Brighter days are ahead for the Yukon, according to a report forecasting the economic outlook for the country’s northern territories.
The Yukon’s mining industry is expected to begin to bounce back over the next decade after a couple of recent hiccups, as reported in the Conference Board of Canada’s Territorial Outlook and Economic Forecast.
A not-for-profit organization that analyzes trends and public policy issues, the think tank publishes a report on the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories biannually.
It takes into consideration the demographic makeup and labour market conditions in each jurisdiction.
Marie-Christine Bernard is the director of provincial and territorial outlook as listed in the report. She says the Yukon has the development of mines to thank in large part for its sunnier forecast.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the development of mines and the timing,” she told the Star today from Ottawa, “but the outlook is more positive than a year ago.”
Three new mines are set to open in the future – the Coffee, Eagle and Casino projects are all in the early stages – and the 11-year-old Minto mine is set to remain in operation longer than the initial 2021 closure date.
But it is the Casino project that will steal the show in the coming years, the report indicates.
“The Casino Mine will be the largest mine in the history of Yukon,” it reads, adding that it will produce almost one million ounces of more gold than the other three mines combined.
The project is also expected to add 900 jobs over the next 22 years once it begins operations.
But, Bernard added, one of the government’s priorities should be ensuring everything remains on schedule, after the Casino mine has been four years in the making.
“While the project was first submitted for approval in 2014, the YESAB (Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board) has referred the application to a panel review, which is likely to take some time,” the report reads.
“Putting in place some training programs to not rely as much on workers that don’t reside in territories,” will result in a more stable workforce and ensure more income will stay in the territory, Bernard noted.
This would involve the government working with mining companies – even through what seems to be at times a strenuous relationship between the two.
For instance, the Yukon Chamber of Mines expressed disappointment this month over how long the Yukon government took to include the industry in consultations since Bill C-17 became law in December 2017.
Also this month, the Yukon Zinc Corp. was fined more than $75,000 for infractions under the Quartz Mining Act, with $25,000 of that going to the Yukon government as reimbursement.
The company had declared bankruptcy in 2015 after suspending operations in January of that year.
“The last few years have been challenging for the territory,” the report acknowledged, “as depressed metal markets discouraged any major mining developments,” the report’s overview reads.
There is some good news, though: the territory’s unemployment rate is forecast to remain low for the next decade, while wages are expected to increase a bit by 0.3 percentage points per year faster than inflation.
The report does point out, though, that the Yukon’s population will age more quickly than both the Northwest Territories’ and Nunavut’s – something that the government should be proactively looking to address sooner rather than later, said Bernard.
“It’s still manageable,” noted Bernard of the territory’s aging population, as “there are regions in Canada that will be a lot older than Yukon,” like the Atlantic provinces.
“They have trouble growing their labour force, because young workers leave for other job opportunities.”
An older population means the government will have to put more resources into planning for health care services.
However, Bernard acknowledged that the Yukon seems to be in relatively better shape to attract a younger workforce.
One thing the territory has got going for it in this pursuit, Bernard pointed out, is that it has fewer fly-in communities than the other two territories. But the government must use this leverage to draw in fresh faces.
“A good portion of Yukon’s mining and construction jobs are filled by workers who don’t reside permanently in the territory.
“But that is not as much the case in the service sector, where more jobs tend to be locally filled,” the report reads.
“Between now and 2040, the number of Yukoners aged 65 and older will more than double,” it continues, adding that the working-age population “will have to shoulder the costs of meeting the increased demand of health care services.”
Bernard added that these trends are on par with those of the rest of Canada.
“The tight labour market is tight for everyone,” she said, likening it to a “global phenomenon making it harder and harder to attract skilled workers.”
She went on to list training programs for mine workers, increased funding for health care services and continued efforts to attract young workers as top priorities the government should address in its agenda.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai, who also serves as the Economic Development Minister, was unavailable for comment this morning.
Meanwhile, the report projects the Northwest Territories’ economic outlook as “grim,” thanks to declining diamond production.
Nunavut will benefit from planned mineral production, but economic growth will be stalled after large infrastructure projects come to an end in the coming years.