I have had the good fortune to see most of this great country through my various jobs in the mining industry. I have worked at mine sites in Kimberley, British Columbia, Vanscoy, Saskatchewan and in Yellowknife and Canada’s High Arctic, as well as at various head offices in the cities. So despite the effects of the economic crisis, I have every confidence in our role as a leader in global mining.
It has been a poor year for commodities, with prices and demand plummeting along with the tightening of the credit markets. For the year ahead, we expect economic conditions to remain challenging. Mining and exploration companies are struggling to revise their business plans to weather the storm. Regrettably, some of these companies will not fare so well, and we have already witnessed delays and cancellations of resource-based projects across the country.
In February 2009, the Toronto-Dominion Bank conservatively forecasted: “commodity prices are unlikely to hit a trough until the global economy reaches rock bottom, which we don’t expect before Q3 2009. Until then, prices could fall another 10 percent, putting even more pressure on producers to find cost savings.”
Canada is rich in natural resources, and there are mining communities spread around the country. The industry directly employees about 360,000 people in the more than 220 producing mines in rural and remote regions, and provides a marketplace to more than 3,000 supplier companies. More than 1,300 mining companies from around the world are listed on the TSX – 35 percent of the worldwide mining equity.
Mining makes many important contributions to the socio-economic well-being of Canada. Before a mine can begin producing, there are numerous steps that must be completed over the span of several years, including environmental assessments, agreements with local Aboriginal communities, construction and, ultimately, the raising of capital. Several stakeholders are involved throughout all of these steps, including: government, NGOs, the general public and Aboriginal communities near the mines.
In fact, there are 1,200 Aboriginal communities within 200 kilometres of mines and exploration properties. Mining is the largest employer of Aboriginal Canadians, and more than 50 Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs) exist across the country. These IBAs include training, scholarships, infrastructure, equity, contracts and employment, and are important to the socio-economic sustainability of these communities. Capital investments are large: for example, to build the diamond mine at Snap Lake in the N.W.T., and the Victor mine in Ontario required an investment of $2 billion. Of that, $678 million has been spent with Aboriginal businesses or joint ventures for the mines.
Canada’s wealth in natural resources places it in a unique global position. We are second highest in terms of the production rate of nickel, third in platinum, aluminum and diamond, and fifth in zinc. We also are host to 19 percent of the world’s exploration spending – compared to 12 percent in Australia and eight percent in the United States. We have strong corporate social investment practices and face a range of environmental challenges, “social license” issues, including Aboriginal and northern issues, and logistic challenges in remote areas.
The mining industry contributed $42 billion to the national GDP in 2007 and accounted for 19 percent of all Canadian exports ($81 billion). Exploration expenditure in Canada was $2.6 billion and, interestingly enough, one in 20 exploration dollars worldwide was invested in the northern territories.
There are challenges ahead, apart from the economic recession, which must be addressed in partnership with governments if the mining industry is to thrive and continue contributing to the prosperity of this country. There are deep-rooted Aboriginal and northern issues that industry cannot assume the responsibility for correcting alone; government must take the lead. In addition, there are environmental issues that require governmental policy and clarification.
In the end, whether we’re mining diamonds in Yellowknife, oil in Alberta, gold in Ontario and Quebec, or zinc in New Brunswick, we are all leaders in the global mining industry. We must all work together to ensure that economic, environmental and social challenges are handled responsibly and ethically. It is our obligation to our country and its people.
Jim Gowans is president and CEO of De Beers Canada, president of the Mining Association of Canada, a director at the Conference Board of Canada, and president of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum.