Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks out the cockpit of CF001 at the Hayes River during a fly past of the York Factory national historic site of Canada on route from Whitehorse, Yukon to Ottawa on Friday Aug. 27, 2010.
Credits: Sean Kilpatrick/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA - Canada's western natural resource industry may soon be joined by a new emerging commodities powerhouse - the Arctic.
There's plenty of untapped wealth north of 60, said Conference Board of Canada economist Jacqueline Palladini.
According to the research agency's statistics, mining industry output in Nunavut is projected to expand five per cent this year and in the double digits by 2017.
Production in the Northwest Territories' diamond industry is considered "mature" and expected to slow overall mining output in the next 15 years - but output is still forecast to grow 12.6% in 2012.
And the Yukon is ground zero for the northern mining boom, with the industry's development expected to drive the territory's economy for the next decade.
Palladini called the Yukon "the star of metal mining development in the north right now," with mining output this year jumping 31% over 2011 levels.
"Which is huge," she noted.
On Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads on his seventh annual Arctic trek, landing first in the Yukon where the focus will be resource wealth and its development.
"I don't think we've made any secret that we're going to bring prosperity to the North," Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall said.
On Tuesday, Harper will visit one of the region's rising stars - the copper and gold concern of Minto Mine, north of Whitehorse.
He'll also stop by Norman Wells,N.W.T., an oil drilling and exploration hub that carries a traditional First Nation's name that translates into "where there is oil."
Still, developing the new frontier is expected to face several barriers.
Researchers believe about a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas supplies lie under the Arctic ice, but Palladini is skeptical any full scale extraction operations will take place over the next 15 years - the limit of her projections.
She also cited a host of hurdles to the North reaching its full economic potential.
"Definitely the number one challenge is finding the qualified labour that's required to operate these mines in remote areas with a limited population to draw from," she said.
Critics also cite the high cost of living and a need for more basic adult education as problems facing the North, along with unprecedented changes to its warming climate and fragile environment.
MacDougall conceded there were challenges.
"It is a challenge logistically in the North, whether you're building roads, or whether you're trying to get these resources out," he said. "There's investments in infrastructure that have to happen."