OPINION | N.W.T. diamond mines have earned our confidence and support in time of COVID-19 crisis

In this opinion piece, Yellowknifer Mike Vaydik argues N.W.T. diamond mines have earned people's confidence in their safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

N.W.T. top doctor is right to work with diamond mines to stay open during pandemic, says Mike Vaydik

An aerial view of the Gahcho Kue diamond mine in the N.W.T. According to Mike Vaydik, the current batch of diamond mine operators have earned our confidence to behave responsibly and safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. (submitted by The De Beers Group)

On April 28 CBC News posted an opinion piece that called for the shutdown of the N.W.T.'s mining industry in the face of COVID-19. The author called the mines "ticking time bombs" that risk causing an outbreak.

I believe that the northern diamond mines are uniquely situated, resourced and motivated to manage those risks as demonstrated by their award-winning workplace safety record. I trust they are responding to the challenges of COVID-19 just as effectively. 

The author plays the ace card of the anti-industry argument: "We need an industry that puts people over profits." 

He foresees thousands of new jobs to tackle all our society's problems, uphold Indigenous rights and leave no one behind. Nowhere does he say how we will pay for this, or what will replace mining's financial contribution to the North.

Canada's mining industry is proportionally the largest employer of Indigenous people in the country and many families in our communities benefit from jobs at our mines. In addition to jobs, affected communities have signed benefit agreements with the mines worth millions of dollars annually.

Many communities have developed mine-focused businesses worth many more millions.  At every stage of the mine process, training opportunities have been provided to northerners. 

The diamond mines, according to the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, have paid over $400 million in what I call "bonus" taxes to the N.W.T. government since they opened. These are fuel and property tax, for which they get no services. 

N.W.T. residents pay property tax because they use municipal services and infrastructure. The mines provide the services themselves, yet are required to pay that tax anyway. Even more taxes and royalties are paid to the federal and territorial governments, and now it flows to Indigenous governments as well.

Does that $400 million number ring a bell? It's a little more than the capital cost of the new Stanton hospital, which serves all of the N.W.T. and western Nunavut. It seems the government made some shrewd decisions and figured out how to put those "dirty" resource profits from industry to use serving people.

I'm no health expert, but Dr. Kami Kandola, our chief public health officer, is. She says that the mines have measures in place to protect their workers and the rest of us.

As far as letting our most important industry continue to work at this time: If it's OK with Kami, it's OK with me.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.


Mike Vaydik

Freelance contributor

Mike was born in Yellowknife at the Con Hospital. He has worked in mineral and petroleum exploration and as the manager of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines from 1996 to 2010. His 25 year career in government saw him and his family live in all regions of the N.W.T. and Nunavut. He is proud to be the son of a prospector.