World market turbulence shakes up Yukon mining industry

Turmoil in the global financial markets is already having an impact on the Yukon's mining exploration industry, with some people losing work and industry players laying low.

Turmoil in the global financial markets is already having an impact on the Yukon's mining exploration industry, with some workers losing work and industry players laying low amid the crisis.

Some staff have been laid off at Aurora Geosciences Ltd. in Whitehorse, which provides geological support services to companies exploring for minerals in the North, as smaller mining companies halt their field work.

"Things were quite busy through here and then about the beginning of September, things have just died," Mike Power, the company's Whitehorse vice-president, told CBC News.

"Our staff varies seasonally, but we peak out at about 70, and right now we're down to 11 … Last fall, for example, we still had 30 [or] 40 people working."

Power said he has received calls over the last few weeks from junior mining companies pulling the plug on projects in the Yukon.

"Virtually everybody is shutting down," he said. "Money is being sucked out of the mineral exploration market and going elsewhere, perhaps to pay bad debts."

Meanwhile, organizers of a mining trade conference this week in Watson Lake, Yukon, say they've had only 35 delegates registered so far, although they were hoping to attract 150 participants.

"We all know what's going on in the world these days," registration co-ordinator Brenda Lamash said. "We had about four people cancel."

Registration for the three-day conference, hosted by the Liard First Nation Development Corp. in Watson Lake, starts Tuesday at the Belvedere Hotel. Delegates to date include representatives from government and economic development.

Still important to gather

Liard First Nation Development manager Alex Morrison said it's still important for the mining industry to gather and talk about what's going on, even as they face an unstable future.

"Having conferences such as this, to understand where everybody's coming from, is certainly going to help."

The Yukon's exploration industry could lose millions of dollars over the next few months if the global economic downturn continues — and that is sure to hurt the territory's economy, said Yukon Chamber of Mines president Carl Schulze.

"There still will be demand for metals in the long run. I think in the short run, it's going to be a little tough," Schulze said.

At Aurora Geosciences, Power said the mining industry does have its ups and downs, but the current economic downturn is different.

"In terms of how quickly it came on, this was the worst I've seen. I haven't seen the bottom yet, so I can't really tell," Power said.

"For the moment, all we can do is sit and watch and hopefully this will blow through and we can see how bad the damage is. But I hope it ends soon. Right now, it's a difficult time."