How we (the NWT) lost $1 Billion! – by Gary Vivian (News/North – February 15, 2016)

Gary Vivian, President of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

One billion is an alarming number particularly when we learn it’s what our debt will soon be.

But how many people know we let $1 billion slip through our fingers, and have taken little action to fix it? “What,” you say? “How did we do that? Who is responsible?”

We lost it by turning our back on our mineral exploration industry, by ignoring investors’ needs, and worst of all, damaging our exploration reputation.

Finding mines is hard. It’s risky and expensive, requiring lots of investors’ money. It needs expertise, which we built through our top notch drilling and consulting firms, supported by our expediting, aviation, and supply businesses. As a result, Yellowknife is a top notch exploration centre. Or was, until we threw caution to the winds.

While the rest of the world took advantage of an economic boom, we turned our backs on it. How did we do that?

Simple. Through a conspiracy of events, we chased investors away. We closed huge areas from exploration through big protected areas and unsettled land claims. As the only place in Canada where “public concern” can refer projects to environmental assessment, we put small exploration projects through that unusual process. Through our actions investors lost millions of dollars, and we painted the NWT as a risky place to do business.

Meanwhile, China’s hunger for minerals grew, driving big exploration investments around the world to supply growing demand.

Many benefited as investors poured in money to search for new mines. Canadian exploration boomed. Yukon and Nunavut set exploration records.

But not the NWT. Despite our warnings, NWT exploration investment flatlined. Huh?

Did we think we could afford to turn investors away, that Ottawa would bail us out? Did we think cottage industries would fill the gap? Or did we just not believe we needed mining investment, because government spending was sufficient? Government jobs don’t turn the economy, when it takes so many ordinary tax payers to pay for one government job. That’s just not sustainable.

But now it’s starting to register. Two mines have closed. Jobs have been lost; mine spending is declining.

“Welcome to our world,” say the exploration suppliers and the aviation and drilling companies. “We’ve been hurting for too long.”

The GNWT is in trouble. They tell us the economy is fragile, to expect $1 billion in debt shortly, debt we can’t afford. They confirm we need mining, the mainstay of our economy, our economic strength and advantage.

But mining needs healthy exploration. Without it, mines close, jobs and business spending fall, tax payments to Aboriginal and public governments decrease, and our economy slides.

We must repair our investment climate to re-ignite exploration and attract the billions of dollars we need and are capable of attracting; to discover and develop mines in a safe, environmentally responsible manner and create sustainable benefits for communities.

It’s why we say settle land claims, start land use planning, address public concerns over innocuous exploration activities, lower the cost of living, and invest in infrastructure. And stop freezing land in perpetuity.

Our previous requests have fallen on deaf ears. Let’s hope governments are listening now.

You can help by talking to your governments – public and Aboriginal – and tell them to take action. It will take all of us to turn this ship around.

We can’t afford not to.