This speech was given to the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) – North Central Branch, Prince George, British Columbia on June 26, 2008 by Pierre Gratton, President and CEO of the Mining Association of British Columbia.
Thank you for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here to give what is, in fact, my maiden speech as President and CEO of The Mining Association of British Columbia. Actually, it’s a pre-maiden speech, because I don’t officially take the helm until next Monday.
I am also pleased that Prince George has reconstituted its CIM branch after a few years of dormancy – congratulations on this initiative. This is a trend we are seeing across the country and it reflects the strong period of growth we are in. But your resurgence is not just a good indicator of our good times. CIM and its many branches have a unique role to play across our country in getting the message out about our industry. You help to demonstrate to society that ours is a safe, dynamic, progressive sector committed to excellence, the sharing of best practices, technology and innovation.
I urge you to reach out and grow this branch and to look to play an active role in this community. One clear example of this is the leadership that our sector demonstrates in health and safety, with mining now the safest heavy industry in British Columbia – a tremendous accomplishment built on strong and respectful relationships between mine management, labour and government that we can all be very proud of.
I also note the panel discussion you had on Highway 37 involving representatives from the mining industry, suppliers and First Nations. Infrastructure is a critical enabler – world class deposits will lie idle for decades waiting for lack of roads, ports or power. It will be all of us working together that we will persuade government that the province’s long term economic future will be well-served by this strategic investment.
In a few months time, Prince George will be host to a major First Nations summit on mining. The MABC and its members will be here, similarly committed as we are to developing and fostering a new, stronger and respectful relationship with First Nations. I will come back to this topic in a few minutes, but flag it here because it is illustrative of what I want to talk to you about tonight.
The New Face of Mining
As Vice President of Sustainable Development and Public Affairs for The Mining Association of Canada, I witnessed and participated in a transformation that is taking place across the mining sector. It is a transformation that is incomplete, but it is clear to me that we are on a path from which there is no turning back – the path of sustainable development.
Sustainable Development means something a little different in our industry than in some others. Of course, mines are finite, so many scoff at the notion of “sustainable mining”. But while mines our finite, the essential contribution of our industry to society clearly isn’t. And our contribution to human capital through the activities of our industry is one of the most significant demonstrations of sustainability that any sector can make.
This contribution, increasingly manifest today through our engagement with Aboriginal communities, is the stuff of community building, indeed of nation building.
But another defining feature of mining and sustainable development has been the route we have taken to embrace sustainability. It is a route that I believe distinguishes our industry from any other industry sector in this country. And it is to this that I now turn.
Pressured by public criticism and concern, mining has moved farther than other industries outside its comfort zone to defuse criticism, find common ground with critics, and change itself. Whether we jumped or were pushed, we have taken a great leap forward in several remarkable initiatives, two of which have been led by the Canadian mining industry.
The first was the Whitehorse Mining Initiative (WMI), which was launched in 1992. The second was pioneered by The Mining Association of Canada, and is called Towards Sustainable Mining.
These initiatives have propelled the mining industry forward towards a new way of doing business, of relating to critics, of engaging with stakeholders, and of understanding the role and responsibility of mining. They have primed us and made us adept at responding to other initiatives that may be brought our way, such as the upcoming First Nations summit.
From these initiatives, the mining industry learned matters both of process and of substance:
• From the engagement process, we have learned different models of comprehensive dialogue and consensus building with critics.
• By listening to our critics, we have learned different approaches to analyzing and managing critical issues.
Self-education was not the mining industry’s initial purpose in the Whitehorse Mining Initiative, but it was to be the outcome. When Towards Sustainable Mining came along, we had already learned the lessons of WMI. We knew, from the get-go, that what we were trying to do was not just teach but learn.
The Whitehorse Mining initiative (WMI) was the started at the 1992 Annual Mines Ministers Conference, held in Whitehorse. The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) stated that we needed “to earn the trust of Canadians and to prove that it can operate in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable fashion”.
The MAC proposed a multi-stakeholder process to work towards a “common vision and a strategic plan that will take the metals and minerals sector into the next century.” The industry’s real agenda was to educate the public about the value and importance of responsible mining.
However, as the Whitehorse Mining Initiative progressed, the industry came to realize that the engagement went beyond educating stakeholders about mining. The stakeholder participants were equally intent on educating the industry.
Eventually, the Whitehorse Mining Initiative reached an Accord, a consensus document signed by all members of the Leadership Council. It specified principles and goals related to the priority issues, and it expressed commitments for follow-up action.
The Whitehorse Mining Initiative did not eliminate the mining industry’s hurdles or its critics. But it did achieve a higher level of mutual understanding between the industry and key constituencies.
The strengths of the Whitehorse Mining Initiative were:
• All stakeholders supported the process and endorsed the Accord.
• A platform was created for on-going multi-stakeholder consultations on priority issues, such as aquatic impacts and acid rock drainage.
• Key relationships were strengthened, which facilitated the development of new mines in Canada, such as our great diamond mines, Ekati and Diavik and more closer to home, the famous gold-silver mine at Eskay Creek.
• New attention was given to aboriginal priorities, which led to a more constructive pattern of relationships.
The weaknesses of the Whitehorse Mining Initiative:
• Monitoring and reporting on implementation of the commitments made in the Accord were weak
• No comprehensive strategy was established to broaden the base of support for the commitments in the various constituencies.
The outcome of the Whitehorse Mining Initiative was not what the mining industry initially imagined or expected. But it achieved the industry’s initial objective of stemming the growth in Canada of negativism towards mining.
A few years later, the global mining industry – also led by many Canadians – would embark on a similar exercise called the Global Mining Initiative. To this day, both the WMI and the GMI have not been replicated by any other sector of the global economy.
By the late-1990s, however, many in the industry were growing concerned that the fruits of the WMI were being lost by the lack of a follow-up mechanism.
In 1999, the MAC Board held a seminal meeting in which it decried the industry’s declining social license. The bar was rising, our critics were getting more vocal and more global. We felt increasingly out of sync with society again and, through major international accidents, we had partly ourselves to blame. Just five years since the success of WMI, we had dropped the ball.
We needed to respond, again.
This time, the MAC embarked on what has been recently recognized by a new study by the environmental consulting group, Five Winds/Strandberg Consulting, as the leading sustainability initiative in the country: Towards Sustainable Mining or TSM.
TSM, at its heart, is about improving the industry’s reputation through improved performance. And we go about this by aligning what we do with the priorities and values of our communities of interest or stakeholders.
It took almost ten years, but today TSM has a few key pillars:
• A National Advisory Panel that includes representatives from First Nations, Metis and Inuit, organized labour, ENGOs, mining communities and the financial sector.
• Performance metrics against which mine sites evaluate and report their performance.
• Third party verification and annual public reporting of industry performance.
In the process of building TSM, the industry has again honed its ability to sit down with its critics, to listen, to learn and to earn their respect.
The progress represented by the Whitehorse Mining Initiative and TSM has not been a single minded march forward by mining companies. The industry still includes many skeptics. Some might say that the gap between leaders and laggards in the industry has grown. Lapses in environmental or social performance continue to damage our image. But, as I said before, we are all now on a path from which we cannot turn off.
Indeed, the past fifteen years have been an interesting period to have been part of the mining industry. During this time, mining companies have acquired insights, adjusted perspectives and reordered priorities in a manner that has redefined the industry. This learning process has occurred through comprehensive and systematic dialogue between the mining industry and our more critical and concerned constituencies.
And this takes me back to the First Nations summit that will take place here in a few months.
It is a summit organized by First Nations who are feeling empowered and emboldened by recent court rulings, recent actions by government, and recent successes in blocking new developments to which they were opposed. It is their show, to which we are invited. In a province defined by overlapping and competing land claims and significant regulatory uncertainty, our involvement in this event is not without risks.
It is not without risks because First Nations are now questioning certain laws and mining practices that have been in place for many years and which they want reformed. It is not without risk because growing First Nation demands for participation in and sharing in resource wealth can compromise the viability of projects.
But, as the past fifteen years have shown us, our industry knows how to look at such risks and make them an opportunity.
Because it is also true that First Nations increasingly see our sector as critical to their future.
We are their largest employer. We have helped to stimulate new Aboriginal businesses, improve literacy and training on and off reserves, create wealth, opportunity and hope. The Eskay Creek gold-silver mine, just recently closed, is an excellent example of such benefits. More recently, Polaris Minerals opened Orca Bay quarry on Vancouver Island in partnership with First Nations.
As Kelly Lindsay, Executive Director of the national Aboriginal Human Resources Council, has stated, the mining sector is the vanguard in its work with First Nations. We are on the front lines, pioneering new relationships and doing what for generations governments have failed to do.
Indeed, just as First Nations are demanding change, they also want us.
And we need them.
We are all in this together and we must share this land as a larger community built on mutual respect.
The future of mining in British Columbia will, in my opinion, be shaped by no other issue greater than how we respond to the First Nations challenge. There is no other sector better prepared to meet this challenge than ours. We are natural risk takers. We are builders. We are solution-oriented and deeply practical and pragmatic.
If we do this right, which we will, we will achieve a goal I lay out for you today. I want, in 5-10 years time, for the BC mining industry to be recognized not just in Canada but around the world for its collaborative work with First Nations. Ours will be a sector with the best safety record supported by governments, welcomed by First Nations and respected by environmental organizations.
And so I look forward to returning to Prince George in a few months and to the steps we will take together to build the new relationship and to achieve this goal.
Thank you and congratulations to you all for re-building the CIM.