Honourable senators, I attended a most remarkable event on Friday. I was at the new Meadowbank Gold Mine near Baker Lake in the Keewatin Region of Nunavut, which is roughly in the geographical centre of Canada, the so-called barren lands. However, these are not barren lands — “There is gold in them thar hills.” A musk ox and a wolf were seen along the road to the mine last week.
Honourable senators, I was there to attend the official opening of Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank Gold Mine. What was remarkable about this event, honourable senators — and I have never been to another quite like it in my years in the North — was the camaraderie and goodwill among the mine owner, Agnico-Eagle, the Inuit organizations representing the Inuit of the Kivalliq Region and all of Nunavut, and the people of Baker Lake. It was a love-in and a celebration. How wonderful to see hugs given by the company’s senior managers dressed in traditional Inuit atigis to the mayor, elders and community leaders.
Honourable senators, why was there such goodwill and happiness? I think it all began with the Inuit land claims agreement signed in 1993 and the obvious respect that Agnico-Eagle holds for that claim. The claim gave the Inuit the land on which the mine sits, so they receive the owners’ benefit from that as well as a 5 per cent share of federal royalties. Then there are the added dividends of the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement signed between the company and the Inuit. The Inuit of the region will fill 35 per cent of the 390 jobs generated by that mine. The company wants and will do better than that.
The cause for celebration is that Baker Lake was an economic basket-case when I first knew it in the 1970s. The unemployment was so high in Baker Lake that it was once known as the welfare capital of the NWT, and it was plagued with myriad social problems.
That is not so anymore. Agnico-Eagle’s plan to spend about $1.5 billion to build a new mine to the highest environmental standards, as required by regional boards and on which Inuit have major representation was welcomed by the community.
The company celebrated the opening last Friday in enthusiastic and exuberant fashion. A solid gold inukshuk was poured for the occasion. Made from Nunavut gold, the gleaming 15-inch work of art is worth $1.9 million based on Friday’s record high gold price of US$1,256 an ounce.
At community celebrations, delighted residents were allowed to touch and heft a gold brick, also poured especially for the occasion. It was one of 450 bricks expected to be produced this year. Each brick is worth $900,000.
There was a staged explosion of gold bearing ore and a spectacular unveiling of a giant stone inukshuk dedicated by employees to the highly regarded Chief Operating Officer of the company Ebe Scherkus who shepherded the mine through five years of its development. There was a keynote address by beloved Kivalliq Inuit Association President Jose Kusugak in which he credited the Nunavut land claim and its visionary early champion minister the Honourable Tagak Curley.