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GNWT jilts diamond strategy

Andrea Markey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 09/05) - After fighting to establish the National Diamond Strategy, the territorial government is pulling out of the organization.

"We're going to focus on our own backyard," said Brendan Bell, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment. "Right now, we have to focus our limited resources and efforts on shoring up our local industry and also on work around geoscience and exploration and finding new mines."

The National Diamond Strategy (NDS) was launched in 2003, led by the NWT and Quebec, along with Saskatchewan and Nunavut.

Its intent is to get federal, provincial and territorial governments together with industry and jewelry associations to talk about all stages of diamond development, from exploration to value-added processing in order to develop the industry in Canada.

"We think it makes sense," he said. "And at some point in the future we are probably going to be able to participate in a national strategy."

The diamond division of Bell's department employs only four people.

A sore point in strategy discussions has been the NWT's registration and use of the official marks of "Canadian Diamond" and "Government Certified Canadian Diamond" for diamonds mined in the Territories, a practise that was criticized by a number of jewelry companies.

Under trademark legislation, governments have the ability to register "official marks," whereas companies and individuals can register "trademarks." Official marks take precedence over trademarks.

In September, Bell offered to hand the marks over, but after a legal review, found that wasn't possible.

In addition, the three cutting and polishing companies that use the marks lobbied government to keep control of the marks.

"It was quite clear to me at that point we could have one of two things - but not both," he said. "We could either hang onto our official marks and not have the NDS, because the feds weren't willing to have an NDS without industry. Or we could withdraw these official marks and everyone would move forward on the NDS."

In late November, Bell told the industries concerned the territorial government was keeping the marks and withdrawing from the strategy.

At the same time, it launched the Rare in Nature campaign to market NWT diamonds internationally, something the local polishing companies had been asking for and were involved in developing, Bell said.

"This marketing campaign is exceeding our expectations," he said. "It is wonderful to go on Diana Krall's website and see an ad for one of our local diamond companies and Blachford Lake Lodge. This is the kind of thing we have needed to do."

The funds for this campaign come from the money collected through the government certificate program that this year has projections of bringing in $100 million for the GNWT.

The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines isn't surprised the government is pulling out of the diamond strategy, but is surprised it is holding onto the official marks, said general manager Mike Vaydik.

"There wasn't a great need for the NDS in the first place," he said. "And it became quite cumbersome to manage."

Pulling out of the strategy won't make much difference to support for mining and exploration, he said.

"But there is a concern about who will be able to market diamonds as Canadian," he said. "Nunavut will be coming on line very soon with Canadian diamonds. But we don't have any more information on how that will work."

Bell said the territorial government is proposing to meet with other jurisdictions that have diamonds, such as Nunavut, and decide jointly on the approach to take regarding the official marks.