The mineral industry made its annual assault on Parliament Hill this week (Tuesday, Nov. 22). Organized by the MINING ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, teams of top company executives met with Members of Parliament and their staffs to impress upon them the importance of the mining industry to Canada.
No one doubts the contribution mining makes to the Canadian economy. It contributes $41.8 billion to our GDP and accounts for 13.8% of our total exports. Mining, both directly and indirectly, supports 370,000 high-paying jobs in this country. Mining companies listed on Canadian exchanges raised $6 billion in equity capital in 2004, or half the world total for the sector.
Mining Day on the Hill kicked off with breakfast and brief presentation by John Eby, vice-chairman of Scotia Capital. He spoke of mining’s “lost decade” from 1992 to 2002 when potential base metals reserves and human resources were underdeveloped. The industry has an opportunity to reverse that trend thanks to today’s high commodity prices, but improvements will not come without a broader view of the country.
Both changing Canadian demographics and the rise of China as an economic powerhouse must be addressed, said Eby. “How our industry and how Canadian governments respond together to these challenges will determine just how much we are able to create long-term competitive advantage out of today’s positive market conditions.”
On the problem of demographics, Canada’s birthrate is declining. Over the next decade it is estimated that the mining industry will need to recruit over 60,000 new people, most with post-secondary education. The oil sands industry will be creating another 100,000 jobs.
Eby suggested that Canada needs a national human resources strategy to ensure skilled labour is available. National occupational standards for key mining careers must be developed and implemented. Government and the industry must work together to promote mining to youth, women, immigrants and aboriginal people. And immigration policies must be improved to facilitate the recruitment of foreign skilled workers.
On the matter of declining reserves, for the first time last year Canada became a net importer of base metal concentrates to feed our smelters and refineries. Eby said this could be the tipping point that drains away our leading global position. He pointed out that, first, the economic climate must be right and said the federal government has done fairly well in this area. Second, all levels of government have to co-ordinate their efforts and speed up the approval processes for new mine development. Most importantly, the federal government must invest in geoscience, particularly the Co-operative Geological Mapping Strategies program. (Concerning the lack of basic geoscience, one wag put it: If finding a mine is like hunting for a needle in a haystack, then finding minerals in Nunavut is even tougher because no one knows where the haystacks are.)
Over lunch at the Rideau Club John McCallum, Minister of Natural Resources, sounded as if he has gotten the message about mining’s importance. If he believes that mining is one of the new engines of economic growth, as he read in the Economist Magazine, he is on the side of our industry.
How does the Mining Association get its message across? It does so by communicating a clearly defined problem (or two) and offering workable solutions. Over the years our industry has been heard on Parliament Hill with positive results. And MAC takes the message to decision-makers year after year. With a looming federal election, there may be a new crop of ministers and MPs to re-educate next year. The work is never done.