Government of the Northwest Territories’ (GNWT) proposal to alienate industry – by Gary Vivian (October 5, 2015)

A Guest Editorial by Gary Vivian, President of Aurora Geosciences Ltd., in Northern News Services.

It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The GNWT’s recent draft conservation plan has “good intentions” but it certainly will take us on a path to economic hell.

The plan – shared predominantly with conservation representatives, not the business community – is misguided, anachronistic and unnecessary. By simply circulating it for discussion, Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger has started that paving job to hell. If allowed to proceed, the plan will further damage our already wounded mining industry’s ability to create the high paying jobs, much needed business spending and royalties and taxes that are much needed by both aboriginal and public governments.

In this post-devolution world, we are expected to be more mature and able to take responsibility for our economic future. Taking such a misguided approach to conservation will alienate our number-one industry from land access and undermine the government’s own economic agenda.

The conservation plan is a throwback to the protected areas strategy approach, which used an old technique to portray resource development and environmental protection at odds.

Life today isn’t that simple, if it ever was. The world has changed.

The mining industry today is certainly not that of your grandfather’s. Safety and environmental stewardship today are paramount, as are commitments to socio-economic benefits. This is why our NWT-based mines receive so many awards.

In parallel, our regulatory world today is not even the same as that in your father’s time. Aboriginal land claims have been a huge driver of change. First, land claims moved significant amounts of land into private ownership, putting much off limits to development.

Land claims also drove the creation of an entirely new and innovative community-based legislation through the Mackenzie Valley Resources Management Act, which arguably has the most sensitive “public concern” trigger in the country to halt or control development.

This “public concern” trigger is used often under its various regulatory boards. The land use and waters regulations have raised the environmental performance to new heights. Many would argue that it’s perhaps unrealistically high and has driven investment opportunities out of the NWT by junior explorers.

But Minister Miltenberger’s department doesn’t seem to get it. Their new conservation plan, proposing to now alienate up to 40 per cent of the NWT from potential development, is simply continuing the federal Protected Areas Strategy. Under that strategy, government sold us a bill of goods. The strategy was created in 1999 because fear mongers (well-funded environmental groups) told communities that diamond mining would run rampant over the land, decimating our environment.

The fear mongers added momentum to the argument when they used the Mackenzie Gas Project to add further fuel to the fire. Armed with this story of impending doom, the conservationists were able to wrest over $30 million from the federal and territorial governments to fund multi-year conservationist marketing campaigns, the likes of which we have never seen before in the NWT.

For 15 years, they used aggressive communications awareness including websites, a fancy logo, videos, posters, teacher manuals, and hats and T-shirts, to carry their message of impending doom to communities. Who could blame communities for wanting to lock up land under the pressure of this propaganda campaign, particularly when there was no one speaking for the benefits that development brings with education, training, employment, Aboriginal impact benefit agreements, and royalty and tax benefits?

As a result, the conservationists’ crusade helped crash our resource industry.

And what of the impending doom? Well, the diamond boom failed to emerge and the Mackenzie Gas Project died before it could be launched.

So where are we at today? Over 30 per cent of our territory is formally off limits to staking. Completed and draft land use plans have effectively alienated more land by blocking access to high potential areas. Even areas that are supposedly open to exploration – the White Beach Point area and Upper Thelon, to name just two – have seen exploration stymied.

Industry is being backed into a smaller and smaller corner, effectively making half of the NWT off limits to potential development.

It’s no wonder that we have seen investment crash in our once thriving industry.

The Tlicho Government has negotiated a land claim that allows them to collect 90 per cent of the income taxes generated by Tlicho residents. The highest paying jobs are from mining and as the conservationists’ plans advance and industry declines, so will the important Tlicho tax revenues.

It’s very confusing that our environment minister is proposing to take us on this dangerous “well intentioned” path. It will ensure that economic development in the NWT is permanently impeded with talented young people being forced to leave the NWT to seek training and employment elsewhere. This threatens the very viability of all communities across the NWT with only “well intentioned” environmentalists benefiting.

Ask your MLAs what they stand for.

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