Public government for private profit, says Lang

The Yukon government isn’t in the business of making money, says Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang.

The Yukon government isn’t in the business of making money, says Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang.

It exists to help business do that.

Local business is thriving because of an era of economic growth provoked by high mineral prices, Lang told a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

That’s because the government isn’t interested in making money despite its role in northern economic development, he said.

Current estimates peg Yukon government spending this year at roughly $900 million.

“The government doesn’t generate wealth, but it can create an environment where industry can work and invest,” said Lang, providing examples.

Mining exploration increases annually, he said.

Sherwood Copper’s $100-million Minto mine, the first new hardrock mine to open in 10 years, is running at full capacity and sent its first copper shipment overseas in October.

Repeating one of his chestnuts for the business crowd, Lang said 2007 exploration investment is estimated to be $140 million, up from $8 million in 2000.

Record levels of exploration for copper, zinc, lead, silver and tungsten led to 1,700 known mineral occurrences covering less than four per cent of the territory, said Lang.

Natural resources are the Yukon’s most important economic driver right now, said chamber executive chair Andre Roothman.

But how long will the boom last? he asked.

“We can’t all go back to hunting and trapping,” he said.

Mining will have a long life in the territory, he said, citing balanced land-use planning, work on a potentially world-renowned geoscience database and the Yukon’s existing geological survey.

The government is honing its regulatory system and will have a new placer mining regime in place early next year, he added.

“It will finally give certainty to placer miners,” said Lang.

The new regime will create 19 separate watershed authorizations to govern placer mining in specific areas and increases criteria for fish habitat classification, according to the Yukon Placer Secretariat.

The proposed changes also add four areas of monitoring, including regulatory compliance, water quality, aquatic health and economic health.

Placer miners just went through a decade of sub-par gold prices and now the demand is higher, there’s an opportunity to rebuild operations, said Mike McDougall, executive director of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association.

“I’m encouraged, first by the price of metal, but also by the work we’re doing with the territory,” said McDougall.

“We’ve gone through a lot of changes in the mining industry. Ten years ago we were federally regulated and now we have all those acts back in the Yukon. The acts are still strong, but now they can reflect local needs.”

The energy sector is strong and industry leaders told the government it needs a more streamlined process for granting oil and gas rights, said Lang.

“We have listened and oil and gas rights are granted through a transparent and efficient process and it resulted in 25 expressions of interests,” said Lang.

Thirteen land parcels were granted to Northern Cross Limited in the Eagle Plains basin in north Yukon earlier this year.