Conference board sees a bright future in Yukon mining

The Conference Board of Canada is predicting the Yukon's mining boom will continue for years to come. The board predicts that employment in the Yukon mining sector will more than double in the next few years.

The Conference Board of Canada is predicting the Yukon’s mining boom will continue for years to come.

In a report released last week, the board predicts that employment in the Yukon mining sector will more than double in the next few years.

By 2017, the report predicts mining output to grow to $268 million, up from the $128 million the territory saw in 2011.

And that means jobs.

In 2011, there were 500 Yukon residents employed in the mining sector, but the conference board expects that to more than double too, to 1,282 workers by the end of the decade.

This forecast assumes that the Eagle Gold project, the Carmacks Copper project and the first phase of the Brewery Creek gold mine will be up and running in the next couple of years to augment declining production of the territory’s three existing hardrock mines.

“Minto, Bellekeno, and Eagle Gold are all expected to boost mining output in the initial years of the forecast but are expected to shut down or reduce operations in the later years of the long-term outlook,” states the report. “Still, total production will remain stable over the 2017 to 2020 period because of increased production at the Carmacks copper mine,”

With the industrialization of China, Brazil and India, and the resulting rise in the standard of living for citizens of those countries, the conference board sees the demand for commodities of all kinds staying strong for some time to come.

Indeed, it’s already driving mining and exploration companies into looking farther afield for resources.

“Previously underexplored and unexplored regions are now being re-examined in a new light,” states the report. “As a result, mining companies have extended their reach to some of the world’s most precarious regions, including Mongolia, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania and Afghanistan.”

Mining companies are also starting to look at more remote regions like the Canadian North, which come with their own set of challenges.

“Often, (mining companies) are confronted with harsh terrain, a lack of infrastructure, and in some cases, the lack of a skilled local labour force,” states the report.

But conditions across the Canadian North vary dramatically, said Keith Halliday, a Yukon-based economist.

“That really depends on what part of the North you’re talking about,” he said. “Some places, like certain parts of the Yukon, the infrastructure is quite good compared to, say, parts of Nunavut.

“Also, in terms of labour shortages, this depends what else is going on. For example, just south of the Yukon there’s a huge natural gas boom going on in Fort Nelson that’s really enormous, so that factors into it too.”

In general the size of the projects that are being contemplated for the North are quite large relative to the size of the regional economies of the North, said Halliday.

“If as many mines go ahead as people think, that suggests some significant immigration to the North,” he said.

The conference board report also singled out regulatory hurdles and friction with First Nation communities as potential barriers that could slow down development of northern resources.

However, on both of those fronts Halliday sees the Yukon as being ahead of the curve.

“I think that the YESAB (Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board) approach that the Yukon has, has a lot of things going for it,” he said. “In terms of getting everyone to the table, it’s a relatively clear process, and that’s not the case in all parts of the North.”

It’s a similar story with the Yukon First Nations’ self-government agreements, said Halliday.

“It’s a well-established, well-understood system that gets First Nations to participate in, hopefully, the benefits of these projects,” he said. “I think that is something that’s actually in the Yukon’s favour compared to a lot of other places where it’s much less defined and there’s much more space for misunderstanding and disagreement during the development of these projects.”

However, the future of the resource industry is “a notoriously difficult thing to forecast,” cautioned Halliday.

“I think we can be highly confident that commodity use will increase dramatically over the next 10 or 20 years, but it’s less clear if that automatically translates into sustained higher prices,” he said. “There are a lot of mining projects coming on stream around the world.”

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