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Mining supporters and critics speak out as government ministers meet in New Brunswick

by Greg Klein | August 14, 2017

This is the week that the country’s mining ministers convene with their counterparts from all Canadian jurisdictions. Taking place this year in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, the Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference will “discuss shared priorities for collaborative action to advance energy and mining development across the country.” Participants will also hear from the industry and its critics, with the latter highlighting NB’s proposed Sisson tungsten-molybdenum open pit mine.

The Canadian Mineral Industry Federation proposed reforms in six key areas that would expand the industry’s “vast socio-economic contributions to Canadians.” Not surprisingly, regulatory streamlining topped the list. The group called for an “effective, timely and co-ordinated regulatory process, from pre-environmental assessment to post-EA permitting.”

Mining supporters and critics make voices heard as government ministers meet in New Brunswick

Workers at the Sisson project, one of the world’s largest
undeveloped tungsten deposits and now site of a protest camp.

Proportionately Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives, the industry called on governments to enhance indigenous participation through “investments in health, education and skills training, and by implementing government resource revenue-sharing mechanisms.”

Looking at climate change, the CMIF warned that poorly crafted regulations could push mining “to competitor countries with less stringent climate change policies.” The group also called on governments to acknowledge the challenges of working in remote regions dependent on diesel fuel.

On a related topic, the CMIF encouraged governments to provide isolated regions with better infrastructure to “benefit both industry and local and indigenous communities.”

Concern about a shrinking land base prompted the CMIF to recommend that “mineral potential is factored into all land withdrawal decision-making processes.”

The group also called for government and industry to collaborate on a Clean Resources Innovation Supercluster, which would concentrate industry, R&D and associated small and medium-sized enterprises in one area to attract investment and develop synergies.

A coalition of native and advocacy groups, however, challenged the conference to make good on this year’s theme of Clean Growth.

“We’re not against ‘clean growth’ or ‘clean energy’ but these must not be empty words,” said Jacinda Mack, co-ordinator of First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining and a community member affected by British Columbia’s 2014 Mount Polley tailings dam collapse. “We’re here to alert the public and our governments that there are still serious problems with the way mining is done in this country, and that there can’t be any clean growth or clean energy without first having clean mining.”

The coalition also emphasized its opposition to the proposed Sisson open pit mine, about 330 kilometres by road from the conference location. A partnership of Northcliff Resources TSX:NCF and a subsidiary of family-owned Todd Corp, the plan received federal environmental approval in June. Proponents describe Sisson as one of the world’s largest undeveloped tungsten deposits, with an estimated 27-year lifespan.

But a newly released report charges that the project’s “mining waste facility design is business-as-usual, using the same facility design and water cover approach used at the failed Mount Polley mine.”

Members of the Maliseet First Nations have occupied a protest camp at Sisson since early July. In February, chiefs of the six Maliseet nations signed a multi-million-dollar revenue-sharing deal with the province, CBC reported. But five of the chiefs later “denounced” the agreement, the network stated.

The coalition estimates liability for contaminated mine sites across Canada to surpass $10 billion, a figure that “can easily triple or quadruple once the true costs for site cleanup and risks from spills and failures are considered.”

Two newly elected governments join the conference this year. In November the Yukon Liberals returned to power after a 14-year hiatus. Last month B.C.’s NDP was sworn in as the province’s new government after gaining support from the three-MLA Green Party to vote down the minority BC Liberals’ Throne Speech.

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