What the Athabasca Tar Sands are to Fort McMurray, gold was to Yellowknife (Disclaimer: I was a reporter for Northern News Service Ltd. in Yellowknife from 1988 to 1989[i]). From the late 1940s to 2004, Giant Mine in Yellowknife was one of the city’s major employers, and the mine’s owners made millions, if not billions, of dollars from the gold they dug out. One could argue that the mine was even more profitable after that bitter labour dispute in 1992. After all, they did cut their labour costs.
But gold mining requires a lot of chemicals to leach the gold ore from the rock. Chemicals such as arsenic. There’s a lot of arsenic that was left over when the mine closed in 2004. So, who’s on the hook to pay for that clean up, estimated to cost between $400 million and $950 million?
You guessed it. The Canadian taxpayer.
And guess who will be left with the bill when Suncor and Shell and everybody else get what they want out of the tar sands?
[i] One of the people I met and reported on when I worked for NNSL was Scott Young, the journalist, author and father of Neil Young. He was in Yellowknife on a book promotion tour. I told him that when I was a boy, I devoured one of his young adult books, Scrubs On Skates, and turned up the radio to window-rattling levels whenever ‘Cinnamon Girl’ came on the radio, not realizing until later the connection between the two. He smiled and repeated a story he said in the book Neil and Me: one day, the younger ones in the Globe and Mail newsroom stopped saying ‘that’s Scott Young, the sports writer,’ and began saying, ‘that’s Scott Young – you know, Neil’s father.’ Scott was as proud of what Neil accomplished as he was of anything he himself did.