Federal Funding for U of T Mining Research a “Slap in the Face for Northern Ontario”

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of Mining.com permission to post these articles. www.northernlife.ca

A government funded $20-million mining innovation centre that will be built at the University of Toronto has key players in Sudbury’s mining industry fuming. “It was almost like a covert operation,” said Richard DeStefano, executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA).

“There was no discussion, no revelations, no informal potential partnerships with Laurentian (University) during this entire process, which probably took close to six months to finalize. People are very upset.”

The federal and provincial governments have each given $5.5 million for infrastructure funding to the Toronto mining innovation centre, which will be built at the University of Toronto’s St. George Campus in the city’s downtown core. Private donations of $9 million will bring the total cost of the project to $20 million.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI), located at Laurentian University in Sudbury, has not yet received any federal funding. CEMI wasn’t eligible for the the infrastructure funding because no projects were ready to be built immediately, said Peter Kaiser, CEMI president and CEO.

Ironically, the name of the centre in Toronto is breathtakingly close to the one in Sudbury. It is called The Innovation Centre for the Canadian Mining Industry. Kaiser said he understands what the name entails. It carries the industry’s credibility, reputation and future funding prospects.

“What we’ve just lost is an important optic in the world markets that we are not the centre (of mining innovation) – that Toronto is still where everything happens,” said DeStefano.

The University of Toronto’s new centre will be in the Lassonde Institute, a facility named after Pierre Lassonde, president of Newmont Mining Corporation, who is said to be the private sector contributor for the new mine centre. The institutes mandate appears to be the same as CEMI only now with new labs and technology, the same technology Sudbury already has.

Andrew Dasys, president of Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO) said he is disappointed in the University of Toronto investment.

“I think that investment would have been far better served in northern Ontario, building on something that already exists, versus creating a diluted message to the international mining community,” he said.

The new centre in Toronto is expected to create 200 jobs and house research space for 27 graduate students. It will feature a laboratory for visualization and data analysis, an interdisciplinary design studio for 100 undergraduates and graduates, a seminar room and green building features.

Laurentian University commerce professor Jean-Charles Cachon said he is not surprised the federal and provincial governments are giving the University of Toronto money to set up a mining innovation centre.

“Most of mining today is high technology utilizing the latest in robotics and computer software,” he said.
“Toronto is still the hub of high technology in Canada. Why is it that Vale Inco has not moved their own research centre from Mississauga to Greater Sudbury?”

He noted that the province contributed $10 million to CEMI, almost double what the U of T centre received. He said he was not concerned the centre may monopolize private sector donations to CEMI.

“Sure, the Canadian private sector donated $9 million this year to the Toronto centre as a tax write off. Next year they could be sending that money to Laurentian’s centre.”

But Dave Robinson, Laurentian University economist, called the recent federal funding announcement “a serious mistake … It is a slap in the face for northern Ontario. It is insulting. It is bad economics,” said Robinson.

“Industry Minister Tony Clement is personally responsible for sabotaging the economic development of northern Ontario… if they (the federal government) wanted to pick a winner, why pick a flea-bitten dog?”

What Next for CEMI?

Peter Kaiser, Centre of Excellence for Mining Innovation (CEMI) president and CEO, said his job now is to gather as many private sector mining companies and establish collaboration with other cluster projects, in and outside the province, for research and development. This way the federal government cannot deny the CEMI’s worldwide impact.

“The Federal government will then have to play a role because mining research is important to Canada. Ontario has always been a great partner for us but the federal government has never been supportive.”

Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, while disappointed by the announcement, said he intends to put even more pressure on Industry Minister Tony Clement, to get federal funding for CEMI. Rodriguez said the announcement was part of a series of knowledge-based infrastructure spending agreements.

“There were announcements of $1 billion Monday. Northern Ontario received only $16 million — $5 million of that went to Laurentian University’s Vale Inco Living With Lakes Centre for freshwater research.”

Rodriguez said there will be more announcements Friday. “I am not too upset by this. I think it strengthens our hand in getting the federal government as a partner in CEMI.

I will be asking our federal MPs to push hard for this. (The University of Toronto’s) money is for a building. We already have a building in the Willet Green Miller Centre. Our money we have raised is for innovations in mining. It is directed into research.”

Laurentian University commerce professor Jean-Charles Cachon said all is not lost for CEMI. “Look, Greater Sudbury has 16 mines in operation. Toronto has no mines. That means what they can do there is only theoretical. In Greater Sudbury we can test equipment and different mining operations.” Cachon also expected there to be significant collaboration between the two centres, with the possibility of some of that Toronto-based funding being available to Laurentian University through university partnerships. “I collaborate with colleagues in my mining research from all over the world. Distance is no barrier for us.”

But Chris Hodgson, president of Ontario Mining Association, said it may be better to have one centre of mining excellence for research and development and do it well.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me (any other way).” He noted the Canadian mining industry will be pleased the federal government has stepped in with the province to fund more mining innovation research, even if it is in Toronto.

Debbi Nicholson, president and CEO, Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, said she is “disappointed this funding (for mining innovation) went to Toronto instead of to Sudbury … the feds should still be showing support for and providing funding to CEMI for its research and development and all the good things it is doing up there.”

She noted that the Chamber has “been lobbying the federal government for funding for CEMI for years. It definitely has been a top priority for our chamber. Absolutely we will be writing to Minister Clement and encouraging the federal government to look at CEMI in a very positive light. “In the meantime we hope the two institutions can work collaboratively.”

Local Politicians Speak Out

Sudbury New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault said he is shocked by the announcement:
“For years, we have been asking for federal dollars to help establish a local centre, yet this government decides to support one that is 400 kilometres away from the nearest mine. Tell me how this makes any sense?”

Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci said, “This (rejection of federal funding for CEMI) is an ongoing insult to northern Ontario since 2006. For the last two to three years I fought for this. The community should not give up the fight for this. My fight will not stop.”

“The message is simple. This (centre at Laurentian University) is good for Sudbury, for Ontario, for Canada and the world. This is a strategic economic engine for all. These are the reasons why Minister Clement should jump all over this…I want Minister Tony Clement to come to Greater Sudbury with a cheque for $10 million for CEMI.”

Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle stated, “I tried to raise the issue in the House of Commons (Tuesday) but was unable to because the house was too rowdy. I will attempt to raise the issue of funding for CEMI in the House of Commons (Wednesday) and, if unsuccessful, I should be able to raise it in Thursday’s session.”

“Are we going to have two centres of excellence? This makes no sense. We are all together on this (funding for CEMI) — the city, the province and the mining companies. The federal government is ignoring us. I will keep after Minister Tony Clement.”

With files from Andrew Low, Kelly Louiseize and Bill Bradley