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Manitoba’s throne speech promises on mining have northern leaders, communities hopeful

Snow Lake mayor says importance of mining the north to the province have been ‘obvious for a long time.’
Vale’s Manitoba Operations in Thompson. The mayors of Thompson and Snow Lake say they were pleased to hear references to the importance of the mining industry to the north and to the province as a whole during the throne speech in November

Leaders in Manitoba’s north say it can’t be understated how important the mining industry is to the region, and that is why recent promises from the premier and the province have them optimistic about the future of their communities, and the future of Northern Manitoba.

During last month’s throne speech in Winnipeg, Premier Heather Stefanson claimed the Manitoba government understands and recognizes the importance of economic stability and success in Northern Manitoba communities.

“Northern Manitoba’s economic success is critical for our province’s long-term economic stability,” Stefanson said.

Stefanson added she understands that the economy in several northern communities is directly tied to the mining and mineral industry, and said the province is now looking for ways to invest more into mining in Northern Manitoba.

“We are building our reputation as a leading mining jurisdiction,” Stefanson said. “As part of our mineral strategy, our government will incent capital investments to produce Manitoba’s critical minerals right here in Manitoba.”

Ronald Scott is the mayor of Snow Lake, a town about 685 kilometres north of Winnipeg that is home to about 900 residents and, with several mining operations running in and around the town, he said mining is the “lifeblood” of Snow Lake and the areas that surround it.

“Mining is what drives the town, it really is the lifeblood around here,” Scott said. “We have the Lalor Mine and some other big players around here, so minerals are always driving the economy in Snow Lake.”

Along with offering jobs, Scott said mining also brings people in the mining industry from across North America to Snow Lake, further boosting the economy of the small town.

“There are times when you can’t get a hotel room because they are booked with contractors, and then the restaurants are packed because we have so many people down here,” he said.

“It has so many spinoffs.”

Scott, who said he is a geoscientist by trade, and has worked for years in the mining industry, estimates that about 90 per cent of the economy in Snow Lake is fuelled by mining.

“In the north we just don’t have some of the other industry they have in the south,” he said. “We don’t have the same levels of agriculture or forestry, so you are looking at mining as the real driver of revenue in many parts of the north, including here in Snow Lake.”

Scott said he and other Northern Manitoba leaders were listening to the throne speech last month to see what promises and commitments would be made regarding Northern Manitoba, and said he was happy to hear the premier speak specifically about mining, and about the importance of Northern Manitoba.

“I am very pleased that she said it, because it I think it has been very obvious for a long time,” Scott said.

According to statistics released in 2020, the oil and mineral mining sector in Manitoba generated an annual average of $2.15 billion in economic activity over a 10-year period, and a 3.7 per cent share of provincial gross domestic product annually.

Mining has also been a crucial industry in the northern city of Thompson since it was established in the late 1950s following the discovery of significant nickel deposits, and Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said she was also happy to hear the topic of mining in the north come up in the throne speech last month.

“More and more I believe the government is starting to recognize how important the north is, and how important mining is to the north, and that is why you see more investments, and you see more ministers coming to visit the north and acknowledging its importance,” Smook said.

But should mining investments lead to new or expanded mining operations in Northern Manitoba, Smook made it clear that no projects should be undertaken unless all affected communities, and specifically Indigenous communities are made part of the process.

“We have to have our Indigenous leaders on board, and on board right from the start not after a decision has been made,” she said. “It’s about making sure those communities are part of every conversation.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.

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