George Ross, lured to the far north

Ross' objective is to ensure the Ministry’s fosters the correct relationships with industries and communities

by Jessica Kirby
George Ross showing some gold nuggets that was mined near Dawson City by placer miners.

There’s still gold in the hills! George Ross displays some Klondike gold nuggets in Dawson City. The gold was mined by area placer miners. — Photo courtesy of George Ross

George Ross, Yukon Territory’s Deputy Minister of the Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources, has held so many public service positions over the past 31 years that he considers his work in the sector his trade.

He started his career in government in the 1980s and spent 22 years in Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources where he held a number of senior positions that combined his education in environmental studies from University of Waterloo with his love of the geography of Northern Ontario.

“I was working in the field organization with stakeholders and industry in natural resources and that is where I learned my craft and got my principles straight,” said Ross.

He brought those principles over to the Ministry of Research and Innovation, where his work focused on commercializing post-secondary research initiatives to build new high-tech industries leveraged by significant public investment and resources.

“Then they asked me, ‘Now what do you want to do?’ I wanted to go to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, and that is where I finished with the Ontario Public Service and developed an interest in the resource industries and how they fit with the prosperity of the country.”

Ross said the role of resource industries in Canada’s future is an irrevocable truth: 

“It is a basic tenant of my thinking that our future prosperity and well-being are driven by the ability to responsibly develop our natural resources in the country,” he said. “It is a policy field where industry, First Nations and other communities interface and work hand in hand with government, and of all things I’ve done in public service, it is the work I feel most connected with.”

The move to the Far North might seem daunting to some, but not for Ross, who was drawn to the diversity of the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Resources, and the Yukon’s alluring beauty. 

“I want to say the decision to move was the result of a complicated set of considerations and calculations, but it is really quite simple,” he said.  “Energy, Mines, and Resources has a broad mandate that goes beyond mining to forestry, land management, agriculture and other areas. The job appealed to me because of that and I wanted to work in the Yukon because it is stunningly beautiful and a place where the people are very welcoming and warm.”

The Yukon also boasts a modern treaty environment, with 11 of 14 settled treaties creating a more contemporary and progressive relationship between government and communities, he said.

Ross just stepped into the position in October, 2014. As he heads full bore into the leadership position that he takes very seriously, one of his core objectives is ensuring the Ministry’s foundations are in place to foster the correct relationships with industries and communities.

“For industry, it is vital we have the right foundation of geoscience information because, above all, the government provision of data and mapping for mining is important to the industry, and we have to make sure we are ahead of the game and meeting industry needs,” he said.

In Yukon, geological surveys are top-notch, he said. “We will focus on the fundamentals so when the cycle comes back and investment dollars start flowing again, Yukon will be leading the pack in exploration and mining development.”

Yukon also has a regulatory system with strong and modern structures in place to support mineral development, said Ross.

“Many of these structures, such as Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board and the Yukon Water Board are linked to the Umbrella Final Agreement, which oversees Yukon’s treaties. This allows for effective engagement. Ultimately, we want to ensure this regulatory system continues to be leading edge and provides high standards and certainty for industry,” he said.

Like in all jurisdictions across Canada, exploration spending is down in Yukon, although projects like Casino, Kaminak, Victoria Gold and Selwyn, for example, bring with them great potential. 

Since the Faro Mine closure a few decades ago, there have been fewer big projects in the region collectively, but the industry, community and government can set the stage for development in the future.

“Over the next while, we will be talking about Yukon as an investment destination and generating some excitement and talking to stakeholders and First Nations to see how they wish Yukon to be positioned,” said Ross.

Over his time in the public sector, Ross has witnessed many feats of human ingenuity that assure him the future is bright for Yukon Territory and natural resource development in Canada.

“I have stood at the place that is the closest you can be to the centre of the earth, and thought, ‘It is incredible the ingenuity and technical skills people have.’ ”


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