Parliamentary report touts Yukon’s resource riches

The Yukon gets top marks for its management of natural resources in a new parliamentary report.

The Yukon gets top marks for its management of natural resources in a new parliamentary report.

The report from the Standing Committee on Natural Resources examined the challenges the North faces in developing its mineral and energy resources.

“On a number of fronts the Yukon has moved ahead and almost served as a model for what other regions are trying to adopt,” said Yukon MP Ryan Leef, who sits on the committee.

The Yukon won praise for the timeliness and responsiveness of its environmental assessment board, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not facing some of the same challenges as other northern regions in terms of developing its resources.

One of the major ones is the lack of high-quality geological data.

While an insatiable global demand for gold, precious rare earth minerals, petrochemicals, diamonds and water has led northern Canada to an “unprecedented boom in demand for prospecting, exploration, and exploitation,” in the North, about 60 per cent of the territories “lack sufficient geoscience knowledge,” states the report.

Better data is essential in calming the nerves of risk-adverse investors, it said.

After the Second World War, Canada was a world leader in geomatics, but since the 1980s “its status and ability at the federal level has fallen behind much of the developed world,” Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian Space Agency, told the committee.

The federal government has been trying to fill that gap in recent years.

Through its Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals Program the government has invested $100 million over five years. The Yukon alone saw $15.6 million from that program.

Still, the report recommends more should be done to support geoscience initiatives in northern Canada.

Infrastructure is also a big issue for the North. However, that’s an area where the Yukon comes out ahead.

The Yukon has the most extensive road network of all three territories, which makes it a much more attractive region for new mining projects.

Start-up costs in the Yukon are about $200 million.

In Nunavut, which has no highways, those costs are between $1.5 billion and $1.6 billion because of all the supporting infrastructure companies have to build.

That doesn’t mean the Yukon couldn’t use more transportation infrastructure.

Peter Jenkins, Dawson City’s former mayor, told the committee that “the Government of Canada has an important role to play in developing strategic transportation infrastructure in the North.”

A new rail-link to get resources to ports would cost about $11 billion, but it would lead to an economic output of $170 billion and create 25,000 new jobs, he said.

He also urged the government to consider extending the Dempster Highway and developing a deepwater port at King Point on Yukon’s North Shore in the Beaufort Sea.

It’s an idea that would offer significant benefits to the resource extraction industry, Sandy Babcock, the former president of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, told the committee.

While the committee didn’t endorse either of those projects specifically, it did recommend that the government “continue to address infrastructure challenges in northern Canada, particularly with regard to transportation and energy infrastructure, in order to improve the region’s economic development potentials.”

It went on to call for Canada to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, in order to harmonize nuclear-energy liability terms with international standards.

With all three territories facing a shortage of energy, small modular nuclear reactors were among the ideas the report put forward as a possible solution.

The committee also noted that the Diavik diamond mine in the Northwest Territories is in the process of building a 9.2 megawatt wind farm to mitigate the rising cost of diesel fuel.

Energy isn’t the only thing in short supply. The territories suffer from a lack of skilled labour.

The committee recommended the government increase its support to mining-training initiatives, particularly for First Nations and Inuit communities in order to help develop the labour force required to support economic diversification and mining projects in northern Canada.

Mining is big business.

Between 2006 and 2010, northern mineral production increased by about 53 per cent. The three territories accounted for about 6.3 per cent of the value.

Capturing the economic and social benefit of that boom is creating some “interesting challenges” for the Yukon in terms of energy and human resources, said Leef.

“It’s going to take tremendous investment, significant political will and political financing on a number of levels to move those kinds of things forward.”

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