OTTAWA – The Conference Board of Canada has taken a close look and said that mining employment and production in Canada's north can almost double by the end of this decade. The Board sees Canada's overall northern metal and non-metallic mineral output growing by 91% from 2011 to 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 7.5%. In contrast, the Canadian economy is forecast to grow by an average of just 2.2% annually over this period. The annual gross domestic product of mining in the north will reach $8.5 billion in 2020, up from $4.4 billion in 2011 (both figures in constant 2002 dollars).
That is a very rosy picture the Board has painted. But it is also the first to admit that the goal won't be reached unless industry, government and communities address key issues including infrastructure, regulatory uncertainty, skills shortages and Aboriginal rights.
"Mining is the future economic driver of Canada's North. To fully reap the benefits of this potential, we must find the right balance between risk and opportunity," said Anja Jeffrey, director, Centre for the North. "For instance, governments need to be conscious of how changes to the regulatory environment can affect communities and industry. Strong efforts to ensure a favourable business climate can leave communities feeling vulnerable. Going too far in the opposite direction can act as a deterrent to investment.
"Equally importantly — and amplified right now by current Aboriginal demands for greater self determination — is the need for trust between Aboriginal communities, governments and industry. Many northern and Aboriginal regions continue to worry about the effects that mining projects may have on their lands and on the environment. Such issues can only be resolved through dialogue."
The Conference Board went on to highlight the greatest roadblocks and offer some considered solutions.
Improvements to regulatory processes. A solution to cumbersome regulations and duplication among governments may be to conclude more transparent impact and benefit agreements – allowing companies to accommodate local residents' needs and give communities a chance to participate in negotiations.
Inadequate or non-existent infrastructure. The lack of transportation, energy and communities infrastructure is the biggest obstacle to northern mining development. Companies currently provide much of their own infrastructure. Public-private partnerships could relieve them of some of these costs.
Shortage of skilled labour. Women, new Canadians and youth are under-represented in the mining industry. The north's Aboriginal population could supply many new workers, but Aboriginal peoples will require education and training needed to work in mining.
Engagement of local and Aboriginal communities. Mining companies need to demystify their activities. Communication that begins at the outset of a project and continues through the life of the mine is vital. So are the settlement of outstanding land claims and the conclusion of resource agreements.
Environmental stewardship. Despite a substantial improvement in the industry's environmental performance in recent decades, communities still have legitimate concerns about the ecological impact of projects on natural habitats and traditional lands.
Clarity around mine closure. In addition to implementing sustainable practices during production, the industry must develop plans for mine closure, decommissioning and reclamation in collaboration with the local communities.
The full report, The Future of Mining in Canada's North, is posted at ConferenceBoard.ca.