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N.W.T. could lose hundreds of jobs and residents when the mines close, economist warns | CBC News

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A territorial economist says he loses sleep at night over the lack of economic vision and planning in the Northwest Territories. 

Graeme Clinton, owner of research firm Impact Economics, shared a 24-page report titled “Eyes Wide Open” with Yellowknife’s mayor and council at a special meeting Monday morning.  

The report aims to highlight how the mine closures will impact the economy in the territory with Diavik slated to close in 2026, Gahcho Kué’s estimated closure timeline around 2030 and Ekati’s future dependent on underwater mining technology.

More than 1,500 direct and indirect jobs could be lost, and about 1,100 residents could leave the territory, Clinton said, along with approximately $100 million taken out of the economy in consumer spending — including an estimated $9.7 million for groceries, $2.5 million for alcoholic beverages and $2.9 million for clothing.

“I literally can’t sleep at night thinking of this stuff, but I’m here to start a conversation and hope that everybody in the room does as well,” Clinton told council after presenting the report. 

The mine closures have been in discussion in the territory, with Diavik relasing a closure plan in 2022, remediation plans reviewed by the territorial government last year, and a report titled “Reimagining Closure” tabled in the Legislative Assembly in 2022.

The “Eyes Wide Open” report was originally published in March 2023, commissioned by the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, but Clinton said this was the first time he was sharing the findings with Yellowknife’s council because he is “extremely concerned about our future.”

City councillor says report is ‘no surprise’

During the presentation, Clinton said he is not “Chicken Little” – a children’s tale about a chick who thinks the sky is falling after an acorn falls on their head.

The sky isn’t falling, he said — but  if the territory loses production in the next six to eight years, it will also lose jobs, business activity and residents.

Coun. Steve Payne said the report came as no surprise to people in the council chambers.

“We have been talking about the issue of no exploration for years and we’ve done it to ourselves … in the greater way of being good to the environment, we’ve lost the capacity to actually get some resources out of the ground and I don’t think it’s good,” Payne said during the meeting. 

The three-term councillor said the whole situation reminded him of an Newfoundland saying – “the arse is out of her” – meaning things have gone so wrong it is almost impossible to undo the damage. 

“The arse is hopefully not out of her but maybe lagging a bit,” Payne said. 

Not just a Yellowknife problem, mayor says

The economic future after the mines closure is not just a Yellowknife issue, Mayor Rebecca Alty said. 

While many mines are in the North Slave and a lot of northern jobs at the mines are people from Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀, the economic impacts have a territory-wide reach. 

Alty shared a story of talking to a colleague in the Beaufort Delta who joked the mine closure being a “Yellowknife problem.”

“[I said], no, it’s your problem, because that is how your schools are funded, that is how health care is funded. This is a territory problem … we can’t be everything, everywhere, all at once,” Alty said. 

City councillors quizzed Clinton and NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines president Kenny Ruptash on solutions, including how to reduce barriers for investment and employment.

Clinton said while a lot of the discussion was critical of the government, municipal and territorial, the economist does not classify himself as a government critic.

“We as a society have allowed this to happen because we are more keen on arguing amongst ourselves over what the future is.”

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