Federal Snub of CEMI was Unnecessary — Editorial Comment by Sudbury Star Editor Brian MacLead

There was quite a hullabaloo last week over Industry Minister Tony Clement’s funding announcement that saw $5.5 million go to the University of Toronto’s Innovation Centre for the Canadian Mining Industry, and nothing for Sudbury’s Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation.

The similarity in names is no coincidence — they are both research centres vying for government support and private investment. The difference, of course, is that one is located where mines are and one isn’t. Is that bad?

It might not be the problem that some make it out to be, but Clement’s decision to fund the U of T program and not Sudbury’s can only be interpreted as a political move, despite the semantic squirming that was done to explain how all this came about.

CEMI — which has about half a dozen staff members and 20-odd researchers — partners with local educational and industry organizations to conduct research into exploration, deep mining, mining processes and environmental sustainability. It has drawn $10 million from the local mining firms and another $10 million from the province, but it sought $9.5 million over five years from FedNor, a funding arm of Industry Canada, of which Clement is minister.

Last year, Clement denied funding for CEMI, though FedNor has funded other mining-related initiatives in Sudbury. At the time, a chorus of derision rained down on Clement. Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci argued this was how the “vindictive” Conservatives “punish a community” for electing a Liberal (Diane Marleau back then). And Peter Kaiser, who runs CEMI, called the funding rejection “arrogant” in the face of positive recommendations from the mining industry and FedNor staff.

This time, Clement announced the U of T money under an infrastructure stimulus program to renovate a building that will house the mining and civil engineering programs. CEMI is situated in the Willet Green Miller Centre at Laurentian University, so infrastructure isn’t so much the issue — research and operating funding is.

The U of T announcement predictably met with similar derision. Bring the research to where the mines are, goes the argument and that ain’t Toronto.

But even Bartolucci noted that having more than one mining research centre isn’t a bad idea. Mining writer Stan Sudol has suggested Sudbury be the only centre of mining education and research. It’s an idea that deserves study, but it’s not a no-brainer.

Having mine engineering schools in Toronto and at Queen’s University and other mining-related programs scattered throughout the province will likely allow for more variety in research and they’ll draw more private funding than Laurentian.

It was not necessarily wrong of Clement to fund the U of T mining centre, but in the face of his rejection of CEMI funding under a program also run by his ministry, it can only be seen as a deliberate snub — one that is not good for the mining industry or for Canada.