Future of Nunavut's mining sector looks 'golden,' symposium hears

Fuelled by mining development, Nunavut is heading into the most prosperous period in its history, according to the territorial government’s senior economist Francois Picotte.

By 2020, production levels in territory could be double what they were in 2016, says senior economist

Agnico Eagle's Meadowbank gold mine, about 150 kilometres north of Baker Lake, Nunavut. (Agnico Eagle Mines)

Fuelled by mining development, Nunavut is heading into the most prosperous period in its history, according to the territorial government's senior economist Francois Picotte.

Over the next four years, the territory will see Baffinland's Mary River mine and the new Hope Bay mine — TMAC Resources' project in the Kitikmeot region — ramp up production, as well as the opening of two new sites by mining company Agnico Eagle. 

The 20th annual Nunavut Mining Symposium is being held in Iqaluit this week, and after three relatively flat years, players in the industry are celebrating a production boost this year. During his presentation, Picotte told attendees that Agnico Eagle's Meliadine mine will be the "game changer." 

Meliadine will be the territory's fourth mine and is slated to be operational in late 2019 — the same time as Agnico Eagle's other new site, the satellite deposit from their Meadowbank mine.  

During his talk at the Nunavut Mining Symposium, Francois Picotte, the territorial government's senior economist, outlined economic trends in the mining sector over the territory's 18 year history. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)
"By 2020 we expect to reach an amount of production that will probably hit $1.5 billion. That's twice as much as was produced in 2016," Picotte said. 
Agnico Eagle is building a 64-kilometre road connecting its Meadowbank mine with the newly approved Amaruq deposit. (Canadian Press)

The new projects also mean new investment in the sector.

Agnico Eagle recently announced $1.6 billion to develop its sites, which, spread out over the next three years, will bring total investment in the industry to around $1 billion a year.

"The only time the billion dollar mark was reached in the mining sector was in 2008, so we're talking pretty much 10 years ago, and we're going to replicate that... three years in a row."

Infrastructure deficits favour gold

The future of the sector is looking "golden," according to Karen Costello, the regional director of resource management for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

All of the mines in development, except for the Mary River project on north Baffin Island, are gold mines, though other commodities have been explored in the territory.

"We have seen a significant increase in gold exploration in Nunavut, in part because of the sustained level of gold prices around the $1,200 US range," she said.
Costello said the size of gold bars also helps. 

"Gold is a product that an operator can take out with an aircraft, it doesn't require a lot of infrastructure."

'It gives a positive image to Nunavut'

With new sites on the horizon, there was broad interest in infrastructure projects at the mining symposium, which wraps up Thursday.

At the event, Stanley Anablak, president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, said a proposal for the Grays Bay road and port project will be submitted to the Nunavut Impact Review Board before the end of the month. The road would connect a proposed deep water port at Grays Bay — on the Northwest Passage between Bathurst Inlet and Kugluktuk — to the winter road that services the N.W.T.'s diamond mines.

He said he hoped it would spur exploration in areas mining companies have staked out in anticipation of the road's completion.

Picotte says most of the exploration will come from mining companies already in the area.

"The mines that already exist want to exist as long as possible and they want also to decrease the relative costs of their investment," Picotte said.

He said this uptick in investment could also mean new players.

"It gives a positive image to Nunavut that things really can work well here, and can be productive and be lucrative, so that certainly brings other people to consider Nunavut as a location for investment."