cheadle – The Canadian Press/Global BC


“Oh yeah, it was (rough),” the burly Innu says of life
in Baker Lake before the mine opened. “Everybody was
on social welfare and now they can afford to buy food
and snowmobiles and trucks and clothes and help out
their families.”

BAKER LAKE, Nunavut – Stephen Harper used the backdrop of peaking gold prices amid international economic turmoil Wednesday to sell his vision of economic development in Canada’s Far North.

The prime minister made no apologies for his Conservative government’s development-first strategy after touring the roaring Meadowbank gold mine near Baker Lake. It is Nunavut’s only operating mine, but many more are promised.

Critics have long complained the Harper Conservatives are ignoring environmental damage and the impact of climate change as they rush to capitalize on a thawing Arctic. With gold prices hovering near $1,800 an ounce, Harper was not prepared to concede an inch.

“Obviously when you dig holes here you create some environmental issues, and those have to be addressed,” Harper told a crowd of employees in the mine’s transport garage after being asked about damage to an adjacent lake.

“But that can’t stop development any more than we would let that stop development in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver,” Harper added to applause from the crowd.

Harper had just come from the pouring of three gold bricks, each worth about $1.8 million at current prices, where he stamped — after a half-dozen attempts — the company crest on the hot, loaf-sized ingot.

Jim Nasso, chairman of Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd., which has sunk $1.4 billion into developing the Meadowlake site, made a point of noting almost 40 per cent of the 760-member workforce are locals.

“Things aren’t changing,” said Nasso. “Things have changed.”

The prime minister, on Day 2 of his annual week-long northern tour, says the region has a future that will bring long-term jobs and benefits to the North.

“As northerners know all too well, the history of national attention in this part of the country has been a series of fits and starts,” Harper said in a speech.

He said his government is the first since John Diefenbaker’s in the late 1950s to put the North “at the top of Canada’s agenda. We put it there and we will keep it there.”

The Meadowbank operation, owned by Toronto’s Agnico-Eagle Mines, sprang from the tundra in the last four years and now employs 760 permanent workers. About 450 people are on site 24 hours a day, and will produce about 310,000 ounces of gold this year.

Steven Iyago of Baker Lake, a 110-kilometre drive due south from the mine, says he’s now making a real living after struggling as a plumber before the mine opened. Iyago drives a 150-tonne ore truck.

“Oh yeah, it was (rough),” the burly Innu says of life in Baker Lake before the mine opened. “Everybody was on social welfare and now they can afford to buy food and snowmobiles and trucks and clothes and help out their families.”

The high Arctic appears on the cusp of a resource boom as countries including Russia, Denmark and Norway rush to exploit opportunities presented by melting sea ice and unprecedented accessibility. As many as a dozen new mines are being “actively considered” in Nunavut, according to Senator Dennis Peterson, appointed by Harper to represent the region.

But the government’s heavy development focus has its critics.

Ian Church is a scientist who represents the Yukon government on a board that advises the Geological Survey of Canada on a project that has received $100 million over five years in federal funding to do geological mapping for energy and minerals.

“I’m the only person that’s on the board that comes from a broader perspective than the mining industry or an aboriginal community or some of the other client groups,” Church said in an interview from Whitehorse, Yukon.

“I keep saying, in reality what you’re doing here has other uses” than mineral and gas exploration.

Church cited the example of proposed seismic work in Hudson Bay, which has met some local resistance. He noted no one understands why the bay actually exists, what created it, or how it will develop in the future.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Global BC website: http://www.globaltvbc.com/money/harper+sells+vision+of+economic+development+in+north+as+arctic+tour+continues/6442469299/story.html