Monday 20th November 2017

Resource Clips


At a regulatory crossroads

It’s time to fix federally induced problems, says the Mining Association of Canada

by Greg Klein

The fundamentals behind the last supercycle remain in place, insists Pierre Gratton. Yet the Mining Association of Canada president/CEO warns that the country has lost ground as a global industry leader. While the current upswing continues, the transition to a cleaner, lower-carbon future will call for even more mineable commodities. Whether Canada participates to its fullest potential, however, depends largely on policies directed by Ottawa.

Addressing a 230-strong Greater Vancouver Board of Trade audience on September 27, Gratton noted that by 2015 Canada lost its first-place spot for exploration investment. The usurper was Australia, which proved itself “much more strategic and successful over the past decade.” Meanwhile this country’s list of active projects has fallen to nearly half its 2011 peak of 2,700. Only two new projects came up for federal environmental assessment in 2016, an historic low. “We’ve got world class deposits sitting idle,” he added, citing Ontario’s Ring of Fire, Nunavut’s Izok Corridor and British Columbia’s New Prosperity.

It’s time to fix federally induced problems, says the Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton: “Hopefully we’ll get it right this time, we’ll lock
it in, we’ll know what the rules are and get down to business.”
(Photo: Matt Borck, courtesy Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.)

Yet opportunities have been improving, he maintained, and not just because of stronger commodity prices. In addition to continued growth among emerging economies, carbon-reducing measures call for new technologies that require more mining products. That’s the case for electrified transportation, wind and solar generation, and energy storage.

“The transition to a low-carbon future is not years away from now—it has already started and it’s accelerating at a rapid pace.” Unless Canada turns that to its competitive advantage, “we will lose this opportunity to other countries… It’s going to be us, Australia or someone else.”

Moreover, Canada can produce these commodities “as a leader in sustainability.” This country “already operates some of the lowest-emitting, highest-tech and most socially responsible mines in the world.” Gratton credited companies that implemented MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining program with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And altruism can be rewarding: “Our Canadian-made mining standard has caught the attention of Apple and other global companies that see it as a program robust enough to demonstrate responsible sourcing.”

But if environmental progress bodes well for Canadian mining, the policy environment remains uncertain. The 2012 regulatory reforms of the previous Conservative government lost both public and investor confidence, Gratton argued.

Ottawa now needs to put “the principle of one project/one review squarely into action. We need a federal process that no longer places an unfair and unequal burden on Canada’s mining sector alone, which has sadly been the case since 2012.”

For a couple of these pieces, like the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act, I think the mining industry is probably going to come out fine. The Environmental Assessment Act, I don’t know.

The Liberals, he said, are “committed to review and replace all of the federal reforms of the previous Harper government…. For a couple of these pieces, like the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act, I think the mining industry is probably going to come out fine. The Environmental Assessment Act, I don’t know. At this point it is still so much in flux it is hard to know exactly where this will land.”

Six years of regulatory uncertainty with the prospect of more to come contributes to “this question mark in Canada. And hopefully we’ll get it right this time, we’ll lock it in, we’ll know what the rules are and get down to business.”

Returning to climate change, Gratton noted some industry initiatives, including wind energy reducing diesel dependency at Diavik and Raglan, and the transformation of B.C.’s former Sullivan mine into a community-owned solar plant that sells electricity to the grid. Goldcorp’s (TSX:G) Borden project, anticipated for 2019 production, would be Canada’s first all-electric underground mine.

Not only would the battery-powered fleet cut emissions, it “will significantly reduce ventilation costs,” Gratton stated.

“But we need to do more to spur innovation.” MAC proposes government support for innovation superclusters, a possible “catalyst to achieve transformative outcomes for our industry and help re-establish Canada as a global leader for mining innovation.”

Northern infrastructure, bringing both roads and electricity to isolated areas, again complements both the industry and the environment. Gratton pointed to the Northwest Territories’ planned $150-million all-season road to the Tlicho community, and the federal/Yukon $360-million road that would access the Coffee and Casino projects, two potential mines that would “contribute billions in new investment … and thousands of direct and indirect jobs.”

With federal funding available for green infrastructure, here’s an opportunity to take more communities off diesel, fully open up B.C.’s Golden Triangle and deliver to Yukon and the projects up there reliable, clean energy.

Referring to the 344-kilometre extension of B.C.’s Northwest Transmission Line in 2014, Gratton said: “I’ve a pitch for you today. Why not finish the job and take that line all the way to the Yukon? With federal funding available for green infrastructure, here’s an opportunity to take more communities off diesel, fully open up B.C.’s Golden Triangle and deliver to Yukon and the projects up there reliable, clean energy.”

Undiscouraged by the rugged 800-kilometre gap between the provincial and territorial grids, he added, “I was meeting recently with Yukon officials and they’re very interested in this. I remember also that Premier Horgan, when he was Energy and Mines critic, was a big champion of this project too. So here’s a nation-building project that maybe he can get behind.”

“I could talk about many other things as well, but the key takeaway is that we need to reposition Canada and enhance our competiveness going forward. And it’s critical because other countries are doing the same.”

But in response to an audience question about native consent, was he optimistic or euphemistic? “We’re not in a world of veto,” Gratton insisted. “We’re in a world of deep and meaningful engagement.”

Speaking with ResourceClips.com, he said MAC’s supercluster proposal could create regional centres for excellence focusing on mining and exploration in Sudbury and Vancouver, processing in Quebec City and oil sands in Edmonton.

There are some issues where we’ve made real progress with this new government that we hadn’t been able to make under the previous government.

Although it’s too early to evaluate the Liberals’ performance, the former Chretien-era government communications guy did say, “There are some issues where we’ve made real progress with this new government that we hadn’t been able to make under the previous government.”

Environmental permitting delays, he pointed out, “have been horrendous. At times it takes five years after an environmental assessment before you get your permit. The previous government announced a policy that would shorten that to eight months but didn’t do anything to implement it. This government has actually put in place the tools to make it happen. So we are seeing those timelines shrink.”

Additionally Ottawa now consults with MAC much more than did the previous government. The Conservatives’ lack of dialogue, he stated, “could be why they got things wrong.”


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