TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – In the face of an increasingly competitive global environment, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) on Thursday called on all stakeholders in the country’s mining sector to act to ensure that Canada maintained its position as a global mining leader.
In a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, MAC president and CEO Pierre Gratton provided an overview of the past decade of mining development in Canada.
"Canada benefitted tremendously from the past decade of rising commodity prices, seeing a 25% increase in the number of new mines, increased employment and rising government revenues. The opportunity is there for Canada to continue to responsibly develop its mining industry and the jobs, business development and community investments that go along with it.
“Governments and individuals all play a part in deciding whether we seize those opportunities, or let other countries take the leadership position instead,” Gratton said.
In his address, he pointed to a few indicators to demonstrate how mining had contributed to Canada's prosperity over the past decade, but also some signs of lost ground.
Last year, after an eight-year period as the top jurisdiction for global exploration spending, Canada fell to the second spot behind Australia. Similarly, in the Fraser Institute's latest yearly survey, traditionally top Canadian jurisdictions lost their footings. For example, Quebec, which held first place from 2007 to 2009, fell to the twenty-first spot in 2013. In terms of mineral output, Canada had also declined from being a top-five producer of 14 major minerals and metals in 2007 to just tenth today.
To explain these declines, Gratton noted that Canada's mining sector operated in a much more competitive global environment. Some basic business fundamentals made the country an expensive place to build new mines.
This included rising energy and operating costs, skills shortages, a lack of critical infrastructure to build new mines in increasingly remote and northern regions, high transportation costs to get goods to market and complex and lengthy regulatory processes.
Gratton also dismissed recent commentary that Canada risked losing its strength as a resource-rich country, owing to new demands that industry had to earn ‘social licence’ or due to recent rulings on Aboriginal title and rights.
"If you look at our record, with over 260 agreements with Aboriginal communities concluded across the country, very few mining projects have failed owing to a lack of community support. While a business risk, I don't believe social licence is a significant obstacle to new mine development in Canada, because, overall, our practices have kept pace with, or exceeded, new expectations,” he stated.
Gratton also addressed the serious tailings breach at Mount Polley and the efforts the industry had to undertake to reassure Canadians and British Columbians, in particular, about its commitment to safety and environmental protection.
Noting that over 200 mines across Canada operated safely every day, Gratton acknowledged that a failure of this sort was unacceptable.
"The Canadian mining industry – and the MAC and, particularly, its members – have spent the better part of the past two decades working to improve practices in this area so that tailings failures never occur. While we do not know yet what caused the breach, the MAC and its members are determined to learn from this event. We expect effective regulation and oversight in concert with robust design, operation and maintenance practices," Gratton commented.