Thank you to the members of the standing committee for this opportunity to appear before you today to express the views of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce on the socio-economic impacts of resource development in northern Canada.
The Yukon Chamber of Commerce is the umbrella organization of all Yukon community chambers of commerce. It effectively represents over 800 businesses in the territory.
As a business organization, our primary areas of interest include the development of legislation, regulations, and public policy that shape and support sustainable economic growth in the territory and the strategic spending of public funds that support economic development, infrastructure development, and business and economic development.
The Yukon Territory occupies a land mass of 482,433 square kilometres and has a population of 35,944, the highest since the Klondike gold rush of 1898. Since 2002, the Yukon has enjoyed sustained economic growth, primarily from mineral exploration and development. Eleven of the 14 first nations in the Yukon have settled their land claims and have self-government.
The Yukon has three operating mines that extract copper, gold, silver, lead, and zinc. A recent survey of junior mining companies holding Yukon properties highlights that eight companies each anticipate having a producing mine by 2015. Another four are planning production by 2018. This would give us 15 operating mines in the Yukon territory over the next six years.
Tourism is also an important economic generator in the territory, with strong markets in Europe, Asia, the United States, and the domestic market.
Other sectors of the economy include forestry, agriculture, oil and gas, trapping, and innovation and technology. We anticipate continued strong economic growth in mineral exploration, development, and production; construction; tourism; and retail.
A strong economy does not come without its challenges. A key challenge is to balance the needs of resource development activities with the needs of other sectors, such as tourism, culture, and environment. The resource sector places heavy demands on transportation and energy infrastructure, broadband width, and labour markets.
In terms of investment in infrastructure, the Yukon is a small jurisdiction, with limited financial resources under the current resource revenue sharing agreement with Canada. However, its infrastructure needs are large. With a huge demand for its resources and a highly active mining sector, roads, airports, communications, health care, and power generation are all feeling pressure to provide service to this growth sector. The importance of infrastructure cannot be stressed enough.
Our recommendation to Canada is that the Yukon government and Canada negotiate a resource revenue sharing agreement that recognizes the demands and financial implications placed on the Yukon because of resource development. My understanding is that discussions are under way. However, we need to see that concluded sooner rather than later.
Growth in resource development and population growth have placed a severe strain on energy generation surpluses and the energy transmission network. We recommend that the federal government invest in the Yukon by providing clean and reliable energy generation and transmission that supports economic growth.
With the implementation of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, environmental impacts of resource extraction are well identified and heavily weighed. However, the socio-economic impacts are not as well illustrated or identified, unless there is a negative reaction to a project. Due to the high volume of projects required to go through the YESAA process, little energy is invested in identifying the socio-economic benefits. The majority of projects are located in rural Yukon, where only small population bases exist. There is not the capacity in the communities as a whole or in first nations that may see projects in or near their traditional territories.
The Yukon Chamber of Commerce recommends that Canada consider that the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, known as CanNor, provide information, research, and support to Yukon communities on the potential impacts and benefits of projects registered through the YESAA process.
The Government of Canada has developed a northern strategy. This strategy has raised awareness of and commitment to developing Canada's north. However, the absence of a comprehensive economic development strategy for the Yukon is seen by us to be detrimental to the execution of the strategy.
Further, a comprehensive strategy can identify and mitigate the demands and needs of growth before they reach a critical condition.
Our recommendation is for Canada to support and participate in the development of a comprehensive economic development strategy in partnership with the private sector, Yukon government, and Yukon first nations.