As foreign markets create an ever-increasing demand for minerals and metals, new exploration is resulting in new mines in more remote areas throughout the North.
To support these new opportunities and other goals, the government of Canada is implementing an integrated Northern Strategy based on four pillars: exercising sovereignty, promoting economic and social development, protecting our environmental heritage, and improving and devolving Northern governance. In pursuing this strategy, the government works closely with territorial organizations, Aboriginal groups, Northerners and other partners in the circumpolar Arctic.
A coherent, organized, multi-level approach to resource development is essential. As Prime Minister Harper noted while visiting the copper-gold Minto Mine in the Yukon this summer: “For the benefits to flow, it is necessary to get resource projects up and running in an effective and responsible way and to put agreements in place with territorial governments to ensure that revenues generated by these initiatives stay up North.”
The Prime Minister also reiterated the government’s commitment to safeguard the environmental health and heritage of the region while remaining focused on establishing a regulatory regime that reduces bureaucratic duplication and is more efficient and predictable.
A lack of infrastructure, the training of a skilled workforce, land access and land use planning, climate change, limited geoscientific knowledge, and energy constraints pose immediate challenges to development.
Yet these challenges can be met. Currently, there are eight operating and 27 potential mines in Canada’s Arctic. Of the proposed major developments now undergoing environmental assessment or regulatory approval processes, almost all are new or expanding mines. These projects represent approximately $20 billion in estimated capital investments for the mines themselves and their related transportation infrastructure, and they involve long-term mineral activities that will bring sustained economic growth and well-paying jobs to the North.
Much of the federal government’s involvement is made through Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), which supports the resource development cycle directly and indirectly on several fronts through scientific research, technological development, economic and policy analysis, program delivery, standards and regulatory development and assessment.
The lifecycle of large-scale mineral projects is long and challenging, one that is made even more so by the North’s harsh climate and unique environmental conditions. As a result, there are many special opportunities for making science- and policy-based decisions to ensure responsible development and to maximize the social and economic benefits for local communities.
To support responsible development, NRCan is moving forward on several key initiatives:
• The $100-million Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) program is designed to modernize geological knowledge in the North to support increased exploration for new resources;
• The Green Mining Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative, focuses on the development, assessment and application of competitive green and responsible mining technologies for the North; and
• The recent expansion of the Polar Continental Shelf Programs (PCSP) facility in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, has doubled its capacity to better serve Canadian and international scientists conducting research throughout Canada’s Arctic.
NRCan also supports responsible mineral development in the North by providing specialized S&T advice and information through various activities such as assessing the impact of climate change on mine tailings management; quantifying the resource potential to better target strategic government investments; and working with other federal departments to help communities maximize the opportunities from mineral resource development.
Anil Arora is assistant deputy minister for the Minerals and Metals Sector at Natural Resources Canada.