Canada and the Diamond Industry

In a massive and resource-rich country like Canada, diamonds are a relatively small component of overall natural resource exports. Canada is a major exporter of gold, nickel, uranium, forestry products, and perhaps surprisingly, possesses the world's second largest reserves of oil in the western part of the country. In 2015, Canada exported $231 billion in natural resources. Diamond exports were $2.4 billion, just one percent of resource exports.

However, diamonds have been located in some of the most northern and often inhospitable locations in this vast country. So while the impact of diamonds on the economy as a whole has been relatively small, they have been critical to the sustainable development of many northern settlements. These small towns and villages suffer from harsh weather and a lack of employment opportunities, so diamonds have been instrumental in their success in the last 15 years.

Diamonds were first discovered in Canada in 1991, in an area that few people believed could possess kimberlite intrusions. The Ekati mine, which is still in operation today, began mining in 1998. The following year, a massive gold mine called the 'Giant mine' closed after more than fifty years of mining. This was a major blow to the mining-heavy economy of the region, and diamond mining helped save the capital city of Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. In Canada, roughly 87 percent of the population of 36 million people live and work within 160 km of the US border. That makes Yellowknife, located about 2,000 km north of the US border, very remote, to say the least. The Northwest Territories, where much of the diamond activity in Canada is centered, has a population of just 44,000 people in an area of 1.34 million square kilometers. Diamonds have been a major source of employment and tax revenues for this area, which are desperate to benefit from their resource base.

Canada's attempts to develop its own cutting and polishing industry have had mixed, but mostly disappointing, results. In Canada, the provincial or territorial governments have much autonomy to establish the laws and guidelines within their jurisdiction. This had led to different rules within the three different provinces currently mining diamonds, and has created competing interests for the downstream diamond manufacturers in the country. However, in two of the three provinces where diamond mining takes place, the local governments mandate that mining companies sell up to 10 percent of the mined diamonds by value to local manufacturing companies, assuming that such demand actually exists. In reality, the demand has been far less than 10 percent, and the local cutting industry has not really gotten off the ground in more than 15 years.


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