Monday 19th October 2020

Resource Clips


A resource-less approach

Attacks persist, but Canada has nothing to replace the economy it denigrates

by Greg Klein | August 21, 2020

“Very disheartened,” the Mining Association of Canada expressed more than usual frustration as another resource project faced another unexpected setback. This one caused special pain since it resulted from Bill C-69, which the industry group had controversially supported. MAC did so thinking the bill would fix problems associated with the federal environmental act of 2012. But the association had also supported Ottawa back then, before becoming disillusioned with the legislation’s implementation. Could there be a pattern here?

MAC expressed its most recent discouragement on August 20 after federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced Teck Resources’ (TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B) Castle coal proposal would face a federal review under the Impact Assessment Act in addition to the provincial review already underway.

Attacks persist, but Canada has nothing to replace the economy it denigrates

Teck’s Fording River operation: Does a supposedly green economy
have no room for steel-making coal? (Photo: Teck Resources)

As a new source of metallurgical coal just south of Teck’s Fording River mine in southeastern British Columbia, Castle would add “several decades” of life to the currently depleting operation, the company maintains. Teck hoped to begin Castle development in 2023 and production in 2026, to replace the existing operation early next decade.

Yet the size of the proposal calls for an environmental review at the provincial level only, Teck and MAC say, arguing that federal IAA intervention isn’t necessary.

“It seems clear that this decision was political in nature as there are many projects across the country with equal or more significant impacts that are not subject to the IAA,” MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton asserted. “This is a case of the government succumbing to pressure from political interest groups while also placating the U.S. government’s EPA and the state of Montana.”

Yet Canada’s new regimen was supposed to end much of the federal-provincial review duplication, which helped explain MAC’s support for C-69 last year even after Parliament rejected most of the Senate’s proposed amendments. Over objections from the oilpatch and some uranium companies, MAC declared the new legislation an improvement over the former Tory government’s 2012 Environmental Assessment Act.

MAC had supported the 2012 transformation too. But later the group decided it did not “live up to its promise,” Gratton told CBC last year.

In making this decision, the federal government is sending a clear message that instead of providing support for resource projects and jobs in a time of unprecedented economic crisis, it will choose to do the opposite. —The Mining Association
of Canada

On August 20 he stated MAC’s support for the new IAA had been “contingent on it being implemented well. It is unfortunate that the past month has now given our industry reason to question whether it will be implemented in a fair and efficient manner.”

Weeks earlier, MAC noted, Ottawa released its new Strategic Assessment on Climate Change, “which included numerous requirements that are unworkable for the mining sector and is calling into question whether the act will be well and fairly implemented.”

Implementation aside, the IAA is hardly free of inherent faults. A February 2019 commentary by Grant Bishop and Grant Sprague of the C.D. Howe Institute warned that C-69 threatened projects by “congesting the assessment process with wider public policy concerns and exacerbating the political uncertainty facing proponents with a highly subjective ‘public interest’ standard.” That allowed for “increasing subjectivity and politicization in project approvals,” the authors contended.

Additionally, they said the new bill failed to clarify the duty to consult natives.

C-69 passed at the same time as Bill C-48, aka the “tanker moratorium,” and shortly after a ban on offshore Arctic drilling.

Problems are obvious at the provincial level too. One early sign of a growing trend was B.C.’s 2012 rejection of Pacific Booker Minerals’ (TSXV:BKM) Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum proposal despite an environmental assessment that found the project was “not likely to have significant adverse effects.” In the legislature last spring MLA Andrew Weaver, B.C.’s former Green leader, suggested the previous BC Liberal government rejected Morrison as a trade-off to gain native support for a gas transmission line to the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG plant.

The BC Liberal government did, however, support Taseko Mines’ (TSX:TKO) New Prosperity proposal. Ottawa scrapped that one, partly by expanding its environmental mandate to include spiritual and cultural issues.

B.C.’s current NDP government, meanwhile, has come under fire from Taranis Resources TSXV:TRO for a process that it said involved 28 government reviewers, “multiple catastrophic deficiencies and concerns” and “moving goalposts.” These are, of course, just a few examples of ongoing frustration that characterizes resource and infrastructure development across Canada.

Most vexing is the duty to consult. Does that create a veto? Not according to Gratton, who has previously insisted: “We’re not in a world of veto. We’re in a world of deep and meaningful engagement.”

But that deep and meaningful stuff can work in reverse too. When the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended federal rejection of an expansion proposal for Baffinland Iron Mines’ Mary River operation in 2018, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association convinced Ottawa to approve the company’s request.

The Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests, moreover, appear to show some natives trying to veto others. The cause was taken up by Canada’s wider protest culture following its mass adulation for a Swedish teenager in demonstrations that at least hinted at religious fervour. The anti-pipeline movement quickly morphed into Shut Down Canada, an effort that showed signs of succeeding until quelled by the pandemic. Yet widespread demonstrating resumed with an American issue imported to this country awkwardly but with immediate and uniform support from Canadian media, political and business elites.

Will that support follow when protesters channel their emotions en masse back to environmental issues? Certainly much of the political and media establishment already grant credibility to seriously disruptive tactics that, for example, block people’s freedom of movement.

It’s in this milieu that the prime minister is speculated to be preparing an unprecedented social spending program that would dwarf previous deficit budgets.

Gold bugs might believe the outcome will vindicate their predictions for fiat currency. They might also feel vindicated by this week’s investment of US$560 million in Barrick Gold TSX:ABX by Berkshire Hathaway, whose legendary CEO Warren Buffett was previously known to disparage gold.

One of the world’s largest gold producers and nominally a Canadian company, Barrick has just one mine and no exploration or development projects in this country. For its part, Berkshire Hathaway expressed its opinion of Canada in early March when the company cancelled its planned $4-billion investment in GNL Québec. A spokesperson for the LNG proponent cited investor nervousness about the “current Canadian political context” demonstrated by rail blockades.

If Canada’s abandoning its resource economy, the replacement remains uncertain. That might be a situation better understood by investors than policy-makers, but it carries implications much wider than stock prices.


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