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COMMENTARY: Chamber of Mines says mining criticism unfair

Ed Peart

Ed Peart

Special to the News

This commentary is a response to the commentary, “Trust the public with the public interest,” published last month in the Yukon News.

In a recent opinion piece in a Yukon newspaper, the former Chair of a Yukon Land Use Planning Commission stated “The Yukon government would do well to sincerely ask whether any mine — or for that matter, the mining sector — actually benefits the Yukon and serves our long-term interests.” We believe all Yukoners should sincerely ask themselves the same question to allow them to develop an informed opinion with fact as a foundation.

To imply that mining provides no benefit to the Yukon or Yukoners does an incredible disservice to the thousands of us who have made a living in the industry and continue to do so. It does a disservice to all of us who have paid our taxes and supported local businesses so they could pay theirs, thereby allowing governments to provide services to all Yukoners that support us and allow us to thrive here.

It does a disservice to all of us who have been able to send our children through school and see them start building their own lives in the Yukon and begin the cycle again as positive contributors to our communities. It does a disservice to all of us who work in small businesses and service sectors that earn a large portion of their income from the mining industry. It does a disservice to all of us who will start new small businesses to employ Yukoners and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves in the future.

To be frank, it does a disservice to the entire Yukon.

Why do people love living here? For many, this love indeed involves reverence for the Yukon landscape. The Yukon’s incredible beauty and vastness, whether we were born to it or chose it, cannot be disputed. However, this love and reverence must also connect to our unparalleled quality of life and how this is realistically achieved.

A love and a reverence grounded in balance.

A love and a reverence grounded in an understanding that to achieve and then enjoy the quality of life we do, we need our valued public sector and a courageous private sector. A private sector allowed to be. A private sector allowed to train and employ Yukoners and continue its enormous contributions to health care, education and literacy, social and cultural awareness programs and to buying local.

We simply cannot continue to rely on transfer payments from Ottawa on the one hand, while boasting a culture of self-determination on the other.

If COVID-19’s devastating effects on our economy have not yet illuminated how important our private sector is to our quality of life and self-determination; those in the trenches of our private sector should simply pack up their courage, education, expertise, investment and services, as their value is just not recognized by some with a paycheque automatically deposited every two weeks.

For those, it may take months to realize why their frequent ‘asks’ to a mining company — or to a store or personal care business they frequent — to sponsor their child’s hockey jerseys or school fundraising initiative are not being replied to as they are not in business anymore.

Why not in business? They won’t be in business because the world’s most responsible exploration and mining industry — of any jurisdiction across the country and around the world — is constantly vilified by those who laud our enviable lifestyle while continually choosing to ignore fact.

Fact: Exploration companies, and both placer and hard rock miners working here must, but more importantly, want to meet and exceed regulatory requirements. Most cannot become operational in the first place without a decade within our environmental and socio-economic assessment and licensing regimes.

Fact: They want to, and do, consult with all orders of government, residents and communities. They initiate best practices. They innovate reclamation and remediation. They train and employ. They propose solutions without being asked to. And, like all Yukoners, they seek certainty; be it regarding permitting timelines or meaningful consultation or how best to support Yukoners most in need.

The Yukon would not exist as it does today without the U.S. military’s action to build the Alaska Highway in the Second World War. Those ski trails at the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club you enjoy, were built thanks to the Whitehorse Copper mines. How about that green, 97 per cent renewable energy you enjoy on demand? Yes, the Whitehorse dam was built to power Yukon’s mining industry. The Klondike Highway to Carcross and Skagway, the gem of a community in Alaska which thousands of Yukoners visit and take visitors to every summer? You guessed it, built for mining — to get ore to markets.

Add to this, a made-in-Yukon environmental assessment process that was developed collaboratively by Yukon First Nations and governments, which the Yukon mining industry participates fully in, implementing recommendations either as permit conditions or through economic benefit agreements with Yukon First Nations. Not to mention the rigorous permitting process itself.

Yukon mining contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the territory’s economy and social initiatives each and every year, whether commodity prices are up or down. We are definitely at fault for not demanding a government study on mining’s socio-economic contributions. But this is going to change, as we are not in a fair “debate” with those who disregard fact in their positioning.

It was Yukon’s mining industry who donated $100,000 to the Food Bank Society of Whitehorse this spring when it was revealed emergency food hampers were needed. It was Yukon’s Mining Industry who donated $100,000 year over year since 2014 to the Yukon Imagination Library to boost family literacy in the territory. It was Yukon’s mining industry who donated over $1 million since 2012 through the Every Student, Every Day program, which addresses barriers to regular student attendance in schools and communities throughout the Yukon.

It is Yukon’s mining industry who provides university and college scholarships for post-secondary education. It was Yukon’s mining industry who jumped on board back in 2003 to support life-saving diagnostic equipment for our hospital, despite public outrage at that time that only governments should pay for health care. Yes, Yukon’s mining and service supply sector invests in communities, and then some. All of these investments to raise Yukoners quality of life exist because of mining.

Being “peacefully and spiritually contented” to be able to enjoy our incredible Yukon wilderness must include reality. One that includes the wish to provide for our families, contribute to our community and work. Our incredible way of life here cannot continue to be one of entitlement only; it must include the guts, spirit and fortitude of our private sector, including mining.

The time has come to stand up for the most environmentally and socially responsible mining industry in the world; and we would prefer the metals and minerals you rely on for your “peacefully and spiritually contented” lifestyles originate right here, responsibly, in the Yukon.

If you disagree, take a look around your home or office, and do the same exercise a group of Yukon students did for Mining Week this year, and ask yourself, where did all this come from? If your paycheque isn’t directly dependent on mining, your lifestyle is.

Ed Peart is the president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, an industry advocacy group which “represents a dynamic membership and since its creation almost 70 years ago, has worked to serve its valued members and advance the interests of all those involved in the Yukon mining industry.”