Miners welcome the Northwest Territories’ plans to encourage investment
by Greg Klein
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His tone sounded taunting, if only slightly so. While attending a meeting of resource politicos in Sudbury last August, Northwest Territories minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment David Ramsay told the Globe and Mail that the NWT’s “Ring of Ice” has resources to rival Ontario’s Ring of Fire. The huge difference, of course, is that the Ring of Fire remains all but inaccessible while the NWT’s riches have already been opened up. Now the territory has taken specific measures to emphasize it’s open for business.
That came through in the first annual implementation plan of the NWT’s Mineral Development Strategy. And the plan drew praise in an October 6 announcement from the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. The organization sees last April’s devolution of federal responsibilities for land, water and resources to the territory as a turning point for the industry. “The legislature has said mining development has big consequences for our government now,” chamber executive director Tom Hoefer tells ResourceClips.com. “So it’s saying we’re going to be more nimble on our feet, we’re going to encourage economic development.”
The NWT has done so by setting ambitious goals, some with established budgets and target dates, on a number of fronts including energy, transportation and a “new leading edge Mineral Resources Act.” That marks a major departure from past practice, according to Hoefer.
“We’ve suffered a loss of reputation over probably the last seven years. If you look at our exploration figures during that period you can see our investment just flatlined. We saw Yukon, Nunavut and the rest of the world getting huge investment. We languished.”
Indeed, last year’s Fraser Institute Policy Perception Index placed the NWT nearly halfway down a list of 112 jurisdictions globally and sixth on a list of 12 Canadian jurisdictions.
“A big piece of this was the regulatory front,” Hoefer explains. “It was getting very complex, in part because we had a number of different land claim groups and that created a number of different regulatory boards. So the federal government launched a northern regulatory improvement initiative in 2009 and that culminated in amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.” That was completed shortly before last April’s devolution milestone.
The NWT considers those amendments a starting point for a new regulatory environment. But the government’s not promising rapid reform. Calling this a “time of transition and learning,” the territory has come up with the slogan “devolve then evolve.” Still, it’s stated intentions to provide clear, concise documentation and to guide companies through regulatory processes and aboriginal engagement.
The territory already leads Canada in at least one respect, Hoefer maintains. “I’d say we’re probably a leader in the country for settling land claims. That helps provide more certainty.”
Devolution also brings the territory 50% of the royalties that once went solely to the feds. Aboriginal groups that signed onto the devolution agreement get 25% of the territory’s share, Hoefer says.
With grants announced just last week, a new mining incentive program has awarded a total of $396,000 to two prospectors and six exploration companies.
“A new and easier-to-use web portal for discovery and dissemination of geoscience information” will get $1.3 million over two years.
But that’s small change compared to price tags for infrastructure. Although money hasn’t been allocated yet, the NWT’s talking about a three-year, $31-million energy program and a 10-year, $200-million transportation plan.
None of the territory’s four existing mines connect to the grid. Only North American Tungsten’s (TSXV:NTC) CanTung operation has year-round road access—and that links to the Yukon.
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