Natural resource industries need to be stronger in communicating the benefits they create, says the executive director of a Vancouver-based think tank.
Stewart Muir of Resource Works addressed a luncheon Wednesday organized by the Yukon Chamber of Mines as part of the Mining Week celebrations.
The Yukon, he said, is like B.C.: many residents are polarized – they either want to pave it, or shut it down.
“Is it possible to have both is the question of our time, I would argue,” he said.
Muir said a survey in B.C. showed most residents put tourism and forestry at the top in terms of importance to the provincial economy while mining was last, just below the natural gas industry.
But mining provides a gigantic boost to B.C., he said.
Muir said jobs in mining provide six-figure salaries, substantially more than the tourism sector pays.
He said the majority of the 800 who were surveyed felt the environmental risks of mining and forestry outweigh the economic benefit.
But the export of natural resources remains a primary driver for the provincial economy, topping out at $30 billion in 2014, or three times more than the export for all other goods, Muir showed on a graph.
He said if you take away revenue generated from the natural resource sector, essential services provided by the province every day would inevitably be impacted, such as hospital care.
The activist movement, the anti-development movement, has been incredibly successful, he said.
So much so, Muir added, they’re wondering why the resource people aren’t out fighting for their livelihood, and wondering why they have the field to themselves.
Ron Light, general manager of the Minto Mine, currently the Yukon’s only operating mine, stood up yesterday to express frustration with statements made Monday in the legislature by NDP Leader Liz Hanson.
Speaking about the need to have a better system of calculating the benefits created by the different employment sectors, Hanson told the legislature that during mineral exploration phase, there is plenty of activity. But once a mine is operational, nothing is sourced locally.
Light told the lunchtime audience benefits to the Yukon from the Minto Mine are significant, from the employment to the mine’s involvement with Yukon College and its mine training programs.
The Minto Mine spent $78.1 million in the Yukon in 2013, not including wages for the 168 people on the payroll, 42 per cent of whom are Yukoners.
Last year, he said, they spent $58.2 million on everything from air transport to fuel and supplies from local companies.
So far this year, the mine has dropped $19.8 million into the Yukon economy, he said.
Light said it does not sit well with him when he hears negative comments about the industry, when there should be more positive ones.
“If it’s not grown, it’s mined,” he said, citing the industry slogan.
Muir said he was surprised to see some of the results from a survey conducted last year by the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
It indicated most Yukoners felt mining is not a net benefit to the territory; that it only benefits a few in the Yukon.
“I am surprised about that one, because mining runs through the economy,” he said. “I would be surprised if only a few people benefited.
“I think you have a lot of work to do,” Muir told the audience.
He said the best approach in defending and promoting the natural resource sector is to be armed with the facts.
“Facts really don’t win the argument anymore, but if you don’t have the facts, you are behind the eight ball.”
Muir encouraged the professionals in the industry to do more, to pick up the phone. Those in the industry should be talking to their neighbours, he said.
One of the problems is that people don’t see the industry, they don’t see miners walking down the street with headlamps on, he said.
“Your neighbour is more influential than the government. That means you should be talking to your neighbour.”
Muir said Resource Works has an advisory council made up of a wide range of individuals – industry professionals, aboriginal leaders and even a former provincial premier.
His firm does not accept the suggestion the technology sector will eventually overtake the natural resource sector in terms of economic importance.
“It’s not the case, it’s just not the case,” Muir insisted. “And we have lots of information to support that.”
It was said during the luncheon people have to understand if they expect their children to live in the Yukon when they grow up, if they want them to have a home and live comfortably, a healthy natural resource sector is essential.
Samson Hartland, the chamber’s executive director, said in an interview the chamber developed a strategic plan last year, and communication is a key part of it.
Last year’s perception audit, the survey, was used to help develop a separate communication strategy which is now being implemented, he explained.
“We are going to be looking at telling a bunch of stories in partnership with Yukon College and industry proponents,” said Hartland. “They will be actual, real life stories.
“These are the people who are working in the industry. These are people who do not have a job anymore and have to go elsewhere. We will be telling those stories.”
Hartland said when it comes to the perception of mining, there is a great divide between the rural communities and Whitehorse.
“Every single community out there has a very strong connection with the mining industry and the benefits and opportunities it provides for the community and its citizens,” he said. “In Whitehorse, it’s the very opposite.”
In Whitehorse, said Samson, they question whether mining is even needed in the territory.
As part of Mining Week, Premier Darrell Pasloski paid tribute to the industry in the legislature early this afternoon.
The chamber will also be hosting its Exploration Discovery Camp at the S.S. Klondike from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Friday, complete with wall tents and representatives of the local mining and exploration industry.