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According to AME BC stats, the province’s mineral exploration and mining sector employs 28,000 people and also provides several thousand spinoff jobs. Last year $463 million was spent on exploration, up from $322 million in 2010 and $154 million in 2009.
“Last year’s $463 million was a record,” says Dirom. “We may not hit that mark this year but we’ll be fairly close. Maybe $400 million isn’t out of the question, so that would be a near record. If you can keep that kind of investment in the province, it bodes very well for the future.”
While the legendary Vancouver Stock Exchange has often been associated with Howe Street chicanery, Dirom points out that many stock promoters supported enterprise while profiting investors. “Look at Murray Pezim. He was able to deliver. Hemlo, one of the greatest gold finds ever, was attributable to his tenacity to raise money in the market and continue to explore, drill and define a resource.”
As for the future, it does present challenges. AME BC has identified its top seven issues as aboriginal relations and consultation, taxation and economic incentives, geoscience, human resources, infrastructure, land access and use, and permitting.
“I have the utmost confidence that we’ll be able to work through these various issues because we’re the type of people who solve problems,” Dirom says. “We draw on the strength of where we’re coming from. Success doesn’t come overnight. Explorers, prospectors and miners have a number of common traits. They’re very optimistic people but they’re also very patient.”
But politically, aren’t these bad times for the industry? Last October B.C.’s supposedly pro-mining party denied an environmental assessment certificate for Pacific Booker’s TSXV:BKM proposed Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum mine, giving reasons that hardly seemed environmental. At the federal level two years ago, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Authority found largely non-environmental reasons to reject Taseko Mines’ TSX:TKO Prosperity gold-copper proposal.
Every day, crowds of investors and speculators crowded brokers’ offices to hear the latest reports and to learn the latest quotations on Le Roi, Josie, Ironmask and War Eagle at Rossland; on North Star and Sullivan in East Kootenay; on Payne and Slocan Star in the Slocan; on Granby at Phoenix; and on Nickel Plate near Hedley. Great things were expected both from Bridge River in the Cascade Mountains where lode gold had been discovered, and from Britannia Beach, the scene of a copper find. But the most exciting news of all came from the North, where, according to rumour, gold to equal the fabulous wealth of Cariboo had been found in frozen gravel in the Klondike and Atlin districts.—Margaret Ormsby on late 19th century investment fever, from British Columbia: A History
“There’s always challenges, politically speaking,” Dirom concedes. “There’s always project-specific challenges. Overall I haven’t met any politician who’s fundamentally opposed to prospecting, exploration and mining in B.C. That hasn’t always been the case. But I can tell you these days there’s strong support for the sector.”
But the sector has to broaden its exploration base, Dirom says. “New discoveries call for grassroots exploration as much if not more than the brownfield sites.”
One top-seven challenge Dirom emphasizes is “the demographic shift.” A generation with expertise is nearing retirement while a new generation is entering the industry. There are relatively few people in between. “It’s starting to happen now and over the next 10 years it’ll be more prominent,” he says. But again, the sector draws on its past. “There’s a lot of mentoring now, with those who’ve been in the industry giving back.”
Dirom’s looking forward to meeting old-timers and newcomers alike at AME BC’s hundredth-birthday bash, a gala (and sold-out) event at Vancouver’s Hyatt Regency on November 27. “We’re really excited about it. We’re expecting over 500 folks and it’ll be quite a diverse group, which is representative of the organization today.”
The event’s theme will be “recognizing and honouring the past, and learning from the past as well. There were some very innovative things done by some very bold people, so we need to honour and respect that. We need to recognize that these people contributed to a sector that’s fundamental to our way of life,” he says.
“So it’s about the spirit of these individuals and their unrelenting, passionate ways. Then we have to ask how we move forward. We’ve got a great foundation—how do we turn that into a fantastic next hundred years?”
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