As the classic Canadian poem says, the Yukon is where people moil for gold.
And Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was off to see what a more modern day version of that work looks like.
On his first full day in the North, Mr. Harper toured Capstone’s copper gold Minto mine, about 240 kilometres north of Whitehorse.
Miners have been active in the Yukon since the days of the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1800s and according to statistics from the mining industry, there are over 80 mineral resource deposits in the territory.
Last year, more than $300 million was spent on exploration, and mineral production soared above $400 million from just $46 million in 2006, according to the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
Yukoners are hoping for more share of that revenue and on Tuesday, Mr. Harper followed up on a pledge from last year to change the agreement the federal government has with the territory.
“Our government is committed to ensuring that Northerners benefit from the tremendous natural resource reserves that are found in their region,” Mr. Harper said in a statement.
“For the benefits to flow, it is necessary to get resource projects up and running in an effective and responsible way and to put agreements in place with territorial Governments to ensure that revenues generated by these initiatives stay up North.”
When the government of Yukon switches to the new agreement, it will see its share of the revenues grow to 50 per cent, up to a cap of five per cent of its expenditures.
When the new agreement was first announced last year, the government in Yukon estimated that with the territories gross expenditures around $800 million annually, the new deal could see residents receive more than $41 million a year.
Speaking at the Minto mine, Mr. Harper touted the North’s vast riches.
“The North has always been Canada’s great frontier and Canadians’ greatest adventure,” the prime minister said in prepared remarks for a speech Tuesday.
“And we are determined, through our sustained and unprecedented focus on the North, you shall see unprecedented economic development in the next five years, nicely in time for Confederation’s 150th anniversary.”
Mr. Harper’s visit to the mine followed a speech to party faithful Monday night outside of Whitehorse where he extolled the development of the North’s resources as the “great national dream.”
“The North’s time has come,” Mr. Harper told a crowd of about 300 Conservative supporters at a rally Monday night.
“I tell people starting to see the activity here, you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of what’s coming in the next decade.”
Natural resources development has also become a renewed focus of the Harper government as countries the world express eagerness to receive a greater share.
The Conservatives have set about redrawing the process for approving natural resources projects, changing regulatory requirements, including environmental assessments to what they say will just help speed the projects up.
The government says there are currently 24 projects in the North representing $38 billion in potential new investment.
Changing the environmental assessment process to require fewer reviews and limiting their scope was one of the more contentious elements of the Conservatives’ recently-passed budget. Others included changes being made to old age security and transfer payments for health care.
“Not every one of these measures is easy or is popular with everybody,” Mr. Harper said in a stump-style speech in a riding captured by the Tories in the 2011 federal election.
“But the reason we do them is they are all in the long-term best interests of this country.”
Opposition critics say that’s not the case and that local voices are being left out of the discussion of what measures are in fact in the best interests of Canada when it comes to the development of resources.
“Northerners deserve more than an annual photo op from their prime minister and hollow announcements that never materialize,” said Liberal Aboriginal Affairs Critic Carolyn Bennett in a statement.
“It is time that the federal government listen to their concerns and serve as a true partner in addressing the serious challenges and opportunities in Canada’s North.”
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