Thursday 9th April 2020

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Policy or geology?

What’s behind Canada’s plunging reputation among miners?

by Greg Klein

If you think that’s bad news, be glad the poll ended when it did. The Fraser Institute Survey of Mining Companies 2019 imposed a November 8 deadline on respondents. Shut Down Canada didn’t really gain momentum until a bit later.

Even so, for the first time in a decade no Canadian jurisdiction made the top 10 for the survey’s main list, the Investment Attractiveness Index (IAI). Media coverage played up the role of provincial and territorial governments in jeopardizing what was—until recently and at least by Canadians—generally considered the world’s pre-eminent mining country. In doing so, reporters followed the institute’s commentary which, in keeping with its advocacy purpose, emphasized politicians’ ability to help or hinder the industry. But a closer look suggests miners and explorers gave other concerns higher priority.

What’s behind Canada’s plunging reputation among miners?

(Image: Fraser Institute)

The survey bases the IAI on two other indices, Policy Perception and Mineral Potential. The first is determined by company responses to government actions or in-actions affecting the industry. The second (assuming an un-interfering nirvana of “best practices” by those governments) considers companies’ appraisals of geology. The survey provides separate ratings for policy and geology, but also weighs them 40% and 60% respectively to compile the IAI. The 40/60 split reflects institute intel about how companies make investment decisions.

Despite Canada’s disappearance from the IAI top 10, three provinces rated highly for Policy Perception. Alberta, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan rated sixth, eighth and ninth in the world respectively. Five Canadian jurisdictions showed Policy Perception improvements over the previous year. Moreover, the most dramatic declines from 2018 appeared in the Mineral Potential index.

“We know there’s not a lot that policy-makers can do about the geology in particular areas,” says Fraser Institute senior policy analyst Ashley Stedman. “But when we see declines on the policy index, that’s something policy-makers should be paying attention to.

“In particular we saw significant declines in Saskatchewan, which dropped from third the previous year to 11th, and that was largely the result of concerns about policy factors including taxation, regulatory duplication and inconsistencies, and trade barriers. And in Quebec we saw a decline from fourth to 18th, with uncertainties about environmental regulations and about the administration or enforcement of existing regulations. We can see from both these jurisdictions and a number of other Canadian jurisdictions that regulatory issues are escalating and this should be a serious concern for policy-makers.”

What’s behind Canada’s plunging reputation among miners?

But while Saskatchewan’s Policy Perception rating fell from first place to ninth, the province’s Mineral Potential rank fell farther, from seventh to 21st. Quebec dropped from 10th to 21st in Policy Perception but plummeted from sixth to 25th in Mineral Potential.

Other dramatic Mineral Potential declines included Manitoba (from 11th to 26th), New Brunswick (49th to 72nd), Newfoundland (18th to 50th), the NWT (fourth to 29th), Nunavut (fifth to 16th) and Yukon (10th to 22nd).

Four provinces—Alberta, B.C., Nova Scotia and Ontario—did show improvements. Still, the question remains: What the hell happened to Canadian geology?

Some causes might be resource depletion, recalcitrant commodity prices or (talk to enough CEOs and this seems very possible indeed) confusion about how to answer survey questions.

Stedman suggests another likelihood. Discoveries in some jurisdictions might dampen enthusiasm for others. “We do have to keep in mind that this is a relative ranking, so if other places are seen as more attractive, that can have an impact on other jurisdictions as well.”

Although policy factors affect just 40% of a jurisdiction’s IAI ranking, “our write-up focuses on the policy rankings as an area that policy-makers can pay attention to,” Stedman explains. In some cases governments do respond to the survey’s findings. “Reporters will often ask policy-makers to comment on the rankings.”

As for other countries, “we do get quite a bit of interest globally for this survey and we’ve seen a lot of countries and jurisdictions ask us questions about the rankings. There’s quite a lot of interest in this publication in particular.”

Confidentiality, however, prevents her from divulging how many respondents are based in Canada.

The survey provides “a policy report card for governments on areas that require improvement and areas where certain jurisdictions are performing well,” she adds.

In general we see that investment dollars will flow to jurisdictions with attractive polices, and governments need to focus on adopting competitive policies to attract valuable investment dollars that will ultimately create jobs.—Ashley Stedman,
senior policy analyst
for the Fraser Institute

With geology beyond the reach of government power, policy improvement would be Canada’s only means of re-entering the IAI’s global top 10. “In general we see that investment dollars will flow to jurisdictions with attractive polices, and governments need to focus on adopting competitive policies to attract valuable investment dollars that will ultimately create jobs.”

Whether the pre-PDAC week timing will cast a pall on the Canadian industry’s biggest annual bash remains to be seen. COVID-19 has cast a bigger pall on travel while, at time of writing, there seems nothing to stop Shut Down Canada from turning its attention to airports, hotels and convention centres.

The following charts show the global IAI top 10, Canada’s IAI top 10, Canada’s top 10 for Policy Perception and Mineral Potential, and—consoling for its lack of Canadian content—the global bottom 10.

With fewer responses this time, the 2019 survey covers 76 jurisdictions compared with 83 the previous year. Here are the global IAI rankings for 2019, with 2018 spots in parentheses.

  • 1 Western Australia (5)

  • 2 Finland (17)

  • 3 Nevada (1)

  • 4 Alaska (5)

  • 5 Portugal (46)

  • 6 South Australia (8)

  • 7 Irish Republic (19)

  • 8 Idaho (16)

  • 9 Arizona (8)

  • 10 Sweden (21)

All Canadian jurisdictions except Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia fell in the IAI. Here’s the list for Canada, with global numbers provided for 2019 and 2018:

  • 11 Saskatchewan (3)

  • 16 Ontario (20)

  • 18 Quebec (4)

  • 19 British Columbia (18)

  • 23 Yukon (9)

  • 26 Nunavut (15)

  • 28 Newfoundland and Labrador (11)

  • 30 Alberta (51)

  • 34 Manitoba (12)

  • 35 Northwest Territories (10)

  • 52 Nova Scotia (57)

  • 60 New Brunswick (30)

Here’s Canada’s Policy Perception ratings. Alberta, Newfoundland, Ontario, B.C. and Nunavut improved their standings.

  • 6 Alberta (14)

  • 8 Newfoundland and Labrador (18)

  • 9 Saskatchewan (11)

  • 13 New Brunswick (9)

  • 18 Nova Scotia (11)

  • 21 Quebec (10)

  • 24 Ontario (30)

  • 32 Yukon (24)

  • 36 British Columbia (44)

  • 44 Nunavut (45)

  • 50 Northwest Territories (42)

  • 53 Manitoba (33)

Mineral Potential showed Canada’s most dramatic downfalls, although Alberta, B.C., Nova Scotia and Ontario managed to move upwards.

  • 10 British Columbia (13)

  • 16 Nunavut (5)

  • 18 Ontario (20)

  • 21 Saskatchewan (7)

  • 22 Yukon (10)

  • 25 Quebec (6)

  • 26 Manitoba (11)

  • 29 Northwest Territories (4)

  • 50 Newfoundland and Labrador (18)

  • 54 Alberta (74)

  • 61 Nova Scotia (79)

  • 72 New Brunswick (49)

And finally the global IAI bottom 10:

  • 67 Nicaragua (81)

  • 68 Mali (50)

  • 69 Democratic Republic of Congo (67)

  • 70 Venezuela (83)

  • 71 Zambia (45)

  • 72 Dominican Republic (76)

  • 73 Guatemala (80)

  • 74 La Rioja province, Argentina (75)

  • 75 Chubut province, Argentina (69)

  • 76 Tanzania (66)

Download the Fraser Institute Survey of Mining Companies 2019.

Read about last year’s survey.


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