How Canada’s North can fulfill its great mining potential

By Ashley Stedman
and Elmira Aliakbari
The Fraser Institute

Mining investors are eyeing all three territories in Canada’s North, according to the Fraser Institute’s annual survey of mining companies.

Ashley Steadman
<strong>Ashley<br >Stedman<strong>

For the first time in more than five years, all three territories are among the top 15 most attractive regions for mining investment worldwide.

But territorial governments and the federal government must implement policy reforms to capitalize on this moment, which could bring much-needed investment, employment and government revenue to areas of the North.

Every year, the Fraser Institute surveys miners around the world to determine which jurisdictions are attractive – or unattractive – for investment based on policies and geology. The survey spotlights policies (taxes, duplicative regulations, availability of labour and skills, etc.) that govern the mining industry and impact the investment attractiveness of jurisdictions.

Elmira Aliakban
<strong>Elmira<br >Aliakbari<strong>

All three territories improved their rank this year, largely because investors view the North’s mineral potential more favourably. The Northwest Territories rose from 21st last year in overall attractiveness to 10th this year, Yukon rose from 13th to ninth, and Nunavut improved its rank from 26th to 15th.

However, while investors have increasingly positive perceptions of the minerals in Canada’s territories, the policy environment raises some concerns. When considering policy factors alone, all three territories fall out of the top 15 jurisdictions worldwide, meaning the territories could benefit from policy reform.

For example, late last year, Dominion Diamond Mines and Rio Tinto Group found the largest diamond ever discovered in North America – a 552-carat yellow gem at the Diavik mine in the N.W.T. The diamond is almost three times larger than the next largest stone ever found in Canada.

While mines in Canada’s North produce some high-quality diamonds, this was a unique find especially given that diamond mining in this area of Canada’s subarctic is extremely difficult due in part to transportation challenges. There are no permanent roads so the only access is by air or temporary ice roads that must be rebuilt each winter.

Not surprisingly, mining investors identified infrastructure issues in Canada’s North as a major area of concern in the survey.

In fact, 93 per cent of respondents for Nunavut and 78 per cent for the N.W.T. see infrastructure as a deterrent to investment.

More than half of respondents for all three territories see uncertainty about protected areas as a deterrent to investment.

And more than 55 per cent of respondents for the N.W.T. and Yukon see disputed land claims as a deterrent to investment.

Regulatory duplication and inconsistencies also seem to be an escalating concern in N.W.T. and Nunavut as the majority of respondents view this factor as a deterrent to investment.

It’s a positive sign that investors are eyeing the attractive geology in Canada’s North, but mineral deposits alone are not enough to attract precious commodity investment dollars. Valuable investment dollars will flow to jurisdictions with attractive policies.

Clearly, the North is on the precipice of great prosperity and opportunity. But governments must streamline regulations and provide certainty about land claims to capitalize on the considerable mineral potential.

Ashley Stedman is a senior policy analyst and Elmira Aliakbari is the associate director of natural-resource studies at the Fraser Institute.

canada north mining

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

By Ashley Stedman

Ashley Stedman is a senior policy analyst working in the Centre for Natural Resources. She holds a B.A. (Honours) from Carleton University and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Calgary. Ms. Stedman is the co-author of a number of Fraser Institute studies, including the annual Global Petroleum Survey and Survey of Mining Companies.

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