Let’s Celebrate 25 Years of Diamonds! – by Tom Hoefer (May 9, 2016)


Tom Hoefer is the Executive Director, NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of diamonds in Canada, in our own Northwest Territories, and what progress we have made!

All too often it seems we are so busy focused on the task at hand that we forget to celebrate our successes. Twenty-five years of diamonds marks a good time to measure our progress. It’s also a good time to ask ourselves, where would we be had there never been a diamond rush? And what can we all do to ensure future generations have similar opportunity to benefit from our abundant resources?

I was reminded of this when the Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains, Canada’s Minister of Science, Innovation & Economic Development, recently visited Yellowknife. He stressed three themes:

  • The importance of innovation, and in particular social innovation;
  • The sharing of best practices; and
  • His government’s focus on growing the economy.

From that perspective, I realized just how many northern successes we have achieved with diamonds, successes he might share as examples of best practices with the rest of Canada.

Three diamond mines emerged from the great NWT diamond rush, with a fourth now under construction. Exploration is still underway. Our NWT mines catapulted Canada to third place globally in diamond value, adding to Canada’s exports.

Technological innovation was used to discover the elusive diamond deposits and to construct the mines. Diavik’s dike technology won engineering awards. We generate power with high efficiency diesel systems and Diavik is the first mine in Canada to use wind turbines.

But social innovation is important too, and as Minister Bains observed, benefits to people are what counts. Our diamond mines have made major advances in social innovation, particularly with Aboriginal communities in the NWT and western Nunavut. Since construction began on our first mine, Ekati, our diamond mines have collectively created:

  • Over 22,000 person years of northern mine employment, half of which is Aboriginal;
  • $11 billion in northern business, $5 billion with Aboriginal businesses;
  • Over 1,100 northerners trained through our unique (and now copied) Mine Training Society;
  • Over $100 million to communities through benefit and participation agreements, scholarships, and donations; and
  • Significant payments to Federal, Territorial and Aboriginal governments in taxes and resource royalties.

This success is quite unprecedented in Canada. Few jurisdictions rival the NWT in benefiting Aboriginal communities, governments, businesses and individuals from mining development.

While industry would love to take full credit for this success, it has been very collaborative, resulting from corporate commitment, government policy and facilitation, and strong support and input from Aboriginal governments and people. Minister Bains’ own CanNor agency also played a role in this success.

These strong collaborative efforts to develop our mines have achieved precisely what Prime Minister Trudeau is seeking when he writes in his Ministers’ Mandate Letters: “We made a commitment to invest in growing our economy, strengthening the middle class, and helping those working hard to join it.”

That’s precisely why we northerners have reason to celebrate. Our mines have done that.

And it’s why we alerted Minister Bains to this significant northern diamond mining innovation. We suspect that most Canadians are not aware of our mining successes, and that there is much they can learn from the North. We hope the Minister helps spread the message.

But just as importantly, we northerners should take time to celebrate our success, before we put our heads down again to plan the next 25 years, to building that same success for our grandchildren.

So let’s celebrate! And diamond anniversary, here we come!