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“Our government is the first since that of Prime Minister Diefenbaker to put the north at the top of Canada’s agenda. We put it there and we will keep it there, and the north’s best years are only beginning.” (Prime Minister Stephen Harper – Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank Mine, Nunavut – August 24, 2011)
BAKER LAKE, NUNAVUT—A gold mine on the tundra is helping Nunavut blast, haul, crush, melt and pour its way to prosperity and that is just the way Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants it to be.
The future in this long-impoverished territory is under the ground and the role he has set for his government is to help mining companies find it. The environmental consequences won’t exactly be damned, but they won’t exactly stand in the way either.
“Obviously when you dig holes here, you know, you create some environmental issues and those issues have to be addressed, but that can’t stop development any more than we would let that stop development in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver,” Harper said at the Meadowbank Mine, which is owned by Toronto-based Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd.
There are “extraordinary circumstances” in which the government has and would refuse to permit certain projects to go ahead. Under normal circumstances, when the environmental checks and balances are completed “we want to see projects occur,” Harper said.
Here, at the sprawling mining operation 70 kilometres northwest of the hamlet of Baker Lake, the company drained two lakes to find gold. Before operations began in earnest last year, more than 5,000 fish were pulled out, frozen and passed on to local residents as a good faith offering.
Now 100-tonne dump trucks larger than a house swim into the still-shallow pit 24-hours a day and rise back up to the surface with their haul.
Some 80,000 tonnes of rock are moved out daily, fed into giant crushers, passed on to a series of mills that turn the rock into grains finer than sand that is then put through a chemical bath before it can be melted down and poured into gold bars worth some $1.5-million. A single gold brick weighing 28-kilograms is the approximate result of one day of work.
When operations are finished in about a decade, the plan is the toxic pond of discarded chemicals will be covered up with rock, a hole will be cut in the dikes and lake water will flood the massive holes in the ground.
Before that time, though, Agnico-Eagle plans to have started production at a second gold mine near Rankin Inlet.
“We didn’t come for just one mine,” said Jean Robitaille, vice president of technical services. “It’s a very rich province and we want to be the first in.”
The company is operating despite the extreme logistical challenges of working in the north. They ship in a year’s worth of supplies on a single barge in the 10 weeks of summer when the water route is free of ice. That shipment includes equipment for its employees, operating supplies and 65-million litres of fuel, which alone costs the firm $50-million a year and makes up for between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of operating costs.
But Ottawa would like to see many other companies follow Agnico-Eagle into the Arctic. To that end, Harper announced Wednesday a $230,000 investment in the creation of an Iqaluit office for the Chamber of Mines (currently based in Yellowknife) to promote and build the profile of the mining industry in Nunavut. It will be met with another $600,000 from the Nunavut government and the chamber itself.
The federal government is also three years into a five-year mapping project in three territories and the northern reaches of six provinces that will help identify new mineral deposits.
The Prime Minister blew off criticisms that his strategy for the north is too heavily focused on mines and military buildup and not enough on science, infrastructure, the environment and the well-being of the people who live here. He made no apologies for his economy-first approach to the Arctic.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1044347–nunavut-s-future-is-underground-says-harper