Tuesday 23rd October 2018

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Posts tagged ‘HD Mining International Ltd’

The new colonialists

October 19th, 2018

China’s overseas expansion raises concerns of influence and arrogance

by Greg Klein

The country boosts its domestic industries through state-sanctioned dumping along with lax environmental, health and safety standards. Aggressive overseas expansion provides money and infrastructure to struggling nations in return for resources and acquiescence. Espionage, counterfeit exports, currency manipulation, economic warfare, intellectual theft—“particularly the systematic theft of U.S. weapons systems”—that’s all part of China’s goal to gain “veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions,” according to a recent U.S. study ordered by President Donald Trump.

So it seems a bit anti-climactic to accuse the Red Dragon of arrogance.

But could that become China’s undoing, especially when the arrogance reflects racism? Examples from Kenya reveal a steady stream of racially charged incidents. Among the most recent was ongoing racist abuse from the manager of a Chinese-owned assembly plant. A Chinese company running a much bigger Kenyan operation, the Standard Gauge Railway, faces accusations of practising racial preferences and segregation. Further accounts relay instances of demeaning treatment, even assaults, on African workers in their own countries by Chinese bosses.

China’s overseas expansion brings allegations of influence and arrogance

That might be more a side effect than part of the official agenda, which is alarming in itself. According to Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Geoffrey York, Chinese influence “is sharply increasing in African media, academia, politics and diplomacy.” Earlier this month he reported that a South African newspaper chain backed by Chinese investors fired a columnist who denounced their country’s treatment of Muslims.

“In Zambia, heavily dependent on Chinese loans, a prominent Kenyan scholar was prevented from entering the country to deliver a speech critical of China. In Namibia, a Chinese diplomat publicly advised the country’s president to use pro-China wording in a coming speech. And a scholar at a South African university was told that he would not receive a visa to enter China until his classroom lectures contain more praise for Beijing.”

York pointed to “the huge number of African leaders who flock to the summit of China’s main African organization, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC),” an annual conference featuring announcements of Chinese financial aid. At last month’s event, President Xi Jinping promised grants, loans and investments totalling $60 billion, equaling an amount pledged three years earlier.

China’s massive African infrastructure projects, built by Chinese companies that often enjoy Chinese government financial support, include railways and hydro-electric power. But Chinese interests also get their hands on Africa’s mineral resources as well as oil and gas reserves, not to mention new markets for Chinese exports. Chinese loans have been criticized for overwhelming African countries with debt.

In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.—South African
President Cyril Ramaphosa

Then there’s the political influence. The spectacle of African leaders singing China’s praises has provoked cynicism that South African President and FOCAC co-chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa tried to dispel: “In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.”

Those remarks might alternately challenge or support allegations of sycophancy. But York notes China’s success in convincing African countries to drop their support for Taiwan, promoting Chinese language and culture, increasing media ownership with attendant interference, and—laughably, considering the communist state’s journalistic standards—providing “‘training’ for 1,000 African media professionals annually.”

Such are the challenges faced by the developing world. And others too.

From Australia come additional examples. “The hubris of the Chinese Communist Party has reached a great and giddy high,” the Sidney Morning Herald declared last month. International editor Peter Hartcher recounted a meeting between Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei and Australian treasurer Joe Hockey in which Lou lit a cigarette without asking permission, then badgered the Aussie with big talk that included offers to take over Rio Tinto, buy 15% of the top 200 ASX-listed companies or grab multi-billion-dollar positions in Australian banks.

Hartcher mentioned another incident a few years ago, when “a Chinese minister walked into the Parliament House office of an Australian Liberal Party minister in the course of a negotiation.

“The visitor sat on the sofa, reclined with his hands locked behind his head, and put his feet up on the coffee table. He crossed his ankles casually, the soles of his shoes pointed towards his Australian host. A mere detail, yes, but a telling one. It infuriated the Australian, who was still steaming as he recounted the story years later.”

Then there’s the threats. In a Sydney meeting last year, Hartcher writes, Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten and two of his key people heard Chinese Communist Party official Meng Jianzhu demand their party support an extradition treaty. They objected, largely due to China’s death penalty.

“To get his way, Meng threatened to mobilize the Chinese diaspora living in Australia to vote against the Labor party. The Labor leaders were unbowed and unimpressed. ‘We cannot let these bastards push us around,’ one later remarked to a colleague. Labor continued to oppose the extradition treaty.”

Score one for Down Under determination. Hartcher warns that China could meet its comeuppance once the country’s economic growth stops, possibly in a decade or so. Still, that gives the Middle Kingdom considerable time to expand its influence in acquiescent countries, which need not be limited to the developing world.

Like Canada, for example. Do our politicians match Australian Labor’s resolve? Do our media match the Sidney Morning Herald’s candour? Or would the example of HD Mining International, which planned to staff underground operations at a British Columbia mine exclusively with Chinese workers, typify Canada’s response?

Community spirit

September 21st, 2018

How new approaches to coal mining revived a B.C. district

by Greg Klein

How new approaches to coal mining revived a B.C. district

Two years after taking over a bankrupt company’s Peace River region assets,
Conuma employs over 750 people, a number that’s expected to reach 900 by year-end.
(Photos: Conuma Coal Resources)

 

Expertise, acumen and timing had a lot to do with it, but September 21 marks the second anniversary of a success story that strongly demonstrates mining’s intangible benefits. Two years ago Conuma Coal Resources re-opened its newly acquired Brule mine in northeastern British Columbia, then re-started two more open pits in the same region. While the advantages of resource industries often extend well beyond jobs and the economy, this is a company that actively pursues a mission in addition to profits.

But profitable Conuma is. It’s also the Peace River coal field’s only miner, following a 2014 downturn that closed the last of the district’s metallurgical fuel operations run by Walter Energy, Anglo American and Teck Resources.

How mining—coal mining at that—revived a B.C. region

The new company has re-opened three mines
in a region deserted by majors.

After Walter entered bankruptcy proceedings the following year, something like 80 firms looked over the company’s Peace assets, with a proposal coming from a liquidator that would have dismantled the projects, says Conuma president Mark Bartkoski. He and a highly experienced group put together their privately-held company in summer 2016.

“Our team saw an opportunity to run Brule differently, to work with the community and First Nations a little more progressively and, from a technical standpoint, we felt there were a number of mining changes that would add value.

“One thing we tied to our offer was a commitment to hire 200 people in the first few months. That probably swung the deal, but we ended up hiring 400 in that first four-month period. We purchased the company on September 9 and had the first coal come out on the 21st.”

That was Brule, which Walter suspended in 2014. Less than three months after resuscitating that mine, Conuma re-started Wolverine, idled by Walter in 2014. Last June Conuma re-opened Willow Creek, shuttered by Walter in 2013. Conuma now employs over 750 people, a number that’s expected to reach 900 by year-end.

“We mined 3.5 million tonnes last year, we’ll mine approximately five million tonnes this year, next year we’re projected to do six million tonnes and, by the time we get to 2021, we should be at about 7.5 million tonnes.”

How new approaches to coal mining revived a B.C. district

Conuma expects production to reach five
million tonnes this year and six million in 2019.

Processing takes place at Willow Creek. From there, rail transports the steelmaking stuff about 965 kilometres to Ridley Terminals near Prince Rupert, North America’s closest deep water port to Asia.

Conuma got early backing from the AMCI Group, a large American coal brokerage that brought experience and connections, gaining a majority share of Conuma.

But workers’ input also plays a vital role, Bartkoski emphasizes. The region’s coal “had the problem of being high-cost, so every time the market got tough, this was the first coal field to get cut.” There was a problem with consistency too.

“The quality of the coal, as far as low-sulphur, low-phosphorous metallurgical coal, is very good,” he explains. “But there was always a very high variation in the ash, which is how much rock was in the coal. Steel producers have a real problem when that ash varies a lot. So we worked with the employees, we came up with a couple of pro-active systems to be creative. We used to have an ash variation of about 1.5% ash, and currently we’re running 0.18%, which is fantastic. We’ve had three of the world’s largest steel companies come to look at our quality control program and the question is, ‘How in the world did you guys go from one of the worst ash variations internationally to one of the best?’

“It’s not enough to do well only when the market’s good,” he points out. “You have to get costs down, keep debt low and maintain a high-quality reputation so when the market gets tough and tight—and it’s probably not going to stay like this forever—we’ll remain the preferred supplier.”

How new approaches to coal mining revived a B.C. district

Employee feedback should help the company
weather another downturn, Conuma believes.

Employee engagement doesn’t stop there. “We hold monthly meetings to talk to every crew about costs, about pro-active things we can do, whether it’s environmental ideas or whether it’s delays or accidents. When you involve people and truly listen to them, you get good results. We’ve been able to reduce our operating costs by 40% compared to the previous company—that’s awesome. Our injury rate right now is one-seventh of the North American average, which is phenomenal. We were the safest mining company in B.C. last year, and right now we’re on track to repeat that this year.”

Stressing both cost reduction and safety, employee feedback has contributed to an efficiency incentive program that currently averages workers over $1,000 a month each.

Longevity strengthens commitment to both the company and the community, he adds. Previously, Brule and Willow provided camp housing, where employee turnover averaged six and a half months, Bartkoski says. “We wanted to build a company that would support a healthy home life. Our goal was to train the local workforce to fulfill the needs. We have a training budget that’s about three times the size of most companies because we want to train people to be here for the long term. Right now over 80% of our people are local. They live in either Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd or Mackenzie, and we’re really proud of that. That was a commitment I made to the mayors and the First Nations.

“As a matter of fact, a large amount of our truck drivers are single moms. That workforce hadn’t been encouraged in the past and in a lot of cases they’re people who want to remain part of the community. I hate to break the bubble of us macho guys but a lot of our best truck drivers are women.”

Although Bartkoski doesn’t make the comparison, Conuma’s training policy contrasts starkly with that of HD Mining International. The Chinese company planned to staff underground operations at Murray River, another proposed coal mine in the Peace, exclusively with Mandarin-speaking workers imported from China. An HD spokesperson later claimed the policy had been misunderstood, although the company made Mandarin a requirement for underground jobs.

I remember walking out of their office thinking ‘I’m not even going to say this to anyone’ because I didn’t think any of it would happen. But everything they told me did come to pass and in most cases sooner than they said they were going to do it. So it’s really been a shot in the arm for Tumbler Ridge.—Don McPherson, mayor of
the District of Tumbler Ridge

Looking ahead, Conuma projects 15-year lifespans for each of its three mines. A fourth, Willow South, should begin operations in about two years, Bartkoski says. Meanwhile the company and its staff participate in a number of extra-curricular projects, including their support for a children’s home in Vancouver and an orphanage in Bolivia.

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Don McPherson recalls his first meeting with Conuma management in summer 2016. “I remember walking out of their office thinking ‘I’m not even going to say this to anyone’ because I didn’t think any of it would happen. But everything they told me did come to pass and in most cases sooner than they said they were going to do it. So it’s really been a shot in the arm for Tumbler Ridge.”

McPherson arrived in the region before the town even existed, working as a mechanic on construction vehicles used to build the district’s first coal mine, Quintette, which Denison Mines opened in 1982. Since then he’s experienced a number of mining cycles.

“Two years ago, before Conuma, you could walk downtown and probably never see children,” he recalls. “Now you’ve got all these young people who’ve come to work at the mine. They brought their families. Our schools are full right now.” He estimates the town’s population at about 2,200, up from about 1,800 at one point.

Although the oilpatch, a windfarm, forestry and tourism have diversified the economy, mining’s still vital to the town built for mining.

Meanwhile Bartkoski’s enthusiasm seems irrepressible. “We’re very excited not only that we have a very good future in front of us here, but we’ve also proven that northeast B.C. coal, mined in a very aggressive, creative and engaging way, with not only the employees but also the community, can be a win-win for everybody—and a long-term win.”

How new approaches to coal mining revived a B.C. district

The company enhances staff commitment to both the job
and the community through a policy of training local residents.

HD Mining International adviser Blair Lekstrom suggests few Canadians would take underground mining jobs

June 3rd, 2014

…Read more

Who’s mining whom?

May 8th, 2014

Details about temporary foreign workers in Canadian mines remain elusive

by Greg Klein

Canada’s temporary foreign worker controversy first blew up over news that a Chinese-owned mining company planned to import Chinese workers for a British Columbia mine. The issue eventually simmered down, only to explode again with allegations that fast food restaurants, among other employers, were abusing the federal program. But after all this time the extent to which Canadian mines employ TFWs remains an elusive topic. Of those who might know, few people answer questions.

TFWs first came to media prominence in October 2012 when the United Steelworkers revealed that HD Mining International, owned by Mandarin-speaking Chinese, was importing Mandarin-speaking Chinese miners for its proposed Murray River coal mine in northeastern B.C. Company spokesperson Blair Lekstrom now says the plan was intended to be short-term all along. But until recently the company gave a strong impression that one ethnic and linguistic group would have a 10-year lockhold on the proposed mine’s underground jobs.

Lekstrom insists that was never the intention. Moreover he suggests there might have been a discriminatory aspect to some critics of the company. Anglo American, he told ResourceClips.com, uses Australian TFWs at its Canadian mine, an open pit coal operation also in northeastern B.C.’s Peace River region.

Details about temporary foreign workers in Canadian mines remain elusive

Does Anglo American employ Australian TFWs at its B.C. mine? The Australian company won’t say.
Neither will the Canadian government.

Anglo’s Vancouver office directed inquiries to its Australian HQ, where ResourceClips.com was referred to corporate affairs officer Jacqui Strambi. Over a four-day period ResourceClips.com tried to contact her numerous times by phone and e-mail to ask whether the Australian company does employ Australian TFWs in Canada—and if so how many, for how long, in what jobs and why.

She didn’t respond.

An outspoken advocate of TFWs, B.C.’s Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Philip Hochstein has accused labour unions of keeping quiet about unionized TFWs working in mines. “Plenty” of B.C. mines use TFWs, he tells ResourceClips.com. But he isn’t sure which mines. He cites Teck Resources TSX:TCK.A and Taseko Mines TSX:TKO as possibilities.

Not us, says Taseko. “No we don’t and we haven’t done in the past,” maintains Brian Battison, the company’s VP of corporate affairs. “We don’t use temporary foreign workers.”

ResourceClips.com contacted Teck with a series of questions on May 5. Senior communications specialist Chris Stannell e-mailed that he’s looking into the request. But by press time May 8 he hadn’t replied with answers.

Hochstein refers further inquiries to Karina Briño, president/CEO of the Mining Association of B.C. “I’d call her,” Hochstein says. “She would know.”

She doesn’t. “We don’t keep that data, we don’t keep that information,” she says.

As for the Mining Association of Canada, “It’s not on our radar right now,” responds media spokesperson Jessica Draker. “It hasn’t been raised by our membership as something they want us involved in yet. That may change.”

Neither mining association can be faulted for not tracking the data. But if any entity would know, it would be Employment and Social Development Canada, the federal department responsible for the TFW program. Last week ResourceClips.com asked the department three questions about HD Mining’s 201 approved TFW permits. Media relations spokesperson Jordan Sinclair responded with a 405-word e-mail containing four links (one of them broken) to ministry statements. Nothing in the e-mail or external statements answered the questions.

Pointing out the non-response, ResourceClips.com re-sent the three questions along with some additional inquiries about Anglo American. An auto-reply from Sinclair indicated he would be away until April 1. He didn’t specify which year.

A second media contact at the ministry failed to respond by press time.

Both the B.C. and Canadian mining associations express concern about skills shortages, which are also being addressed by organizations ranging from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. But forecasting which skills will be in demand—and when and for how long—seems as chancy as predicting commodity prices.

No we don’t and we haven’t done in the past. We don’t use temporary foreign workers.—Brian Battison, VP of corporate affairs for Taseko Mines

In a statement last November, the chamber identified “the skills gap as the most pressing issue” affecting Canadian businesses. The same report quoted Mining Association of Canada president/CEO Pierre Gratton cautioning that “industry context is essential to understanding the skills shortages. Sweeping claims about shortages across the whole economy can misrepresent important industry-specific trends and regional labour market pressures and shortages.”

MABC’s Briño adds that “the temporary foreign worker program is only one of the tools the industry has used in the past to fill that gap.” She points to the B.C. HR Task Force in which “employers, labour, aboriginal leaders and some educational institutions and government come to the table to look at labour market demands and figure out what needs to be done to ensure we have the right people in our jobs.”

But could there be too much consultation and too little training? Marlon Whoolery, training director at the Pennsylvania- and West Virginia-based Mining Technology and Training Center, says American mining companies bear the brunt of training new employees. That’s true in longwall mining, the underground technique that HD Mining at first indicated could only be done by TFWs.

Briño responds that Canadian companies “do spend a considerable amount of resources and effort to provide training.”

HD Mining’s Lekstrom, meanwhile, wonders whether enough Canadians will even want underground mining jobs.

True, most B.C. mines are open pits. But that’s just one part of Canada. As for the Taseko Gibraltar copper-molybdenum open pit, there’s a waiting list to get in. “We’ve got lots of resumes,” says Taseko’s Battison. “We’ve got a big stack of resumes there. They’re local or regional or British Columbian or wherever.”

B.C.’s longwall controversy

May 2nd, 2014

HD Mining says it will hire Canadians after all—if they want the jobs

by Greg Klein

Has there been a change of plans? Or was it a misunderstanding all along?

A veteran politician now working for HD Mining International says the company intends to hire and train Canadian longwall miners for what will be, should its proposed coal mine go into production, an English-speaking operation. He wonders, however, how many Canadians would be interested.

That qualification notwithstanding, his statements seem to differ substantially from the company’s original position, which ignited a controversy beginning in October 2012.

Saying too few Canadians had longwall mining experience, HD Mining received federal government approval to import 201 Chinese miners. The plan, as reported by media and the company itself, was to staff underground operations at its proposed Murray River mine in northeastern British Columbia with Mandarin-speaking Chinese workers for 10 years. The company, owned by Mandarin-speaking Chinese, insisted that only Mandarin-speaking Chinese knew its longwall system.

HD Mining says it will hire Canadians after all—if they want the jobs

A longwall shearer with cutting drums and
movable hydraulic roof supports called shields.

But Blair Lekstrom, an adviser to HD Mining chairperson Penggui Yan, says the company’s intentions have been misunderstood.

The project’s underground staff now consists of 51 Chinese recruited under Canada’s temporary foreign worker (TFW) program. They’re currently building a decline to conduct a bulk sample that will take about 18 months to complete, Lekstrom tells ResourceClips.com. Should the company go into commercial production, “we’ve made a commitment to train—and we’re in discussions with Northern Lights College—Canadians who want to do this work.” He says the current crew was granted TFW status only to conduct the “highly specialized” bulk sample.

“Chairman Yan has said we will train as many Canadians who want to work in our mine, but first we have to prove there is a mine.”

In November 2012, after about six weeks of critical publicity, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Northern Lights College in the town of Tumbler Ridge to develop a longwall training program. Lekstrom says the curriculum would be developed following a decision to operate a mine.

Several American operations use longwall mining. But the companies themselves provide specialized training, according to Marlon Whoolery, training director at the Mining Technology and Training Center, which has campuses in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “I don’t know of any training facility that trains specifically to work on the longwall because there’s various types of longwall machines, various shields, panels, shears, different stage loaders, different tailgates. Most training centres prepare a miner to go to work at the mine then the coal company trains them to the longwall system they have.”

He says U.S. federal law requires a minimum of 40 hours’ training before a novice can work underground, while some states require longer periods. The length of time to become a certified miner also varies from one state to another. West Virginia requires six months of experience while Pennsylvania requires a year.

During that time, specialized training “could be a matter of weeks or months to run a particular portion of the longwall,” Whoolery adds. “To be the shear operator in Pennsylvania you have to have machine operator’s papers in the state and it takes a year underground before you can apply for those.”

Whoolery doesn’t know of any American parallels to the HD Mining controversy. He says Massey Energy threatened to import Mexican workers years ago. The company, associated with the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 people, was later bought out by Alpha Natural Resources NYE:ANR.

“I don’t believe there’s any mine in this country that brings miners in from somewhere else. I’m not saying there’s not mines, especially out west, that may have immigrants that are in this country illegally but I don’t know of any mine that solely operates with a workforce that they brought from another country.”

But Lekstrom insists that never was HD Mining’s intention. “Our goal is to hire and train Canadian workers that will work there and English will be the prevailing language.” Mandarin will “absolutely not” be the working language, he emphasizes.

I talk to a lot of people up here and a lot of my friends, and not many of them seem anxious about thinking underground mining might be in their future.—Blair Lekstrom,
HD Mining adviser

Lekstrom maintains there’s been no change in policy. “They’ve made that commitment from the beginning.” As for impressions to the contrary, “I would say it was a misconception.”

But any “misconception” was understandable. In October 2012 Jody Shimkus, HD Mining’s VP of environmental and regulatory affairs, told ResourceClips.com the company would likely need a decade to train a Canadian underground crew. “We’ve set a target of 10 years, recognizing that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done particularly with the local community, the educational institutions and the provincial government to develop a program that transfers the skill set. If we can achieve that target earlier, that would be great.”

Lekstrom, a former B.C. mines minister and mayor of Dawson Creek, suggests there’s a discriminatory aspect to the controversy. “Because [the TFWs] are Chinese they seem to be looked at different than the Australians, many who are over here working in mines.” He says an Anglo American project, also in the Peace River region, employs Australian TFWs. A ResourceClips.com inquiry to Anglo American’s Vancouver branch was referred to the company’s Brisbane office too late for a response by press time.

Murray River benefits Canadians, Lekstrom says. “We have spent to date about $90 million. The vast majority of that is on Canadian content. Most of the work that has been done to date has been done by Canadian workers—ground service prep whether it be fuel services, road services, hauling and trucking, drilling and blasting, surveying, the list is long.”

His remarks follow months of controversy over alleged abuse of Canada’s TFW program by companies importing staff ranging from fast food workers to helicopter pilots. Then, last month, Walter Energy NYE:WLT announced 695 layoffs for two open pit mines in the same region as Murray River. A week later Teck Resources TCK.A announced another 80 layoffs for the region, as the company postponed the restart of its Quintette open pit operations.

Still, Lekstrom wonders how many Canadians want underground jobs. “I talk to a lot of people up here and a lot of my friends, and not many of them seem anxious about thinking underground mining might be in their future. We’ll see.”

Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney has announced plans to reform the TFW program. An e-mail from his department didn’t answer questions from ResourceClips.com about how the reforms might affect HD Mining’s 201 approved applications.

May 8, 2014, update: Details about temporary foreign workers in Canadian mines remain elusive.

695 B.C. coal miners laid off but HD Mining wants workers from China: B.C. minister issues statement on imported labour

April 17th, 2014

by Greg Klein | April 17, 2014

(May 2, 2014, update: HD Mining now says it will hire Canadian underground workers.)

Announced April 15, Walter Energy’s (TSX:WLT) decision to suspend its British Columbia operations kills 695 coal mining jobs in a region where HD Mining International wants to import up to 480 Chinese workers for its proposed Murray River coal mine. HD Mining’s rationale, which was supported by both the federal and provincial governments, is that only Mandarin-speaking Chinese understand the company’s system of longwall mining.

Most B.C. operations are open pits. HD Mining’s owners are Mandarin-speaking Chinese.

The scheme was brought to light in October 2012 by the United Steelworkers. Since then legal challenges by B.C. unions have so far been unsuccessful despite evidence that HD Mining offered pay rates below Canadian standards, rejected qualified Canadians and posted job openings in Canada that made Mandarin a job requirement.

Controversy prompted the federal government to review its temporary foreign worker program and crack down on alleged abuse, most recently by fast food restaurants. HD Mining eventually stated that within a few years of operation it would “transition” 10% of Murray River’s underground jobs each year to Canadians. But the company didn’t say whether the jobs would go to Mandarin-speaking workers who become Canadian citizens three years after arrival.

Still pending is legal action launched by the USW in December to challenge a provincial permit for underground bulk sampling at Murray River. The union argued there were “grave concerns” about the Mandarin-speaking operation’s ability to meet B.C. safety standards.

By press time USW communications officer Brad West hadn’t responded to a ResourceClips.com request to comment on HD Mining in view of the Walter Energy layoffs. Inquires to B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines were directed to the province’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. On April 17 Minister Shirley Bond released the following statement by e-mail.

695 B.C. coal miners laid off but HD Mining wants workers from China: B.C. minister issues statement on imported labour

Shirley Bond

Our government believes in saying yes to economic development so we attract investment that creates jobs and promotes mining development in B.C. If the Murray River project becomes a fully developed mine, we plan to do everything we can to ensure British Columbians are trained to fill these jobs first.

Our position on [temporary foreign workers] has been very clear: British Columbians will be first in line for jobs in our province, then Canadians, then immigrants and TFWs only as a last resort. But there are times when there is a legitimate need for TFWs. In these cases employers must follow a rigorous process that shows there are no Canadians that can first fill the position.

I know that the recent changes by the federal government have aimed to ensure that Canadians, and by extension British Columbians, are given the first chance at available jobs. We hope that any reforms made by the federal government will ensure the program fits its intended use.

B.C. coal project faces fresh woes over foreign workers

December 24th, 2013

by Cecilia Jamasmie | December 23, 2013 | Reprinted by permission of MINING.com

HD Mining, the Vancouver-based company that sparked controversy in 2012 with a scheme to hire up to 2,000 Chinese miners for its proposed $300-million northern B.C. coal mine, is facing yet another union legal challenge over its use of temporary foreign workers.

The United Steelworkers union is asking the British Columbia Supreme Court to revoke the miner’s exploration permit, arguing the province’s chief inspector of mines shouldn’t have granted the authorization without effectively addressing concerns the workers would not be fluent in English. They claim the foreign workers’ lack of English would pose a potential safety risk.

“No part of that application addresses the ability of Mandarin-speaking workers, who have minimal facility of the English language, to work safely at the Murray River project,” said the union in a press release.

The court document, which contains unproven allegations, names the provincial Ministry of Energy and Mines, the chief inspector of mines, which falls under the ministry, and HD Mining.

HD’s Murray River project, near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., is still in the early stages of seeking regulatory approval, but it currently has a permit for exploration and sampling work.

Reprinted by permission of MINING.com

B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett rationalizes his government’s support for HD Mining’s hiring policy

October 28th, 2013

…Read More

Perspectives on B.C.

October 9th, 2013

The Fraser Institute and British Columbia’s mining minister discuss provincial policies

by Greg Klein

Next Page 1 | 2

Mining and exploration companies headquartered in British Columbia operate all over the world. But what’s it actually like to work in their home province? With coincidental timing, two recent events brought that question to mind. On October 3 the Fraser Institute released a report on B.C.’s mining policies. The next day the province’s minister of energy and mines touted his government’s work to a gathering of 180 industry professionals.

The Fraser Institute based its report, British Columbia’s Mining Policy Performance: Improving B.C.’s Attractiveness to Mining Investment, on past results from an annual international survey of industry executives. The 75-page B.C. study addresses “four barriers to investment”—unresolved land claims, regions declared off limits to mining, environmental uncertainty and regulatory hurdles.

Alana Wilson, one of the report’s three authors, tells ResourceClips.com the provincial mining study is the first of its kind for the Fraser Institute. A Quebec report is scheduled for release late this year or early next.

The organization’s annual mining surveys, she says, “get a tremendous amount of media interest. We also get a lot of calls and inquiries from government ministries around the world asking about our survey methodology, how specific factors are calculated. We know that governments are cognizant of the survey results and pay attention to them. But in terms of translating that into tangible policy changes, I can’t give any specific examples.”

As expected, the report finds B.C.’s unresolved land claims “the single greatest factor deterring mining investment” over the last five years. The authors call on the province to expedite the treaty process, find ways to deal with bands not participating in the process, “develop clearer guidance for third parties to facilitate meeting the Crown’s duty to consult” and discuss policy changes with industry.

Second on the list of concerns is the threat that exploration and mining will be banned from certain regions. Indeed, the Windy Craggy “horror story” continues to haunt the industry. That 1993 New Democratic Party decision saw something of a BC Liberal reprise in 2010, when the government suddenly declared the Flathead Valley off limits to exploration.

Addressing the third barrier, the authors question the credibility of B.C.’s environmental regulations. “Where regulations are opaque and unpredictable, the perception can arise that the process has been politicized, allowing special interest groups or politics, rather than scientific evidence, to guide policy decisions.” In that context the report calls on the province to reconsider its ban on uranium and thorium mining.

Duplication, inconsistencies and federal/provincial overlap make up the fourth barrier. The institute recommends Ottawa “provide greater clarity and consistent application of expenses eligible for Canadian exploration expenses,” and that both levels of government gradually remove “distortionary tax incentives in favour of a single, lower rate of corporate income tax.” Both parties should continue working “towards a single, clear and predictable one project/one process” regimen, the report urges. And, surprisingly given the public backlash that defeated the B.C./federal harmonized sales tax, the authors want the province to re-examine the HST.

Yet they give B.C. credit too. The golden years of 2003 to 2007 were “also facilitated by improvements to the permitting process, including a new online mineral tenure system.” Royalty sharing offers natives “a more active role in benefiting from mining and resource development.” Reporting comments from surveys of previous years, the report quotes unnamed exploration executives who praised B.C. policies.

Several other respondents differed, however, with remarks that are almost beyond the pale. Some examples include “aboriginal land grabs and shaking companies down for handouts and royalties” and “uncertainty related to the first nations ‘veto’ over mining projects.”

But native involvement is an opportunity, not an impediment, the province’s minister of energy and mines said in his October 4 remarks to the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C. Bill Bennett had little else to say about the industry’s greatest concern, even though he repeatedly described his talk as a report, not a speech. Nevertheless his feel-good generalities were warmly received by the lunchtime audience.

He did have some specifics, though. “We’re not going to raise your taxes,” he said to applause.

“We have no plans to change the Mineral Tenures Act with respect to notice or adding to the obligation to consult.”

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Controversial mining company hires recently retired B.C. politician

September 26th, 2013

by Greg Klein | September 26, 2013

Former British Columbia cabinet minister Blair Lekstrom has joined HD Mining International, a company that plans to staff underground operations at its proposed Murray River coal mine exclusively with Chinese workers. A Canadian Press story published by the Vancouver Sun on September 25 cited an August 22 letter from HD Mining that confirmed the hire.

Last May the company defeated a court challenge by two unions against its use of Canada’s temporary foreign workers program to import Mandarin-speaking underground staff. The company argued that no Canadians were qualified to do the work. The unions presented evidence that HD Mining was offering pay rates below Canadian standards, the company rejected qualified Canadians and many of the job ads posted in Canada made Mandarin a language requirement.

Controversial mining company hires newly retired B.C. politician

Former BC MLA
Blair Lekstrom

Critics also expressed strong concerns about job safety, pointing to the Chinese mining industry’s notoriously high death rate. As Bloomberg reported in April, “China’s history of mining incidents includes the world’s worst safety record at its coal mines, which saw 1,973 people killed in accidents in 2011 and 2,433 the year before that, according to the State Administration of Work Safety.”

HD Mining is held 55% by Huiyong Holdings, a coal mining company in China, 40% by Canadian Dehua International Mines Group and 5% by an unnamed party.

Penggui Yan, chairperson of both HD Mining and Huiyong Holdings, was formerly a Chinese government official and manager of the state-owned mining company Shenhua Group, the Globe and Mail reported in February. Canadian Dehua has proposed at least three more Chinese-staffed coal mines for the same northeastern B.C. region.

The BC Liberal government strongly supported HD Mining’s plan and knew about a similar scheme by Naishun Liu, Canadian Dehua’s Chinese-born founder and chairperson, at least as far back as 2007.

Last November Vancouver Province columnist Michael Smyth revealed that “the main point person for the Chinese mining companies in B.C. is Jody Shimkus, a former assistant deputy minister of mining in the Liberal government.”

Smyth reported she left her government job in January 2012 to join HD Mining: “Under conflict-of-interest rules, senior managers face work restrictions for one year after they leave government. Senior managers can’t take a job with a company they dealt with in government, and can’t lobby or make representations on behalf of a company to the ministry where they formerly worked, the rules say.”

Smyth quoted Shimkus, “I never dealt with HD in government and I haven’t lobbied for them.”

Smyth added that “she also said she didn’t know about the one-year work restrictions when she signed on as HD’s vice-president of environmental and regulatory affairs.”

She told Smyth, “I don’t know what ‘make representations’ means. All I’ve done is help them through the environmental permitting process.”

Lekstrom, first elected to his northeastern B.C. riding in 2001, retired prior to last May’s B.C. provincial election. He held cabinet positions for Transportation and Infrastructure from March 2011 to September 2012, and Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources from January 2009 to June 2010. He held the latter ministry when the province banned mining in southeastern B.C.’s Flathead Valley following pressure by American environmentalists and politicians.

HD Mining originally stated it would import between 400 and 480 Chinese workers at a time on two-year visas to staff Murray River’s underground operations up to 2025. In January, following widespread criticism, the company said it would “transition” 10% of the underground jobs to Canadians each year. The question remains of how many of those jobs will go to imported miners who become Canadian citizens.

Speaking to ResourceClips.com in May, United Steelworkers western Canada director Stephen Hunt said, “If you look at the debacle with HD Mining, no one even thought of employing first nations people.”

In an April article about Chinese-owned and staffed mines in Tibet, the Economist stated, “Managers at big state-owned firms are usually Han Chinese, who in turn tend to regard their own ethnic kin as easier to control and communicate with than Tibetans.”