Memo to Drummond and McGuinty: Consolidate Ontario Mining Programs at Laurentian University– by Stan Sudol

Laurentian University

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant who writes extensively on mining issues.

The Sudbury Basin itself, is the third most strategic and richest hardrock
mining centre in the world. The four combined mining clusters found in
Sudbury – mineral operations, education, research and supply and
services – are globally unique. (Stan Sudol-April 6, 2011)

Ontario’s mining industry is facing a perfect storm of skills shortages – mining engineers and geologists – at a time of severe provincial budget constraints. These fiscal problems will only diminish the mineral sector’s post-secondary education programs at a time when global economies are experiencing the most extraordinary demands for metal products in the history of mankind – a commodity super cycle.

According to the Mining Industry Human Resource Council’s (MiHR) 2010 Canadian Mining Industry Employment and Hiring Forecast report, under the baseline scenario the Canadian mining industry will need to hire 100,000 new workers by the end of 2020. This is the number of workers required to fill newly created positions and also to meet replacement demand as workers retire or leave the mining industry.

That forecast represents MiHR’s baseline scenario, if commodity prices perform better than expected (the expansionary scenario), the cumulative hiring requirements could reach nearly 135,000 workers by 2020.

Last month in a speech in Calgary, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada remarked, “Commodity markets are in the midst of a supercycle. …Rapid urbanization underpins this growth. Since 1990, the number of people living in cities in China and India has risen by nearly 500 million, the equivalent of housing the entire population of Canada 15 times over. …Even though history teaches that all booms are finite, this one could go on for some time.”

John McGagh, Head of Innovation, at Rio Tinto – the world’s third largest mining company – has publicly stated, “In the next 25 years, demand for metals could meet or exceed what we have used since the beginning of the industrial revolution.”

The McGuinty Liberals have recently announced that respected former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond will chair an agency – Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Service – whose mandate is to streamline Ontario’s public sector in order to improve efficiencies and most importantly save money. This review will include post-secondary educational programs.

In a recent joint Toronto Star commentary, Don Drummond and Daniel R. Woolf, vice-chancellor of Queen’s University said, “We have reached a point in the post-secondary education system where significant new thinking is required to reconcile a higher participation rate with the reality of finite government resources. This will require willingness to rethink a system that cannot be sustained.”

Laurentian: Global Harvard of hardrock mining

One of Don Drummond’s key recommendations from this review of public services must be the consolidation of all of Ontario’s post-secondary mining programs at Laurentian University in Sudbury. Not only will this save fiscal resources that could be reinvested in expansion and modernization, it will be an enormous economic boost to the community’s growing cluster of hard-rock mining expertise and research and help transform Laurentian into a global “Harvard of hardrock mining.”

Ontario has three post secondary mining engineering faculties located at Laurentian in Sudbury, Queen’s in Kingston and the University of Toronto. Each of these schools also has a major earth science or geology program. In addition, there are nine other geo-science departments across Ontario. It is very expensive to train mining engineers and geologists and the current situation is not economically sustainable especially with the province’s billion dollar deficits and an accumulated $236 billion net debt.

Balanced budgets are years away and expanding health care costs due to retiring baby boomers are competing with university funding.

An October, 2010 study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) – a provincial agency – found that Ontario universities should stop “trying to be everything to everyone” and focus on a specific areas of expertise. HEQCO’s role is to provide government policy recommendations to improve the quality of post-secondary education.  HEQCO President Harvey Weingarten said at the time, “You will have institutions doing what they do best, not trying to do what everybody else is doing.”

It is believed that 60 percent of geo-scientists in Canada will be 65 or older by 2015. How are we going to replace a graying generation of geologists and mining engineers, as well as increase the numbers for expanding production? According to MiHR, we will need 615 new mining engineers and 1,058 geologists, geochemists and geophysicists by 2020.

Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that educating students in southern universities, where they may meet their future wives, have strong family ties and are used to big-city amenities, may be a major factor for their reluctance to enter the field and/or relocate to small northern mining communities where the jobs are usually located. This was a major issue when the Harris Government decided to establish a joint medical school in Sudbury and Thunder Bay in 2005 to help retain graduates in northern Ontario.

By consolidating mining education at Laurentian University, the province could also expand these mining faculties with an international mandate to train the next generation of hardrock skilled professionals from around the world who bring in much needed funding. In the 2010 throne speech, the Ontario premier wanted to expand foreign enrolment in the province’s universities. International education is Australia’s third largest industry. At the time, McGuinty said, “We could use the funds this generates to help expand our schools for our kids and create jobs.”
However, an integral part of this consolidation would also include a pro-active initiative to recruit students from northern and First Nations communities who have a more realistic and familiar relationship with the mining sector and would enjoy staying in the north.

Approximately eight to ten per cent of Laurentian’s enrolment is composed of First Nations students, a potentially excellent demographic to find the next generation of mining engineers and geologists, as most of Ontario’s new mines, especially in the Ring of Fire camp, are on traditional First Nations territory.

There would be enormous resistance from the older established mining schools at the University of Toronto and Queen’s University. Southern Ontario’s medical schools vehemently opposed the creation of a northern medical school, preferring to just expand capacity in the south. Similar opposition is expected, regardless of the long-term provincial fiscal restraints and the vision of creating an internationally renowned institution. In addition, the wasteful competition between the three schools for mining industry financial donations that needlessly duplicate facilities would be over.

Sudbury: Hardrock mining heartland of the Americas

Why Sudbury and Laurentian?

Half of all mining activity in Ontario, the largest mineral producer in Canada, takes place in the Sudbury Basin. Sudbury has the largest integrated mining operations in Canada. In addition, northeastern Ontario is the hardrock mining heartland of the Americas and Sudbury is its epicentre. The Sudbury Basin itself, is the third most strategic and richest hardrock mining centre in the world. Only the deep gold mines of the Witwatersrand and the platinum deposits of the Bushveld – both in South Africa – can match the concentration and hardrock mining expertise of Sudbury and the northeast.

The complex nickel-copper sulphide ores found in Sudbury, also contain platinum-group metals, gold, silver, cobalt and few other metals which has contributed to the richness of this extraordinary mining camp for almost 130 years. A newly opened mine by Xstrata Nickel, and two other deposits owned by Vale and Quadra-FNX, that will begin operations in the next few years highlight the continued longevity of the Sudbury Basin – many industry experts feel that we will still be mining here for another century at least.

The four combined mining clusters found in Sudbury – mineral operations, education, research and supply and services – are globally unique. Clusters are a group of interrelated industries and institutions that create value-added wealth primarily through innovation and the export of goods and services. California’s Silicon Valley – south of San Francisco – is the most famous cluster of high-technology innovation in the world. Houston, Texas has established itself as the leading cluster of oil and gas industries, services, research and educational institutes related to that sector.

Sudbury is well on its way to establishing itself as the Silicon Valley of the underground mining sector. However, most dynamic industry clusters around the world are anchored by a well-funded engineering or technological university. By consolidating mining education at one large, well-funded institution, creativity, synergy and enhanced research will thrive, as well as contribute enormously to the existing mining clusters in the Sudbury Basin.

Laurentian’s Earth Sciences geology department’s Mineral Exploration Research Centre (MERC) represents the largest cluster of geoscientists conducting ore deposit-related research of any university in North America. The affiliated Centre of Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) focuses its research in mine process engineering, deep mining and environmental reclamation. Rio Tinto recently donated $10 million to further enhance CEMI’s research capabilities and establish a new global centre for underground mine construction – the largest cash donation from an individual company yet.

This is an extraordinary, international vote of confidence in the local research establishment that also includes Xstrata’s technology centre with its global mandate, various other research facilities at Laurentian and the two local colleges, Cambrian and Boreal, and Vale’s very strong research activities in underground mining.

Last January, in the Sudbury Star, Vale senior executive John Pollesel stated, “As a matter of fact, in the North Atlantic, we [Sudbury] are the centre of excellence for underground mining globally for Vale. Vale’s operations are mostly open pit, big iron ore mines. However, if we’re to develop a deposit in Africa … they will come to us for mining expertise.”

There is a general consensus in the mineral sector that the easy open-pit mineral deposits have been discovered and the only way to significantly increase metal production to meet the urbanizing and industrializing economies of China, India, Brazil and other developing countries is by deeper underground mines.

In addition, depending on the measuring criteria, Sudbury has Canada’s largest or second largest concentration of mining supply and service industries. Many companies are involved in incremental, problem solving research. A selective minority is conducting major, globally recognized innovation and export their services and products internationally. This local cluster is a key component in ensuring that the Sudbury miners remain among the most skilled, innovative and productive workers in the world.

The local mining supply and services companies employ about 13,800 people – more than the area’s mineral operations – with an economic value of approximately $4 billion, estimated for 2011. Throughout the entire north, the sector employs 23,000 and will produce roughly $6.5 billion of economic activity this year.

The existing post-secondary mining education programs that includes two colleges and  Laurentian as well as secondary school initiatives – Specialist High Skills Majors –  that focus on mining subjects, combine to form the largest cluster of mineral sector related educational programs in Canada.

Former Liberal Premier David Peterson true visionary for North

On July 30, 1986, former Liberal Premier David Peterson announced the relocation of the then Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and the Ontario Geological Survey from Toronto to Sudbury. There had been immense opposition to these relocations yet Premier Peterson persevered due to his vision of establishing Sudbury as Canada’s preeminent mining centre.

At that time, he said, “This government wants to … put Sudbury on the road to being an internationally recognized centre of excellence in the earth sciences, mining and mineral research.”

This was an economic game changer for the community, turbo-charging the development of Sudbury’s already global reputation in hard-rock mining. The next step forward is the consolidation of the province’s post-secondary mining education programs.

An explosive demand for skilled mining geologists and engineers to find and develop future deposits and keep the present ones in operation will be one of the most significant challenges the Ontario and global mining industries faces during a period of large provincial deficits.

Consolidating the province’s post-secondary mining programs at Laurentian with an international mandate as well as increased First Nations recruitment, will immensely benefit the industry and help enhance and streamline Ontario’s fiscally challenged university system.

At the same time, Dalton McGuinty can leave a lasting legacy in a community that has steadfastly supported him since he took over the leadership of the Liberal party and create a dynamic global mining university that will bring tremendous benefits to the entire provincial economy.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant who writes extensively on mining issues.