Most Yukoners take a dim view of mining industry: survey

Yukon miners got some tough love this week at a presentation organized by the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The message? A lot of people don't like you.

Yukon miners got some tough love this week at a presentation organized by the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The message? A lot of people don’t like you.

Stewart Muir from B.C. think tank Resource Works presented some findings of a survey of Yukoners’ perceptions of the mining industry, and they were not flattering.

While most Yukoners agree that a balance between mining and the environment is possible, they mostly disagree that mining in the Yukon is carried out with great concern for the environment.

On the whole Yukoners disagree that the government should open up more land for mining in the territory, and agree that the focus should be on promoting other industries.

The territory is split on the questions of whether mining contributes to services available to Yukon residents and whether only a small percentage of Yukoners benefit from the industry.

Most people disagree that the industry significantly improves the quality of life for all Yukon residents.

That was tough to hear for Ron Light, general manager of Capstone’s Minto mine.

“I guess I’m pretty appalled at some of the polls that were taken on the Yukon,” he said following the presentation, calling into doubt the accuracy of the results.

“I just think the numbers look a little bit skewed and I had to get up and say something because it doesn’t sit well with me when I see that there’s a lot of negatives, when I think there should be more positives.”

The study was commissioned by the chamber of mines and conducted by Datapath. It polled a sample of 300 Yukoners using an online survey.

Light also responded to comments made by Opposition NDP Leader Liz Hanson in the legislature this week.

She said that at the Minto mine “actual procurement of everything from, I would say, toilet paper to lettuce to whatever,

comes in on big trucks, on pallets, from Outside, and nothing is sourced locally.”

In fact, Capstone spent $78.1 million in 2013 and $58.2 million in 2014 in the Yukon, according to the most up-to-date numbers from the company.

“We do, operating mines, put money into the Yukon. Very much so. And those numbers are excluding wages paid,” said Light.

Mines Minister Scott Kent said in the legislature that Hanson’s comments show a flawed understanding of the impact of mining on the territory.

The mining, quarrying and oil-and-gas industries accounted for 19 per cent of Yukon’s gross domestic product in 2013, up from six per cent in 2007.

A lack of understanding is common among Yukoners, said Samson Hartland, executive director of the chamber of mines.

He said he was not at all surprised by the results of the survey.

“A lot of it’s legacy, obviously – history. The legacy of the industry, pre-devolution and pre-regulatory and pre-environmental assessment, is not that great, of course. We’ve got Faro and we’ve got Mount Nansen, let alone the Klondike Gold Rush. People’s perceptions of those, rightfully so, are not that favourable. Add to that reality television programming today and what we see on TV … of course they have a negative perception.”

It’s up to the industry to do a better job to communicate its impacts to the general public, Hartland said.

People who aren’t directly involved with the industry are blinded to how it affects their lives, he said.

One of the groups with the worst perceptions of the industry in the study was people ages 35-49, living in Whitehorse and working for the government. They don’t see the benefits of mining because their paycheck comes from Ottawa, said Samson.

“That’s the elephant in the room. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But that’s the reality. We need to do a better job communicating and we certainly endeavour to do that.”

The chamber plans to create and deliver media campaigns to spread information about the industry and the people affected by it, he said.

It is also working on an up-to-date study of the economic impacts of mining.

“We need to hear from people. And there’s plenty of them. Our neighbours, kids who’ve gone to school, that are now trying to get into the field, we need to hear from all of these folks what the industry means to them.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at jronson@yukon-news.com

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