“The Death of Mining” in 1984 – perhaps Mark Twain said it best

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

Please link here for: Business Week – Death of Mining: December 17, 1984

The cover story on Business Week magazine on December 17, 1984 bore the ominous headline “The Death of Mining.”  Twenty seven years later, at the 68th Canadian Mines Ministers Conference held in Alberta, the Canadian Mineral Industry Federation (CMIF) presented evidence of a diametrically opposite point of view.

“Canada’s mining industry is a major contributor to Canadian prosperity – providing $35 billion to GDP in 2010 and based on Natural Resources Canada definitions, employing 308,000 workers in mineral extraction, processing and manufacturing,” said the CMIF submission to mines ministers.  “There are more than 3,200 companies, which provide inputs to the industry ranging from engineering services to drilling equipment.”

“The industry pays around $10 billion annually in taxes and royalties to federal, provincial and territorial governments,” it said.  “Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba and British Columbia all typically derive a significant portion of government revenues from the mining industry.”

Back in 1984, Business Week told us “a series of factors accounts for mining’s malaise.  The industry is hobbled by a worldwide excess of capacity that shows no sign of abating.  Despite disappointing demand for most metals, Third World countries, eager to exploit more of their natural resources, keep opening new mines that incorporate the latest recovery techniques.  Underlying all this is a weakening geological base: Many of the richest reserves are becoming close to depletion, while low-grade ore that remains is becoming too costly to recover.” 

This gloomy article was written after one of the worst post World War II recessions in 1981 and 1982, which had lingering negative impacts.  The pessimistic Business Week article concluded that “if another broad-based recession were to hit . . . in 1985 or 1986, it would probably sound the death knell for an industry that is already permanently bed ridden.”

In looking back, we can say at best that Business Week had a cloudy crystal ball and was prone to negative hyperbole.  At worst, this American economic publication could not foresee the tremendous resiliency of the mining community and the dynamic global economic forces that would propel mining forward.  A look at the OMA website www.oma.on.ca and regular OMA e-news letters indicates this Association continues to present evidence on the positive role of mining in Ontario as a responsible partner in society – past, present and future.

If we go back to the CMIF submission, we can see that “Canada remained the top destination for global exploration attracting 19% of world spending in 2010 – with mineral exploration spending in Canada growing by 35% to $2.6 billion.  The industry’s trade levels also increased significantly, with exports having grown by 27% in 2010 . . . Canada also features world-leading mineral exploration capabilities – there are an estimated 1,000 Canadian exploration companies active in over 100 countries.”

The OMA’s vision for the future of mining in Ontario, which can be found on the OMA website, notes that the global economic forces of urbanization and development are creating a window of opportunity.  The CMIF document supports the OMA view and says that “in examining growth projections in China, India and elsewhere, and assuming a positive and efficient investment environment, it seems evident that strong economic prospects face the Canadian mining sector over the coming decades.” 

In 1897, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) responded to his obituary, which allegedly erroneously appeared in the New York Journal with the famous line “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  Perhaps we are being a bit unfair to Business Week magazine, which was first published in September 1929 only weeks prior to the crash of Wall Street, for its predictions of the death of mining but at the OMA we know the “patient” is doing well. 

Memories of the Business Week cover in 1984 were triggered during a discussion with Republic of Mining blog master Stan Sudol.  The Ontario Mining Association is a member of CMIF, which is a group of 17 mining related associations in Canada.