Two Steps Forward, One Back
Whitehorse, Yukon, was the site of the late-August conference of Canadian energy and mines ministers. The meeting brought together ministers from the provincial, territorial and federal governments. This forum is an opportunity to propose co-operative change, but one might wonder if the ministers have taken two steps forward and one back this year.
First, the ministers took a predictable step forward, calling for a renewed mining action plan for this country.
Second, they released the Mining Information Kit for Aboriginal Communities. This describes the mining cycle and identifies opportunities available to aboriginal people… another step forward.
And then comes a step backward. Gordon Peeling, Mining Association of Canada (MAC) president and CEO, made a strong call for government support of the industry. The looming crisis, he said, was due to three issues: declining reserves, human resource constraints and regulatory inefficiencies.
“Solutions [to the reserve shortage] are clear: a combination of new geoscience and exploration investment. Yet, three successive federal budgets and two governments later, the co-operative geological mapping strategy remains unfunded,” he said. To address regulatory problems, the MAC wants the federal government to establish a co-ordination office to monitor progress, resolve bottlenecks, and act as an ombudsman for mining project proponents. And finally Peeling called on government support to address the human resources shortage facing the industry. That is the step backward–asking that governments help solve the industry’s problems.
Yes, governments do set the regulatory and environmental parameters, but the situation is far from as dire as the MAC outlines. CMJ has chronicled continuous improvement in the process in many provinces, particularly British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut. Let us encourage further improvement, not layer on another government agency.
Yes, governments should do their share to map the geology and surface deposits of the country through maintaining strong geological surveys. But finding new reserves is the job of mining companies, which should invest in and maintain strong, successful exploration departments, not rely on juniors.
The blame for the shortage of trained and experienced workers rests with our industry.
A company that cuts its exploration department when it is making less money won’t have the experienced geologists to find future reserves. Worse, the pool of students willing to study geology will dry up.
A company that will pay anything for tradesmen and engineers when commodity prices are high and then cuts employee numbers to the bone when prices drop will lose its skilled workers. They will travel to other industries.
A company that makes tremendous profits from high commodity prices and then spends that money in takeover attempts has no reason to go crying to government for help later on. A well-managed company would have put its profits into training and technology to create an enterprise that can weather low prices, which will inevitably happen.
Miners needs government to give us good maps and data, consistent rules, fiscal incentives and less bureaucracy. These will all help the industry solve its own problems in a manner that benefits all Canadians.