Business mixes with community engagement at AME BC’s Mineral Exploration Roundup
by Greg Klein
The New Year barely gets started before miners and explorers converge on Vancouver. The attractions are events for investors and industry—first the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference from January 24 to 25 and, located next door and overlapping in dates, Mineral Exploration Roundup from January 25 to 28. Although the latter constitutes one of the industry’s largest trade shows, the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia event also serves as a forum for ideas, discussion and debate.
Such is the world of exploration that essential knowledge now goes far beyond geological excellence. Human resources, aboriginal relations, environmental issues, workplace safety, corporate social responsibility and land access will come under scrutiny. As usual, the event features the Core Shack and Prospectors’ Tent along with courses, technical sessions, showcase events, keynote speeches, community dialogue and awards. That’s not to mention the usual deal-making, networking, gossiping, rumour-mongering, schmoozing and boozing.
Over 300 exhibitors and an estimated 6,600 attendees from maybe 36 countries are expected.
Their goal, ultimately, is to provide commodities crucial to our way of life. Although AME BC members search the world for these necessities, the province’s geological abundance makes many of them available at home. Yet extracting them has left a surprisingly tiny footprint. Since the industry began here in the 1850s, mining has impacted only about 0.05% of B.C.’s 95 million hectares. Over 40% of that turf is now under reclamation.
Those are among the details in a land use report released by AME BC on January 20. Anticipating dialogue with B.C.’s mines minister and other government reps at Roundup, the group argues that a “shrinking” land base effectively closes over half of B.C.’s territory to mineral exploration. While government policy implies that 88% of the province’s land remains open to the sector, the study finds over 18% is off limits entirely and another 32.9% has restricted access.
What’s at stake is the well-being of an industry that supports 30,000 B.C. jobs and spent $2 billion since 2010 on exploration, says Scott Weston, chairperson of AME BC’s Land Access and Use Committee. “Any time a dollar is invested in our economy, that has a spinoff for society, helping fund hospitals, schools, roads, all the things we need,” he adds.
“What we are seeing now is subtle restrictions applied to the land base that are cumulatively impacting the ability of mineral explorers to get on the land.” They can include old growth management plans, wildlife management restrictions, hunting restrictions or local rules by other levels of government. In some cases it means “you’re not allowed to explore for minerals except in the dead of winter, when it’s not possible to do mineral exploration.”
What the conference really does is create a forum for dialogue on issues facing mineral exploration and development, largely in British Columbia but increasingly across Canada and around the world.—Scott Weston, chairperson of AME BC’s Land Access
and Use Committee
The group calls on the province to consider the hidden economic potential of a region’s geology in land use planning, conduct risk assessments and socio-economic evaluations on the loss of potential economic activity, and streamline or clarify contradictory land use plans and designations.
The report notes that most of B.C.’s resource development takes place where aboriginal rights and title haven’t been settled. To Weston, that’s not so much a problem as an opportunity.
A geomorphologist whose career has spanned forestry, hydro, mining and exploration, he says, “Explorers don’t normally have revenue but what they can offer people is capacity-building, training, employment, community-building infrastructure…. There’s lots of stories of win-win benefits for explorers and the people in the areas they’re working in. It takes time and a positive attitude to find out how to make this a positive opportunity for everybody. I think business in British Columbia has changed its view and First Nations have too, and I’m seeing a very positive entrepreneurial spirit now.”
Community discussion holds an important role at Roundup, Weston emphasizes. “What the conference really does is create a forum for dialogue on issues facing mineral exploration and development, largely in British Columbia but increasingly across Canada and around the world.”
To that end, Roundup’s Gathering Place devotes two full days to aboriginal engagement. As VP of technical and government affairs for AME BC, Glen Wonders says, “We have myriad speakers, both First Nations and industrial leaders who will detail what their interests are, how they have achieved success, their future goals. So it’s a very good venue for putting across ideas and hearing different perspectives.” As last year’s event showed, attendees get plenty of opportunity to speak up. Some, natives anyway, did so with candour.
Among the biggest challenges in consultation is the number of native bands, something like 220 in B.C. “They can have similar interests but also specific needs from a particular project,” says Wonders. “You have to take your time and build a relationship to understand their perspective on any particular opportunity. Companies are now engaging early and often to ensure First Nations are involved in projects in a meaningful way.”
We have myriad speakers, both First Nations and industrial leaders who will detail what their interests are, how they have achieved success, their future goals. So it’s a very good venue for putting across ideas and hearing different perspectives.—Glen Wonders, VP of technical and government affairs
for AME BC
Having taken part in native consultation for Mount Milligan, Wonders credits the B.C. government for negotiating aboriginal economic development agreements and supporting training programs.
As for the feds, they’re considering a request from a coalition of B.C. bands to provide loan guarantees for native investment in resource stocks, according to a January 19 Vancouver Sun report. Wonders likes the idea “not only from the standpoint that they’re directly involved in the development and operation of a resource opportunity but also from the standpoint that they’ll have a long-lasting stake that’s going to be of value to them.”
Even with commodities markets down in the dumps, Wonders expresses the optimism that prevails at Roundup. “The B.C. advantages are still there with great minerology and great people who can develop those resources. We’re extremely well-positioned to capture the expansion in markets when they do come back.”
Preceded by a weekend of short courses, AME BC’s Mineral Exploration Roundup takes place January 25 to 28 at the Vancouver Convention Centre East. Click here for more info and registration. This year Roundup overlaps the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference next door at the Vancouver Convention Centre West on January 24 and 25.