Natural resources boost economic development in the North

Metals and minerals mining based on available resources provide solid economic growth opportunities in the Yukon. Diamonds in the Northwest Territories, and metals and minerals in Nunavut, also offer potential, provided they have supporting infrastructure. Photo © Prokop Photography.

A new study has found the strongest potential for Northern Canada’s future economic development is provided by the natural resources sector and its supporting industries.

Len Coad, director of the Conference Board of Canada’s Environment, Energy, and Technology Policy, told Construction Canada Online the resource industries—mining, oil, and gas in particular—drive economic potential for two reasons.

“The resource endowment of the North is significant, and these industries have the ability to create or expand infrastructure as projects develop. The lack of infrastructure in the North makes this an important point. Other industries—construction, utilities, and services—can support or enable resource development.”

For the Conference Board study, “Mapping the Economic Potential of Canada’s North,” the three territories and the northern parts of seven provinces made up the North.

According to the report, there is also greater scrutiny to address the environmental effects of new mines in the region. The study reports that both project proponents and the respective governing agencies must ensure mine development is both environmentally responsible and delivers economic rewards to residents, benefits to local governments, and returns to investors and operators.

In addition to the environmental effects, other challenges and constraints to mining growth in the North include:
• supply constraints (particularly an absence of skilled labour);
• remoteness of some potential mining sites;
• substantial infrastructure costs to build roads, railways, airstrips, and/or ports;
• long lead times required to bring new properties to full production;
• changes in the demand for each commodity.

“The main challenge will be to ensure that development is sustainable,” Coad said. “The fragile nature of the northern environment, the interaction with traditional lifestyles, and the unique character of northern communities must be balanced against resource potential and development activities. There are numerous stakeholder groups in the northern economy, often with different views of what is sustainable. That conversation needs to continue to evolve to ensure that development benefits everyone.”

Base Map - Protected Areas
A study by the Conference Board of Canada found that Northern Canada’s strongest potential for economic development is from the natural resources sector and its supporting industries, including construction. Image courtesy Golder Associates.
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