Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared to hit the right balance between environmental protection and mine development in the speech he delivered on April 14, 2012, at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
He highlighted the importance of Canada natural resource industries saying, “Mining alone is an important part of that, mining alone contributed $50 billion to GDP in 2011. We are already the world’s number-one potash producer, second for uranium, and a major global producer of most mineral and energy products.
“The mining industry in Canada is capital-intensive, high-tech and knowledge-based, and it produces well-paying jobs for more than 300,000 Canadians. constitutes more than a fifth of our exports and it has close to $200 billion dollars in assets throughout the world. As well, some 60% of the world’s exploration and mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
“In other words, in Canada, we know this industry very well.”
Hearing the PM say what the mineral industry knows but the general public doesn’t was a treat. But that was not all.
“Our government understands that low, predictable taxes encourage business to do business. It is as simple as that,” he continued. “So our government is into its seventh year of comprehensive tax reduction, our federal business tax rate is now down to 15% and we now have the lowest over-all tax rate on new business investment in the G7.”
Better yet, Harper voiced his commitment to end duplication between departments and overlapping federal, provincial and territorial reviews of new mining projects, saying, “One project, one review.”
He continued, “Let nobody doubt for a moment that responsible resource development and environmental protection remain core Canadian principles. Indeed, principles which have led Canada to develop some of the most effective environmental regulations and most transparent monitoring programs in the world. And we expect that these principles will be respected, not just in Canada, but wherever Canadian mining companies and miners work around the world.
“We cannot allow valid concerns about environmental protection to be used as an excuse to trap worthwhile projects in reviews-without-end. So, let me be clear, when it comes to evaluating development plans, one should not confuse the length of the process with the rigour of the science. What matters is that all relevant facts are fully considered, that need not take years,” he went on.
“Therefore, as our government is establishing new procedures, a single window for major project reviews, we are also determined that these reviews shall be completed within clearly established time frames. Twelve months maximum for environmental assessments and 24 four months for full panel reviews,” he concluded.
Hear! Hear! As Parliamentarians are wont to say. Such clear and positive support for the resource sector from a sitting government is rarely heard.
The federal government’s plan for Responsible Resource Development was announced three days later by the Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Joe Oliver, has drawn the praise of professional associations and mining companies both.
"We support the government's plans to provide a more coherent and co-ordinated approach to environmental assessments for major mining projects," said Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada. "With $140 billion in potential new mining investment over the next five years, the efficiency and clarity that will result from these reforms will allow Canada to better compete internationally for investment and take advantage of growing emerging market demand for commodities."
The plan also includes measures to ensure that Aboriginal groups are fully engaged in the environmental assessment and regulatory permitting processes.
Ross Gallinger, executive director of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada had this to add: "We look forward to hearing more about the series of measures aimed at enhancing consultations with Aboriginals, such as better integrating Aboriginal consultations into the review process and clarifying expectations and levels of consultation for project reviews."
"By taking action to improve the regulatory review system for significant economic projects in Canada, the Harper government is sending a clear signal to Canadians that they are focused on creating jobs and strengthening our economy," said Robert Gannicott, chairman and CEO of Harry Winston Diamond Corp. (40% owner of the Diavik diamond mine). He continued, "The process that Minister Oliver outlined yesterday strikes the right balance between the need for transparent and effective environmental protection, and one which allows worthy projects to move forward quickly, creating new, better jobs for Canadian workers."
As a Canadian worker who earns a living (peripherally) from the mining industry, I could not have said it better.