03/09/2016 01:26 EST | Updated 03/10/2017 05:12 EST

Bob McLeod, N.W.T. Premier, Urges Investment To Support Mining Sector

TORONTO — The premier of the Northwest Territories is calling on Ottawa to direct some of its planned infrastructure spending to the North, in order to boost the territory's mining sector.

Roughly 40 per cent of the territory's economy relies on mining, yet a lack of infrastructure in the region makes it tricky to service many of those operations, Bob McLeod says.

bob mcleod

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod talks to media after being picked as premier for a second term in December. (Photo: Bill Braden/CP)

"We have a very large infrastructure deficit," McLeod said Tuesday while in Toronto for the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference.

"We don't have a lot of highways. A lot of our communities are only accessible by air or by boat in the summer time. We use a lot of ice roads in the winter time to haul equipment and resupply our communities, and obviously climate change is affecting our ability to make ice roads, and they're not open as long."

McLeod says he has been in contact with the federal government, and he's "very hopeful" that the federal budget, which will be released on March 22, will address some of his concerns.

However, it isn't only public infrastructure investment that's needed to support the territory's mining sector, which includes three diamond mines with a fourth under construction.

McLeod says private investment is also needed.

"We don't have a lot of highways. A lot of our communities are only accessible by air or by boat in the summer time."

Three mining projects in the region that have already passed regulatory and environmental hurdles have failed to raise the capital needed to get them off the ground, McLeod says.

While some investors may balk at the idea of pumping money into mining projects at a time of depressed commodity prices, McLeod says now is the perfect time to do so.

By the time mines are in production, commodity prices, which are cyclical in nature, may very well have risen.

Besides, the costs of building a project are much lower during times of economic downturn, McLeod says.

"When your economy is down, the costs of construction are a lot lower, the commodities that you have to buy are a lot cheaper, and there's a lot more skilled labour available," McLeod says.

"For us, it was a problem when the economy was booming. We had a hard time finding skilled workers who would come to the Northwest Territories."

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