Mining defines civilization. Without metals and mineral resources to fuel society’s needs, man’s progress would be stuck at pre-historic levels. It provides us with energy and the materials to create technological innovation. But what of the investments in research related specifically to the mining industry?
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in its recent report, Mining Capital: How Canada Transformed Its Resources Endowment into a Global Competitive Advantage, reported that Canadian mining industry investments have not kept pace with other mining countries. Australia, for instance, invests over three times as much as Canada ($2.7 billion to less than $0.8 billion). Some credit should go to enlightened policies such as a levy on every ton of coal mined that has been growing as other commodities joined in the effort. Collaboration between industry and government and mining schools at various universities are other key reasons for the investments in research and innovation.
Following the mining disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine, West Virginia, where 29 workers were killed, the $46 million Alpha fund was established in the United States. This research, particularly in coal mining, will move the U.S. yardstick over the next five years.
And what of Canadian mining research capacity? It’s at a very fragile level. There are few dedicated mining research organizations: five to be exact. A roadmap that categorizes the various players is a start in sorting out who does what: funding agencies, brokers, research delivery non-profits, mining schools.
Government funding is ad hoc at best. The only major investment announced this year was for exploration-related research: $5.1 million from the federal government to match a contribution of $7 million from the industry. This compares with the $250 million announced for the auto sector in January 2013 and the $100 million annual research funding for the forestry sector.
If mining is to continue to be a leading industry sector for northern development, for economic opportunities, for First Nations and for the Inuit, we need a sustainable source of funding for mining research and development. As a nation, if we wish to maintain our global reputation as a competent, innovative miner we must invest in research and innovation. Ad hoc project-based funding is drying up, and in tough times such as the industry is encountering presently due to weak commodity prices, government leadership is needed at all levels. Governments, and the public service across Canada, needs to understand the need for research investment in this important sector of our economy.