The Future of Mining in Ontario: Is it golden? – by Chris Hodgson

Chris Hodgson is President of the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province. This column was provided by the OMA.

The Ontario Mining Association held a conference in June “The future of mining in Ontario: Is it golden?” in North Bay, which celebrated the Association’s 90th anniversary. There was the appropriate cake on hand and other touches to mark the occasion along with a commemorative plaque, which was presented by Mines Minister Michael Gravelle on behalf of Premier Dalton McGuinty.

This plaque reads “Since its founding in 1920, the OMA has excelled in representing the interests of companies engaged in the exploration, production and processing of our province’s mineral resources. As the voice for the mining industry in Ontario, the OMA plays a crucial role in securing the sector’s prosperity and competitiveness, while ensuring that Ontario’s mining potential is developed in a sustainable way.”

Perhaps after 90 years, it is time to reflect on how the industry has changed over those decades. After all, the OMA has been open for business longer than all national mining organizations except the Canadian Institute of Mining. In order to put things in a historical perspective, since 1920, Canada has had 15 different people serve as Prime Ministers while Ontario has had 17 different premiers and 32 different mines ministers.

When the OMA first hung out its shingle, Sir Robert Borden was Canada’s leader in Ottawa and Ernest Drury of the United Farmers of Ontario was running things at Queen’s Park. The list of people who have served as Chairmen of the OMA -and there have been 77 of them -reads like a Who’s Who of Canadian corporate history.

Also, as global market forces and economics and technologies change, the components of Ontario’s mineral production has changed. Iron ore and uranium mines once contributed significantly to the province’s mineral output but there are no mines in Ontario producing these commodities in 2010. On the other side, in 2008, De Beers Canada opened the Victor Mine -Ontario’s first diamond mine. Also, with activity now under way in the Ring of Fire area, Ontario appears destined to be major chromium producer in the future.

There are 43 mines in Ontario producing about $10 billion of mineral products annually. The industry continues to grow. One area in which Ontario’s mining sector has made great strides over the decades is safety. The Ontario mining industry has recorded an accident frequency reduction over the past 20 years of 91% and in the total medical aid frequency of 65%. As of the end of April 2010, the industry’s lost time frequency was at 0.3 per 100 workers. The total medical aid frequency was 4.1 per 100 workers. The frequencies are the lowest of any other Ontario industrial sector and mark a new milestone in the OMA members’ drive to reach a zero lost time frequency by 2015.

For the first third of 2010, statistics indicate mining is the safest industry in Ontario. Mining safety statistics are moving in the right direction because of personal diligence and concern for one’s self and one’s colleagues. Partnerships and co-operation are the order the day when it comes to safety. OMA initiatives, the Internal Responsibility System, inspections and programs from the Ministry of Labour, regulatory changes and adjustments to Common Core training along with the role of Workplace Safety North and unions have played strong parts in these gains in safety performance. Overall, employees in Ontario’s mining industry are safe, highly skilled, highly paid and highly productive.

In 1920, the word environment could not be found in any dictionary. The world’s understanding of and level of concern about issues such as pollution, recycling and rehabilitation were far less sophisticated than today. Mining is a temporary land use. As science has grown and society has changed, mining companies in Ontario have also matured.

Mines today strive to have the smallest footprint possible and they make the best efforts to restore mining lands to their natural state. Mining companies in Ontario invest more than $100 million annually on pollution prevention and environmental protection. New science is helping mining companies provide society with the necessary building blocks of civilization while minimizing and rehabilitating environmental impacts.

At a recent meeting between an OMA delegation and Ontario’s Minister of Environment John Gerretsen, slides were presented to show the industry’s general improvement in environmental management over the past decade. Depending on what samples are used, mining can show -similar to safety -87% reductions in the release of a variety of substances.

Mining continues to produce key commodities for us to build a greener society. Water purification systems rely on nickel and rare earth elements as key components. Hybrid cars draw energy from nickel hydride batteries. Catalytic converters require palladium. Wind and solar technologies use a range of minerals and metals in equipment and processes.

While working hard to furnish us with materials which are essential to building a more sustainable society, mining itself continues to make progress towards being a more ecologically friendly and sustainable industry itself.