Ministers' Statements and Speeches: Caroline Wawzonek on Mining Week 2021 and Initiatives

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Mr. Speaker, today’s mineral resource industry in the NWT is innovative, collaborative, environmentally conscious, and has the highest standards of safety. It collaborates with the GNWT and with Indigenous communities to enhance resources for capacity building and supports Indigenous participation in, and benefits received from, the mining industry.

The resource sector directly employs over 3,000 people in the NWT and contributes over $800 million in spending each year. It accounts for nearly a third of NWT’s gross domestic product. A healthy and vibrant mineral exploration and development sector is critical for the NWT, its people, and our future prosperity.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment has a mandate item to increase resource exploration and development and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a variety of initiatives underway to support this anchor industry.

As with other industries, mineral resource exploration has experienced a downturn in activity and investment over the last year. The Department has provided mineral tenure support and has acted as a liaison for industry with the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer to ensure the industry was able to continue its planning and operations during the pandemic.

The Work Credit Program provided a one-year, one-time relief on work requirements for 189 mineral claims in 2020-2021. We also provided a one-year deferral of mineral lease rent payments for mineral tenure interest holders.  This enabled 39 clients, with a total of 548 leases, to defer payment until 2021-2022.

We continue to hear concerns from industry, and in response I am pleased to announce that mineral tenure relief will also be available in 2021-2022. This will provide additional relief for those claim holders that are unable to work their claims as the pandemic continues. 

The Mining Incentive Program was also adjusted in 2020-2021 to accommodate the impacts of the global pandemic. Most of these changes are being continued for the 2021-2022 year. Changes implemented include:

  • an increase to the maximum funding of corporate projects to 60 percent of eligible expenses, to a maximum of $240,000;
  • NWT expenses related to self-isolation, expediting, and program logistics are eligible for MIP funding; and,
  • the reporting deadline has been further extended for some projects that were significantly delayed due to the pandemic.

As of January 2021, 12 prospector and seven corporate 2020-2021 projects were funded in the North Slave, South Slave, and Sahtu Regions for a total of $1,094,163. From its launch in 2014 to 2018, the Mining Incentive Program directly leveraged $11.8 million in company and prospector exploration spending in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, there are some bright lights on the horizon in mineral resource development. After a tumultuous 2020, the Ekati Mine has reopened, under the new ownership of Arctic Canadian Diamond Company, and recalled its workers. Gahcho Kue, under De Beers Canada and Mountain Province Diamonds continues operation and has established itself as one of the top diamond mines in the world. In December 2020, a 157.4 carat diamond was discovered at the mine.  Cheetah Resources and the rare earth minerals project at the Nechalacho site is in the demonstration phase as it advances to be the first rare earths mine in Canada, with innovative environmental standards, comprehensive training programs, and strong partnerships with the Indigenous groups in the area. The anticipated outputs are extremely promising, with the potential for a multi-generational operation providing materials for the clean energy economy. As well, in the past few weeks, Arctic Star has confirmed five kimberlites discovered around Lac de Gras on its Diagras Diamond Project, concluding its spring exploration. Their ongoing activities will include assessing diamond content and ongoing testing of targets.

Mr. Speaker, this is exciting news and only scratches the surface of the NWT’s mineral potential. There is a wealth of resources in the North, and as new projects successfully move into production, we can expect increased exploration and renewed investor interest in NWT mineral resources.

In anticipation of this, the established Polar Bear Diamonds trademark has a new, polished look as it works to reintroduce branded Polar Bear Diamonds into the global marketplace. A 2018 review determined that the brand remains highly recognizable in the market, and reflects a unique, authentic, and ethically sourced product.

We will be highlighting some of these recent successes and continue to further build public awareness and interest in the sector during this year’s NWT Mining Week in July. I look forward to sharing the plans for what will remain a largely virtual program for this year’s Mining Week.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.