Mining essential, even during pandemic
Mining is essential to the Yukon – not only for our economy as we face the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s part of our cultural identity.
It’s depicted on our license plate; it’s why we take visiting friends and family to Dawson City to enjoy a show at Gertie’s.
Mining’s presence and importance permeates the very bedrock of our daily lives.
On your way into Dawson, signs warn motorists of moose on the road because the gold fields host the healthiest moose population in the Yukon, thanks to mining, as it encourages willow growth and suppresses predation.
Perhaps on that same road trip you find yourself defending moose hunting in a debate with your southern visitors, who believe the practice is barbaric or that food magically comes pre-shrink-wrapped from the grocery store.
Mining often faces similar ignorance.
For example, gold responsibly mined in the territory is used in virtually every single electronic device we depend on, and in the context of COVID-19, our reliance on cellphones and computers keeps communities connected and informed while physically spacing.
Gold is also a fundamental component in advanced medical equipment, which may be required to treat our loved ones should they become severely infected by the virus.
What if the global supply chain is interrupted in the wake of the pandemic?
What if our fiat currency system collapses in a subsequent recession?
There’s a reason gold is the original standard for securing a nation’s finances.
Mining in the Yukon helps secure our future in an insecure world.
In a mere month, COVID-19 has already devastated many of the Yukon’s private sector businesses beyond recovery, so our territory’s historic overreliance on government jobs may actually serve us well in the short term, as it might limit the shutdown’s impact on our economy if some can still depend on government paycheques.
But the public sector isn’t entirely immune either.
If the measures required to stem the pandemic’s spread continue to limit businesses’ ability to generate tax revenue, the “non-essential” public servants previously sent home, with pay, may find themselves without pay, permanently, if governments are no longer able to make their own payroll.
Any job that puts food on your family’s table is essential.
With no cruise ships coming in, seasonal businesses seeing their entire summer’s bookings disappear, air and highway travel restricted, and even government likely affected, how will many Yukoners survive?
Thankfully, with a weak Canadian dollar, the price of fuel at historic lows and gold at historic highs, the mining industry is well-placed to employ many whose previous careers are likely to be disrupted by the pandemic, from hydrologists to housekeepers to UFA implementation experts.
During the Dirty Thirties, many Canadians couldn’t obtain necessities such as flour to feed their families, let alone relative luxuries such as sugar, whereas mining meant the Great Depression was only an expression in the Yukon.
Mining can be that essential provider again and together with Yukoners’ support, we can come out the other side of COVID-19.
Jonas J. Smith
Tetlit Gwich’in community of Fort McPherson knows when to help
Recently, I and several other drivers had the misfortune of experiencing the long weather-related road closures on the Dempster Highway while travelling from Inuvik to Whitehorse. Although I was driving a pickup, I was in the company of mostly transport drivers delivering essential goods to the North.
Like myself, most of the drivers had attempted to make the journey on March 22 and 23 but had to stop on the highway near the Tetlit Gwich’in community of Fort McPherson to wait out the snowstorms and allow the maintenance crews to clear the highway once these storms subsided. It seemed that once one storm ended and some clearing was completed, another storm would start up again and therefore kept the road closed for an extended period of time. It was not until the evening of March 26 that we were able continue on to Eagle Plains.
The drivers with their trucks were parked for several days and although they carry food with them, most if it consists of canned and sandwich items, which are mostly eaten cold. They can sleep in their trucks but do not have any other facilities for extended periods of time.
A few community members recognized this and decided to take time from their busy lives and deliver hot plates of food and coffee for the drivers. They did not accept any payment for this. The local hotel also opened up a room so that the drivers may have a shower.
Although I do not know the names of the individual Good Samaritans, I would like to thank them and the rest of the community on behalf of myself and all of the truck drivers. In addition, we would also like to thank LJ’s Trucking for their long hours and hard work keeping the Dempster Highway open when it almost seems impossible.
Although I said “misfortune” when I started this letter, it really was enlightening to see how some community members stand up and lend their support to individuals that need a helping hand in difficult times such as the ones we are experiencing now with the COVID-19 virus. Specifically, I and many truck drivers would like to give our appreciation to the members of the Tetlit Gwich’in community of Fort McPherson.
Local businesses are in survival mode
Yukoners have stark choices to make in the coming weeks and months that will impact all of our lives moving forward. Business owners are faced with additional difficult decisions and many have already had to make the gut-wrenching call to layoff or reduce staff, in the face of unprecedented declines in revenue.
In ordinary times, most businesses can manage changes in volume and anticipate high and low periods. However, the extraordinary impacts that COVID-19 has had on the business sector has disrupted models and cash flow unlike anything that could be anticipated.
The entrepreneurial spirit of our Yukon small businesses comes through as we’ve quickly adapted and created new business models to continue to serve the public. But make no mistake, these are urgent measures to simply keep businesses afloat. And they will help maintain cash flow to pay the bills that come in every month, even without staff and big inventory purchases.
But they will only be as successful as Yukoners make them. It might be your natural reaction to batten down the hatches and ride out the COVID-19 storm. Be aware that if you hide yourself and your family in self-isolation at home, the Yukon that you return to afterwards won’t be the same. The regular business model no longer exists, particularly for restaurants, and they need your help.
Those Yukoners who are still collecting paycheques, particularly Yukon government employees, have a massive role to play in supporting private businesses. At a minimum, any disposable income you budgeted to eat out, or spend during the week, you should still use to order takeout. (More if you can manage, because the hundreds of hospitality sector employees who frequented each other’s establishments during the week no longer have disposable income that was part of businesses’ cash flow.)
You had after-work beers twice a week? Still do so virtually and order from your local brewers.
Have a favourite restaurant or coffee shop? Still try to maintain your daily support.
Even with all this support, the stark reality is that some Yukon businesses may not survive this economic disruption. And if those of us in the business sector have any chance of emerging again, Yukoners are going to play a critical role in helping us make it. The message to Yukoners now needs to be clear when it comes to their favourite spots and their neighbours in the private sector: Use it, or lose it.