NWT ministers are in Toronto this week promoting the territory’s critical mineral resources at one of the world’s largest mining industry conventions.
Premier Caroline Cochrane and industry minister Caroline Wawzonek are attending this week’s Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, or PDAC, conference.
“To transition into the next chapter of our storied mining history with our rich critical mineral potential, we need strong partners at the federal level and continue to make the case for significant infrastructure investment,” Premier Cochrane said in a Monday news release.
“By doing this, we will be able to capitalize on our true economic potential.”
While the territory often participates in this convention, the emphasis on critical mineral development is new.
The territory points to a surge of interest in critical mineral extraction in recent years. Such minerals are considered essential to some green technologies, including electric car batteries.
Zinc, cobalt, bismuth, copper and rare earth elements are all on Canada’s critical minerals list. All are currently or likely to soon be mined in the NWT.
The first of these projects, Nechalacho, entered production just over a year ago.
“While global competition for investors is fierce, we are well-positioned to not only become a supplier of critical minerals but to be a leader in how they are resourced, in both an environmental and socially responsible way,” Wawzonek said in the same news release.
This year’s federal budget promised significant contributions to develop the critical mineral industry, including $3.8 billion to enhance exploration and a critical mineral growth fund intended to attract private investment.
“We are investing in our mining industry’s ability to provide the minerals and metal required to reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” federal transport minister Omar Alghabra said during a visit to Yellowknife in April.
Protests at PDAC
Not everyone is convinced more investment in mining is a path toward environmental protection or economic growth.
A crowd gathered outside the Toronto convention on Monday in protest at the Canadian government’s ongoing investment in the sector.
Members of First Nations spoke out against what they say are the industry’s false promises.
“From coast to coast across these lands, mining companies come into our home. They say they can do it in a green way. That’s bullshit,” Aliqa Illauq, of Kingitugaapik (Clyde River), Nunavut, was quoted as saying by MiningWatch, a non-profit that scrutinizes the mining sector.
Chris Moonias is from Neskantaga First Nation, in northern Ontario, which recently sued the Ontario government for a failure to consult about the Ring of Fire, a massive critical minerals mining project being developed in the Hudson Bay lowlands.
Moonias challenged the narrative that investment in mineral extraction brings economic prosperity to communities.
“We have been under a boil-water advisory for 27 years,” he said.
“And yet they want to build a road without our consent. That’s why we’re here … will mining prosperity come? Probably not.”
The NWT government took pains on Monday to insist mining, exploration and Indigenous communities can work together in the North.
In its statement, the territory took the phrase ESG – environmental, social and governance, an increasing common catchphrase to describe corporate social responsibility in mining – and turned it into ESG-I, acknowledging the public demands more “from business and industry, increasingly through a lens of Indigenous reconciliation.”
Inside the convention, Wawzonek tweeted that critical mineral opportunities are opening an “exciting chapter” for the mining industry in the territory.
The NWT is searching for something to replace diamond mining as the territory’s economic engine, with all three of its active diamond mines expected to gradually wind down over the next 10 to 15 years.
Proponents of mining say critical minerals are an obvious choice, while there are also efforts under way to resume gold mining in the territory. Opponents say industries like tourism, currently worth a fraction of mining’s annual contribution to NWT finances, can be grown to play a more meaningful economic role.