Economic Development and the Future of Mining in the Canadian North – by Stephan Schott (News – August 16, 2016)

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN the Arctic is an ongoing challenge. People in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland and Alaska are mostly dependent on the government, the mining industry or oil and gas extraction for employment and generating income. But many are also involved in subsistence harvesting (hunting and gathering), which can sometimes be at odds with the extraction industries.

Living off the land is crucial for the transfer of traditional knowledge from one generation to another and for the preservation of cultural practices, traditional languages and place-names. Subsistence harvesting also is a source of nutritious, culturally desirable country food, and is linked to sophisticated social sharing networks and rules.

But access to country food is becoming increasingly difficult for Northerners as equipment, maintenance and operating costs for snowmobiles, boats and all-terrain vehicles are rising and the jobs available in the North are tied to rigid work schedules that are often not well matched to the timing of subsistence activities.

The future of the Arctic economy must better integrate subsistence harvesting activities with a modern income- and employment-generating sector. The latter needs to be more flexible and accommodating of seasonal variations in the availability of labor and alive to the gradual development of local capacity in business and regional and community governance.

Past Experiences in Mining

Despite a long history of mining in the North, the economic impacts on local business, community and human development are not well understood or researched. Mining has several economic stages (exploration, construction, operation and reclamation) with various economic impacts and varying involvement of the local labor force.

Local businesses often do not have the experience and know-how to compete with larger southern companies that operate nationally and internationally. In addition, revenues often flow out of the regions and do not create the expected local multiplier effects.

Mining sites also vary considerably in terms of local employment ratios. At some mines, such as Voisey’s Bay, an open pit nickel mine in Labrador that is now preparing to start underground mining, almost 50 percent of the employees are indigenous, but at other mines the count could be as low as 10 percent.
Employment can also be unstable. Mining is subject to increasingly volatile commodity markets, which can mean slowdowns, shutdowns and layoffs for local employees when mining companies try to cut costs.

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