Harper announces centre to train northern Canadians to work in Yukon mines

WHITEHORSE — The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by a group of Canadian Rangers as he arrives in Whitehorse, Yukon on Sunday, August 18, 2013.Whitehorse is Harper's first stop on his annual northern Canada tour. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Stephen Harper has unveiled a $5.6-million federal grant to build a mining innovation centre in Yukon to teach northern Canadians the skills needed to fill jobs in the territory’s resource industry.

‎‎The Prime Minister announced the funds during a stop in Whitehorse on the second day of his 2013 summer tour of northern Canada.

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Construction of the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining at ‎Yukon College’s Ayamdigut Campus in Whitehorse‎ will be completed by 2017.

The announcement from Ottawa comes amid a controversy over the territory’s efforts to fill mining and tourism jobs with foreign workers.‎ Yukon’s government, citing chronic labour shortages, launched a temporary foreign worker program to fill positions in tourism and mining only weeks after 100 Yukon mine staff lost their jobs.

Softened commodity prices, however, have recently hit mining in Yukon and some companies have scaled back operations or even made plans to shut during the winter.

‎‎Mr. Harper said the grant is an effort to address big skills shortages in the region and ensure that “Northerners derive maximum benefit from the abundant natural resources in their territories.”

The federal funds for the centre will match grants from the Yukon territory government.

Yukon mines currently must import workers.

“As a result of the shortage of skilled local workers in the region, Yukon mines are spending millions of dollars a year on travel costs to fly in workers from other provinces, while local residents and aboriginals are seeking employment. This added cost forces marginal projects to scale back or close,” the federal government said in a news release.

The Prime Minister said Yukon mining firms will require at least 1,700 new workers by 2022.

Mr. Harper began his eighth annual northern tour of Canada on Sunday. The six-day trip started in Yukon and crosses the Arctic Circle to promote mining and other resource extraction in this country’s most sparsely populated region.

Like Progressive Conservative chief John Diefenbaker, Mr. Harper has a use-it-or-lose it attitude toward northern Canada that in the early years of his government led to high-profile measures to promote Canadian sovereignty in the resource-rich Arctic.

Now in his eighth year in office, the Prime Minister is focusing more on economic and social development of a region that struggles with unemployment and the challenge of creating durable jobs.

Mr. Harper’s other stops include Hay River, NWT, Gjoa Haven and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut as well as Raglan Mine, the location of a massive nickel mining complex in northern Quebec.

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