The City of Yellowknife is considering signing a memorandum of understanding with the mineral industry through which it would promote development in the sector to other levels of government.
The memorandum was discussed among city councillors on Monday. The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines is lobbying for the agreement, which would see industry partners and the city work together on areas of common interest.
Under the proposed memorandum, or MOU – which is not legally binding – a mining strategy would be developed for Yellowknife. Mining companies and the city would come up with a work plan every year.
City staff and several councillors support the agreement, noting the city’s latest economic development strategy recognizes the importance of the territory’s mineral industry to the local economy.
Councillor Shauna Morgan, however, voiced concern that while the city and the mineral industry may share interests, nobody on city staff or council is an expert on mining regulatory processes.
In the absence of that expertise, she said, the interests of mining partners might be conflated with the public interest.
“I just want us to be cautious,” said Morgan, referring to debate among NWT residents regarding whether large infrastructure projects that benefit mining companies have enough public benefit.
‘We can’t pay our bills on hugs’
Kenny Ruptash, vice president of the chamber of mines’ board, acknowledged the interests of the city and mining companies may not always align.
“We’re not expecting the city to always tap-dance to our song,” he said.
Ruptash said the agreement would focus on projects from which the city would benefit. He noted much of the infrastructure relied upon by residents exists because of the mining industry, pointing to the Snare hydro plant, which was originally funded by Giant Mine.
Ruptash said the agreement is an opportunity to inform residents about what is happening in the mineral sector and will allow the city to prepare for growth in the industry.
“Advocating for that infrastructure doesn’t cost us anything as city residents and we are left with the legacy infrastructure,” he said.
Morgan said the benefits and costs of every project need to be weighed, pointing out the longstanding costs of cleaning up the former Giant Mine site.
“Giant Mine might be a poor example, actually, to show where the mines have subsidized things for the rest of society,” she said.
“At the end of the day, that is costing taxpayers – including us – a lot.”
Beyond economic concerns, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation has called on the Canadian government to issue a formal apology for Giant Mine’s long-lasting environmental and cultural impacts. Its members also want a role in remediation of the site, including jobs and training.
Councillor Steve Payne said he was in favour of the city signing an MOU with the mining industry. Payne said the Giant Mine remediation project stands to bring revenue and jobs to Yellowknife.
He wants the city to do more to recognize the North’s mining heritage.
“It’s been a brilliant history,” said Payne.
“We can’t pay our bills on hugs. We have to have money coming in.”
Councillor Julian Morse questioned whether the agreement would create the perception that the city is prioritizing the mining industry over other economic sectors.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said other sectors highlighted in the city’s economic strategy, like tourism or the polytechnic university, already having working groups or other formal means of support.
The memorandum with the mining sector, she said, would put it on par with those industries.