A new commitment to the mining industry
CMJ: Mr. Hamad, you were appointed to this position this past April. How has your previous career experience prepared you for your responsibility as Minister of Natural Resources?
Hamad: The Ministry of Natural Resources is a very technical ministry, with responsibilities in mining, energy, forestry and wildlife. I am a civil engineer and I have an MBA in project management. In addition, I was very involved in business before entering politics. (Hamad was principal vice-president of a consulting engineering firm with 850 employees.) Previously, I was president of the Chamber of Commerce for Qubec City and vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce for the province.
As an engineer, I have a broad understanding of the scientific issues which affect the sectors of the ministry. My involvement with the two Chambers of Commerce has given me an understanding of the issues and problems that the province must overcome.
CMJ: What role do you think the Ministry of Natural Resources should play in promoting and assisting the mining industry in Qubec?
Hamad: I strongly believe the role of the government is to help provide a stable business environment that will enable the development of financially strong and stable companies and create additional jobs.
We are trying to create a ministry that serves the resource-based businesses that operate in our province. This includes providing information necessary to develop new projects or business, which will allow them to grow. We are different in that we are not interventionists. We wish to encourage entrepreneurship and we do not want to tell industry what to do. Instead, we will work with you as partners and assist you where we can.
CMJ: How is the government supporting the mining industry?
Hamad: We have many programs that support the industry and we are modernizing to become an e-government. A key element is GESTIM, which is one of the best mining claim management systems in the world. It helps exploration companies to work better. It’s very interesting because if you want to stake a claim and you are in Singapore you can do it simply through the Internet.
We have a lot of geological information in our department and we have developed a geoscientific database system (SIGEOM) to help exploration companies in their search. We are always trying to improve the system and make more information available. This is important because information is power, and the more information made available the better companies can perform their job.
We are also receiving input from mining and exploration companies so that we may develop a better business environment. Our mining law is very old and dates from the 1880s, and we are reviewing it.
CMJ: Where might there be room for improvement?
Hamad: As you know, Qubec has a strong mining industry. We are the world’s second largest producer of titanium, niobium and magnesium and the fourth largest aluminum producer. We are ranked in the world’s top 16 producers of zinc, iron, nickel, copper and gold. The value of shipped metals is $18 billion and our mining industry has capital expenditures of $450 million annually. It is important, however, to work with industry to maintain our position. We have to support the industry in its development of new mines, and to help facilitate exploration projects. By providing geoscientific support and proper legal and business conditions, we can do this. It is very important.
Our relationship with aboriginal communities, in particular the Cree and Inuit groups, is very important for future development in the mining industry as well. Recently Premier Jean Charest signed a very important agreement with all the aboriginal communities to set up a round table that will help to provide a framework for negotiations.
An underlying concept within this agreement is “Paix des Braves”, or Brave Peace, which contemplates a partnership between aboriginal communities and the government. We recognize with Brave Peace that there should be a payback to provide funds to the aboriginal communities to improve health care and further develop their societies. We also see the need for companies to explore in new frontiers.
This round table helps both the mining industry and aboriginal communities by better defining each group’s roles and responsibilities. By doing so, we hope to encourage investment, new exploration and development.
CMJ: How have recently announced budget cuts by the province affected the Ministry of Natural Resources?
Hamad: It’s a good news-bad news situation. We have had cuts of about $20 million on a budget of about $560 million. Some of this amount overlaps with other ministries. Most of the cuts have been to ministry employees and their expenditures; a small amount of this was related to transfer costs, which will affect the industry. These cuts were necessary because the times are difficult. We feel by cutting costs, we are laying a strong foundation for growth in the sector which, we hope, will occur in the near future
CMJ: Last year, the province announced the creation of 11 new territorial reserves and six new parks totalling 32,000 square kilometres. How does the Ministry of Natural Resources balance the need for new mine development with the creation of protected areas?
Hamad: Firstly, let me state that we must create reserves and parks to protect the environment for future generations. With this announcement we have increased our protected area in the province from 2.9 to 4.8% and we would like to set aside approximately 8% of its surface area by 2005 for this purpose. Mining on the other hand, which includes exploration and operations, covers approximately 5% of the province’s surface area.
We think it is important to strike an appropriate balance between mining activities and park creation. We see no contradiction in what we are planning and there have been no conflicts between these two types of land uses. An important fact remains that once land rights have been assigned they cannot be changed, so mining claims will not be changed to create more parks.
CMJ: Any other comments?
Hamad: The message I would like the industry to understand is that I am going to work very closely with you; I have a business background and I know your concerns. It is important that we should work together to develop a business plan that will provide growth for the mining industry in Qubec.