Mr. Speaker, mining is the NWT’s biggest industry and the engine of our economy. For decades it has created opportunities for NWT businesses, provided Northerners with good, quality jobs, and contributed significantly to government revenues.
With rich reserves of minerals still to be tapped, there is every reason to expect mining will continue to provide the same kinds of benefits, but that won’t happen without an effort on our part, and our government remains committed to supporting an industry that is not just a part of our history, but which is also a part of our future.
In January, all Members of Cabinet and the MLA for Yellowknife North attended the Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver, along with a number of Aboriginal partners.
GNWT officials attend this year’s event as part of our ongoing work to support mining and demonstrate our government-wide commitment to protecting our largest industry. Our political show of force this year was an important way to underline our continued belief in mining and it was well received by many of our stakeholders and future investors.
Part of the objective of the trip was to draw attention to some important points that are at risk of becoming overlooked or forgotten. While our producers are working and investing to extend the lives of our territory’s operating mines, the reality is that every mine has a limited lifespan. Before long, we will face a time when those mines and their economic activity will need to be replaced.
That is not something that can be done overnight, Mr. Speaker. Exploring for a viable mineral deposit takes time and it can take at least 10 years for a project to progress from its discovery to an operating mine.
While there are some prospects on our horizon, Mr. Speaker, they are not a sure thing. Unless we do more today to facilitate the exploration and discovery of new projects in our territory, we could find a day with no producing mines in the NWT. The benefits from mining are not a given. They are reliant on the continuing business case for NWT mining; a case that is currently threatened by today’s difficult investment climate.
Exploration spending has decreased steadily since 2014. In the last two years, layoffs at our mines have left hard working men and women in limbo. Some have had to scramble to find new jobs. Some have left the territory entirely, taking even more from our economy.
These are real consequences, Mr. Speaker, and we are not taking them lightly. Our government recognizes what is at stake, and we are committed to improving the competitiveness of our jurisdiction.
We spent a great deal of time at Roundup speaking directly with members of the private sector about what can be done to revitalize and advance mineral exploration in our territory. Officials from ITI are continuing that conversation this week at the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention in Toronto. It is a conversation that we see continuing for the foreseeable future.
We are prepared to look at every aspect of the NWT investment climate that we can influence. Tax incentives, royalties, regulations, everything must be on the table, and we must use the best knowledge available to guide our actions.
Last week, we committed to expanding the Mining Incentive Program, adding an additional $600,000 to our investment this year to qualifying exploration and prospecting projects.
In response to continuing challenges, we are also extending the Work Credit Program, originally introduced in 2015, to offset costs for mineral explorers during this downturn in commodity prices.
Our goal is to restore and maintain a cycle of exploration and development. As our current diamond mines close in the future, others need to be entering into production. Investing in the well-being of our single largest industry is really an investment in our people and the services, community investments, and well-paid jobs they deserve. More than 10 per cent of our workforce is directly employed by the sector, and many more depend on its spin-offs. We must lead the charge to protect their futures.
Mr. Speaker, during this session I have heard almost every Member talk about the importance of mining to the NWT. I look forward to working with my fellow Members on our approach. I believe we will all benefit from directly engaging with the challenges we are facing, and I am confident that we will succeed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.