Canadian Mining Journal


CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVE: Killing the goose that lays golden eggs

(Editor's note: Today's guest editorial looks at how anti-mining activists can damage the vital mineral indust...

(Editor’s note: Today’s guest editorial looks at how anti-mining activists can damage the vital mineral industry. The opinions are those of the writer, not those of CMJ, its staff or owners. – M.S.)

The mining industry is under attack everywhere in Canada, even in the country’s friendliest location, Quebec.

Gone are the days when activists offered constructive criticism that allowed the industry to improve its corporate social responsibility profile and improve environmental standards in mining projects. Today anti-mining activists advocate one thing: an outright destruction of the mining industry.

Nowhere is this attitude more prevalent than in a recent report from the Institute for Research and Socio-Economic Information (IRIS), an organization whose self-described purpose is “to provide an opposite point of view to the neoliberal view,” that suggested nothing less than an end to mining in Quebec. Their simplistic argument can be summed up as, “the economic, social and environmental costs of the mining industry seem to outweigh the benefits, and the economic prospects of the sector in the coming years are not promising.”

Yet, according to the mining associations of Quebec – the Association minière du Québec and the Association de l’exploration minière du Québec – the IRIS study is riddled with factual errors that undermine its conclusions.

Rather, the study presents a radical agenda to destroy the mining industry, a “salami-slice” strategy that aims to eliminate mining, slice after slice, until nothing remains. Initially the goal is to reduce the competitiveness of the mining industry by increasing the burden of taxation and regulation, leaving Quebec miners at a disadvantage with the rest of the world and thus scaring [away] investment.

Next, the study’s author proposes to nationalize the mining industry. She writes, “The nationalization of the sector should also be an opportunity to submit mining to higher social and environmental standards…” Aside from the inefficiencies and politicization inherent in nationalization, the move would be a regulatory disaster.

Governments cannot properly regulate themselves. Look at the dismal history of the Cape Breton coal mines where governments spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to mine the second most polluting coal in North America. The most polluting was a government-owned mine in New Brunswick.

If the study’s suggestions were actually implemented, Quebec would in little time plummet to the bottom of the rankings in the “Annual Survey of Mining Companies”, joining such economic standouts as Zimbabwe, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Once the mining sector is decimated, the IRIS study suggests it will be “… desirable to consider a gradual conversion to … other more promising and cleaner economic sectors, like the environment industry.”

This plan seems to be based more on fantasy than reality. The idea that the magic wand of government will be able to replace thousands of mining jobs with green jobs in the regions of Quebec seems far-fetched and has all the trappings of an economic disaster financed by the taxpayer. The likely result would be the emergence of ghost towns in rural Quebec. Anti-mining groups based in Montreal and Quebec City may not mind, but it would be catastrophic for the regions.

What the anti-mining activists fail to acknowledge is the substantial contribution of the mining industry to the Quebec economy. Mining represents 2.4% of Quebec’s gross domestic product and more than 52,000 jobs. The value of exports from the mineral sector grew on average by 8.2% since 2000, reaching $8 billion in 2008. And the sector has provided the Quebec government with annual net tax revenue of $281 million since 2000.

The truth is that industrial minerals are omnipresent in our everyday lives and a world without them is simply impossible. The demand of industrializing countries will grow in the future and it would be absurd for the Quebec economy to not cash in on this potential windfall.

The interests of average Quebecers are best served by creating wealth, not destroying it. The mining industry generates wealth for Quebecers. The province has a strong mining tradition in places like Côte-Nord and Abitibi-Témiscamingue and an exceptional mineral potential especially if one considers the new deposits on the relatively unexplored territories of James Bay and Nunavik in northern Quebec.

The mining community is striving to improve its environmental record and trumped-up, ill-considered accusations and over-the-top rhetoric should not be an excuse to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

*Jean-Francois Minardi is a senior policy analyst with the Fraser Institute,

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6 Comments » for CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVE: Killing the goose that lays golden eggs
  1. Charlie Jefferson says:

    It is time to stop pussy footing around and call the anti-mining activists what they are – liars, and take them to court for libel. They have think tanks dreaming up lies that appear to be truthful, thereby catching the public off guard. Their religious fervour does not give them the moral high ground to lie, and they should be confronted directly with the challenge that they live their own lives without minerals before casting verbal stones. No mechanical transportation, no communication, no food except what they can grow in their back yards. No shelter, no clothes except what they can make with their bare hands. The mining industry needs to support its national and provincial associations with enough literate fire power to contradict every lie, as fast as possible.

  2. R,R.Potter says:

    Unfortunately there are those who feel good about making other people feel bad. The psychologists must have a name for that illness and your guest editorial correctly points out that most people are unaware of the contribution the mineral industry makes to the economy. Years ago I saw a bumper sticker in Maine that read: “If you don’t like logging, please use plastic toilet paper” Perhaps the mineral industry could have a contest to see who could create a simiar bumper sticker indicating what our quality of life would be like if there was no mining.

  3. Danford G. Kelley says:

    Ten years ago I presented a paper to the Annual Meeting of the Nova Scotia Mining Society titled “Exploration, Urban Emotion and the Environment in A Dot-Com World”.The Society maintained the paper on their web site for several years but little, if any, momentum was generated in the mineral industry. My last sentence in the presentation stated “If you and all representatives of the mining industry don’t show some individual initiatives to counteract misinformation the future in minerals will be in countries other than Canada” As a part-time prospector I was right about the mining industry but wrong about Research in Motion.

  4. Francine Bolduc says:

    It is quite unfortunate and sad that you appear to have an industry under attach by those offering no constructive approach but only intent on stopping an industry from moving forward.

    Life on earth, at least at this writting, requires minerals. This study according to your revue would only intend to put a stop to industry.
    This appears to me to be a solution that creates more problems than workable solutions.

    It does however shine the light on a situation. Management is the art of navigating a successful course and coming out winning.

    Although mining companies and for that matter any enterprise who is
    solely obsessed with profit and not success for all the components of an organization is not only a danger to the community but also a death blow to the industry.

    Sound and positive management creates a team and leads it to survival.
    It is like playing a piano if you will. One has to understand and master
    all the keys to create music. Just playing one key (profit) does not give you fantastic full power potential.

    So mining needs to be constructive. Where are your researchers and your
    new inventors? Someone’s waste is someone’s raw material!

    And to the man power involved if you are treated as a team member you need to be a team member. Dishonesty, drugs, booze,and misemotional behavior wrapped around justifications for lack of success is the ultimate recipe for your self destruction along with your colleagues your family and your community.

    This profession is a time honored one. It takes a special breed of men
    to overcome the odds and to persist in the hope of winning. And they should enjoy the wealth of success. I would rather reward someone who is productive than saddle him with the 20 who want a free ride or have given up on becoming productive members of society.

    From the information contributed in the above article and the comments that follow, anger destruction and what appears to be a lack of proper understanding, would have this industry run aground stopped by incompetent paper pushers that have no reality other than that of paper and therefore no understanding. They appear sitting in their ivory towers with 3 times the salary and one third of the production adjudicating without actual knowledge.

    The industry is best served by taking the high road. An ethical approach will give you self governance and help you do the right thing and take the right course of action as a group. To add a research sector to this area might even give you a new ressource and another viable product or industry. Continuing education among you and an adopted code of ethics along with a duly appointed and empowered board of ethics to clean up your field and ranks will help in creating strong links as a business and as a community and the bonus will be a suit of armor difficult to pierce. Not to mention giving the industry and the province a reputation and a status of success .

    Strong foundations made up of able, knowledgeable, men and women who breath life into any venture as well as any manager, executive or employee who has cleaned up failures create civilizations and cultures. These supported by implemented policies of great wisdom are the stuff that create the gateways to a future alive with prosperity , freedom, happiness.

    Listening to stupid policies or people is a guaranty of slavery,misery and death.

    Good luck

    past elected official
    from a one horse town
    in Northern Ontario.

  5. Rolf N. Pedersen, Ottawa says:

    Here is a belated response to R.R. Potter’s suggestion. It is a bit long for a bumper sticker, but how about? “If you don’t like mining, cook food in your bare hands over an open fire.”

  6. Holly Renaud says:

    While it is obvious that mining for various minerals has added to our lives in varying degrees, and to the economy in the relative short term; it is difficult to ignore the practice of many mining corporations and the impact they make on the environment and communities. As an adult and current Environmental Studies student with a keen interest in exploring ways to lower our carbon footprint and minimize our abuse of the planet, I have been against mining for sometime but without much knowledge on the subject, I’ve kept my opinion to myself. On a recent first-time trip to Northern Ontario, my heart broke at the sight of vast abandoned holes, property which once flourished and was home to wildlife, various ecosystem and “promising industry”. I met families that built there lives around a company that simply declared bankruptcy, shut down operation and left the nothingness behind them, moving on to the next site and then the next, then the next. I met people who shared stories with me about mining company payouts to individuals for damage to their homes and vehicles caused by the dust created during digging; no regard for the health and well-being of these people, just their possessions. The mining companies solution to the toxic dust that could strip the paint off a Buick was to build a man-made hill separating the town and the mine so the wind wouldn’t blow the dust directly on the houses and cars…and to obstruct the visual reminder for what was causing the dust. It would be hard for anyone, pro-mining or not, to argue that this even resembles a solution while many of the people I met have lost pensions, their homes, job security and their health, not to mention the well being of their surroundings.

    I may not be able to offer specific suggestions for a safer or more eco-friendly approach to the mining industry but I think that’s the point, who can? The author notes the days when “activists offered constructive criticism that allowed the industry to improve its corporate social responsibility profile and improve environmental standards in mining projects” but has any of that really made a difference? Adding pretty pictures of mountains and the words “green” and “natural” to marketing campaigns do not address the concerns of the people fighting against mining. Has making suggestions slowed down the destruction of valuable renewable resources? No. Canadians consume more than ever with one of the highest consumption rates on the planet. We hear so much about economic value, employment and the conveniences humans have to gain, but it’s all at a very serious cost to the environment, our food sources, our health and the future of our planet.

    Along with the “anti-mining” argument comes a belief that we can figure out other methods that will slow down if not eventually stop our gross consumption of natural resources. Profit and convenience cannot be the only driving force in an industry that effects everyone on Earth so greatly.

    This is my personal experience and opinion regarding the mining industry.

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