October 2013

Feds extend GEM program

Mapping in Canada’s North gets a $100-million boost

By Virginia Heffernan

Canada’s Geo-Mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) program, designed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of northern geology, has been extended into 2020 after the federal government committed an additional $100 million in funding.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the program extension in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, while on his annual northern tour. “Our government will renew funding for Canada’s geo-mapping program, an investment sufficient to completely finish the job,” he said. “In other words, an investment sufficient to create modern regional-scale geological maps and data sets for Canada’s entire North.”

“The focus of the program really resonates with the prime minister’s agenda in terms of sovereignty and social and economic development in the North,” said Ross Gallinger, executive director of PDAC, which has been advocating for the GEM extension. “Over the long run, this program will probably stimulate more than $500 million in exploration expenditures in the North and eventually lead to discoveries valued at more than $12 billion,” he predicted.

Government figures indicate the first phase of the GEM program generated $40 million in direct employment opportunities and indirect investments totalling more than $300 mil­lion. Exploration expenditures by the private sector, as a result of the first phase of the $100-million program that ran from 2008 to 2013, amount to close to $17 million so far and include work in Nunavut’s Melville Peninsula to further explore the Tuktu iron ore discovery and diamond prospecting on southeast Baffin Island. Gallinger says the return on investment for the first GEM program phase is still in its early days. “The second set of maps from the first phase of the program was not released until two weeks ago, so much of the data is only now being seen,” he said in early September.

In late August, the Prime Minister’s Office released 32 datasets, mostly from the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. A massive till survey in the Chantrey Inlet region, northwest of Rankin Inlet, demonstrated the potential for nickel, copper and precious metals, while a new geophysical survey in the Duggan Lake area in the western Kivalliq region revealed evidence of rock types that have a high potential for hosting gold and copper and faulting associated with uranium mineralization. GEM produced more than 700 maps during its first phase, with maps and datasets made public as soon as they were completed.

The GEM program’s second phase will continue to record geological structures and their evolution, and model the environments associated with petroleum and mineral deposits, said Jacinthe Perras, a spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada, which oversees the program. By using modern interpretive techniques to analyze data from various sources, including ground observations, geophysics and the latest geochemical techniques, government geoscientists hope to discover new clues about the region’s resource potential.

About 60 per cent of Canada’s North – above 60 degrees latitude – has yet to be mapped using modern mapping standards. GEM 1 involved 21 projects in the three northern territories and the northern parts of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Priority areas under GEM 2 will be determined after consultation with the provinces and territories as well local communities, said Perras.

The GEM program is one of several new funding initiatives for resource development in the North, including $5.6 million to fund the creation of a new Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining (CNIM) in Whitehorse, Yukon, and nearly $6 million for aboriginal mine training in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The funding announcements are part of a broader federal strategy for the North, which includes devolution of land and resource management to the individual territories so that northerners will have more control over decision-making.

The prime minister’s recent tour of the North also highlighted that improved geosciences are only one piece of the resource development puzzle in the region.

At the August Energy and Mines Ministers’ conference in Yellowknife, N.W.T., Territorial Industry Minister Dave Ramsay requested $600 million in federal funding to improve roads, airports, bridges and other infrastructure over the next decade.

“Our two territories have the most undeveloped infrastructure in all of Canada,” said Tom Hoefer, executive director of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. “We have the lowest level of geoscience mapping, we have the lowest education levels and we have a complex regulatory environment. All of those things are demanding of attention.”

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