Friday 22nd November 2019

Resource Clips


Paved with promises II

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

by Greg Klein

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

The Chinese government’s majority-held Izok Corridor project
would benefit from Canadian infrastructure. (Photo: MMG Ltd)

 

This is the second of a two-part series. See Part 1.

Canada would gain a deep-water arctic port, Nunavut would get its first road out of the territory and mineral-rich regions would open up if two mega-proposals come to fruition. Recent funding announcements to study the Northwest Territories’ Slave Geological Province Corridor and Nunavut’s Grays Bay Road and Port projects could lead to a unified all-season route from a highway running northeast out of Yellowknife to stretch north through the Lac de Gras diamond fields, past the Slave and Izok base and precious metals regions, and on to Arctic Ocean shipping.

In mid-August, as federal and NWT elections neared, representatives from both levels of government announced a $40-million study into a possible 413-kilometre all-season route linking the NWT’s Highway #4 with a proposed Nunavut road. The project would also extend the NWT electrical grid to the Slave region, which straddles both sides of the NWT-Nunavut border.

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

Isolated Grays Bay could become an arctic shipping hub,
helping fulfill a dream that dates back to John Diefenbaker
and, not exactly a contemporary, Martin Frobisher.
(Photo: Grays Bay Road and Port Project)

That same month the federal and Nunavut governments, along with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, announced $21.5 million to study a possible 230-kilometre Nunavut section. That proposal includes building a deep-sea port at Grays Bay, about midway along the Northwest Passage. Supporters hope to reach the “shovel-ready” stage in two to three years.

A “champion and proponent” of the project, KIA president Stanley Anablak said, “We know that this is only the first step, but if it is constructed, this infrastructure project will be a game-changer with respect to improved community re-supply, marine safety, arctic sovereignty, regional economic development and international investment.”

KIA perseverance helped revive the proposal after Ottawa refused to provide majority funding for the $527-million estimate in April of last year, 18 months before the federal election.

Another supporter is MMG Ltd, with two advanced base metals deposits in the region: Izok holds 15 million tonnes averaging 13% zinc and 2.3% copper, while High Lake shows 14 million tonnes averaging 3.8% zinc and 2.5% copper.

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

The Nunavut portion of a grand trans-territorial proposal.
(Map: Grays Bay Road and Port Project)

The Kitikmeot region “hosts some of the world´s more attractive undeveloped zinc and copper resources,” MMG stated. “However, located near the Arctic Circle and with no supporting infrastructure, these resources have remained undeveloped since their discoveries roughly 50 years ago.”

But could a supposed nation-building project become a nation-buster, compromising sovereignty for the sake of another country’s new silk roads? The proposal’s main beneficiary “will be the Chinese government, more so than the government of Nunavut or the government of Canada,” Michael Byers told the National Post in August.

About 26% of MMG stock trades on the ASX. China’s state-owned China Minmetals Corp owns the rest.

Byers, a political science prof and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, “does not see a problem with a Chinese-controlled company operating mines in Canada,” the NP stated, “but he wonders if the company will be allowed to bring in Chinese workers to build the road and if Canadian taxpayers should foot the bill.”

The prospect of a Chinese company importing Chinese workers for a Canadian resource project has already been demonstrated by HD Mining International. In 2012 the company planned to staff underground operations at a proposed British Columbia coal mine exclusively with Mandarin-speaking Chinese. The mine was later put on hold, but not before an 18-month bulk sampling program conducted entirely by Chinese workers.

A new Grays Bay port and 350-kilometre all-season road formed part of the 2012 pre-feasibility study for MMG’s proposed mine. The company has since backed away from the estimated $6.5-billion price tag, calling for collaboration with others to build regional infrastructure.

We know that this is only the first step, but if it is constructed, this infrastructure project will be a game-changer with respect to improved community re-supply, marine safety, arctic sovereignty, regional economic development and international investment.—Stanley Anablak,
president of the
Kitikmeot Inuit Association

Certainly other companies would benefit too, as would the communities represented by the KIA. And as for sovereignty, neglecting infrastructure would cause the greater setback. That’s the perspective of a Senate report issued in June that called for several measures to expand the northern economy and enhance its culture. “The impact of federal under-investment hits hardest on the Arctic’s greatest asset, Indigenous youth,” the committee emphasized. “Opportunities for nation-building can no longer be missed.”

Among the senators’ priorities were energy and communications, as well as transportation, for the benefit of communities and industry. The committee recognized that mining comprises “the largest private sector employer in the Arctic, contributing to 20% to 25% of the GDP of the northern territories and supporting about 9,000 jobs directly, or one in every six jobs.”

The report also noted “growing global interest in the Arctic and rising international rivalry outside of the Arctic. Several non-arctic states in Europe and Asia have developed arctic policies or strategies.” Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage and other arctic waters depends on the principle of use it or lose it, the committee suggested.

The Northwest Passage route to Asia had been an alternative considered by Baffinland Iron Mines, the Nunatsiaq News reported last month. With ambitious infrastructure proposals of its own, the Baffin Island company currently relies on  trans-Atlantic routes to Europe and has also used Russia’s Northern Sea Route to reach Asia.

As part of its Phase II plans to increase production, Baffinland has applied for permission to build the territories’ second railway, which would run north from the Mary River mine to the company’s Milne Inlet port, now reached by a 100-kilometre freight road. The new track would precede a 150-kilometre southern rail extension to a port the company would build at Steensby Inlet. The Steensby route and facilities received environmental approvals in 2014.

This is the second of a two-part series. See Part 1.

Related reading: Reaching arctic mines by sea.


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