Last week editor Jane Werniuk and I (Marilyn Scales) expounded on the mines ministers’ conference in Whitehorse, Yukon. Responses from readers ranged from the “Well done” to a reasoned response from the VP of sustainable development and public affairs at the MINING ASSOCIATION OF CANADA. Pierre Gratton of MAC wrote:
“I read with interest your story on the Mines Ministers meeting. I am concerned, however, that you have not fully understood our industry’s messages to government. Let me clarify a few points.
“First, we are not asking government to find new deposits. That would be absurd. However, we are deeply concerned by the fact that our geoscience investment has declined significantly over the past decade and a half. In Nunavut, over 70% of the territory is unmapped. Because geoscience is one of the fundamental building blocks of a mineral economy and one of the main ways in which countries attract exploration, we have pressed governments to renew such investment. A federal-provincial and territorial geoscience strategy (CGMS) was developed four years ago but has not been implemented due to lack of federal government funding. At $25 million per year, we believe this is a modest investment that will make our industry’s job – finding new deposits – much more targeted and therefore effective.
“Second, on regulatory processes, our brief acknowledges that improvements have been made at the provincial level. But the federal government’s process is broken. It is unco-ordinated, under-resourced and woefully complex. Mining is not alone in its views on this. The multi-stakeholder regulatory advisory committee to the Minister of the Environment, which includes NGOs and Aboriginal groups, feels the same way, as do many other key sectors of the Canadian economy – oil and gas, pipelines, etc. The proposal for an “office” is not to add another layer of bureaucracy – God forbid – it is to create an organization within the federal government that would have overall responsibility for overseeing and managing the project review process – something that does not exist currently. This is a complex issue and one which we could spend more time on, if you are interested.
“And third, regarding human resources, our industry does admit that we have partly ourselves to blame for our current circumstances. But we’re also dealing with realities facing all sectors of the economy – the retirement of the baby boom generation and an overall labour shortage. Our message to government is quite simple: Let’s work together to address this through a range of strategies, because we all have an interest in ensuring that our industry remains an important economic engine of this country. You may have heard the example in Australia of a mine that has not opened because it could not find enough people to run it. The labour crisis is global and so is the competition for labour. It’s in our country’s interest that we work on this.
“I hope these remarks help clarify what we communicated to Mines Ministers in Whitehorse.”
The president of a junior company, who did not want his name published, weighed in asking that his comments be examined, ” and, if found valid, presented as food for further thought.”
He wrote: “Your article hits the nail on the head. Major companies have slaughtered their exploration departments every time commodity prices and financial results are down, while they should know best that exploration should happen during the down-cycle in order to be in production during the up-cycle. There has been no transfer of experience from senior staff to young professionals in the industry of the major companies during the last 15 years or so. The young graduates have been relegated to being mercenary contractors during the low-price cycle with their employment terminated as soon as the drills stopped turning. As a result there has been an overabundance of white hair or no hair at mining conferences with a lessening amount of young faces in the audiences.
“However, the even more sticky wicket is the untouchable question of native land claims and First Nations becoming an unknown level of quasi-government, throwing tenure of mineral rights into doubt and placing project proponents between the grindstones of government and First Nations. It may not be politically correct or prudent to say so, but it is one of the major reasons why hundreds of millions in exploration dollars have gone elsewhere but into Canada during the last 10 to 15 years or more, in spite of all the tax incentives. Diamonds and recently coal may be the exception.”