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This column was originally published in 2004. How things change and how they stay the same or get worse! Ontario’s debt that year was $142-billion but will reach $283-billion in 2012 and $303-billon in 2013. In addition, the Far North Act – Bill 19 – which was passed last year, bans economic development in 225,000 square kilometers of the far north, roughly 21 per cent of Ontario’s landmass.
For some geographic perspective, that is approximately the same size as the United Kingdom minus Northern Ireland with a population of 60 million people. The enormously rich “Ring of Fire” mining camp was largely unknown. – (Stan Sudol-August30, 2011)
How many more Sudbury Basins exist in that vast northern
territory above the French and Mattawa Rivers that encompass
85% of the province’s geography? There are billions of
dollars worth of untapped mineral deposits waiting to be
developed. (Stan Sudol-September 9, 2004)
Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant and mining columnist. [email protected]
National Post – September 9, 2004
In July, Alberta Premier Ralph Kline proudly announced that his province’s massive debt has been slain However he could not have accomplished that historic feat without the development of northern Alberta’s booming oil sands economy and ensuing resource royalties. Unfortunately, Ontario, struggling with a $142-billion debt and a $100-billion infrastructure deficit, is largely ignoring the mineral rich potential of its north.
According to the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, over the next 50 years the world will use five times all the minerals supplies that have ever been mined up to the year 2000. China, India, Brazil and other emerging countries are rapidly industrializing their economies, which require a wide variety of base metals, many of which could be found in one of the world’s richest geological regions – northern Ontario. We are entering a commodity boom that could last for decades.
Historically, northern Ontario’s mineral wealth has provided high paying jobs, supplied significant tax revenue to Queen’s Park and helped settle much of the region. The mining sector still generates enormous wealth and industrial activity.
Sudbury, North America’s leading mineral district, is exporting its high-tech mining expertise around the globe. Continuous restructuring and automation since the late 1970s have established the Sudbury miners as some of the world’s most productive. Many geologists feel the Sudbury Basin will still be producing major quantities of metal for another century. How many more Sudbury Basins exist in that vast northern territory above the French and Mattawa Rivers that encompass 85% of the province’s geography?
Very little major new mining capacity has been developed in the past 15 years. An aggressive environmental movement steadfastly opposes any mining development even though Ontario has strict environmental regulations. All mining companies must develop closure or decommissioning plans that require the restoration of all lands to their natural state when the operations close.
To northerners, the constant negative rhetoric about mine development and ensuing loss of wilderness would be akin to protesting the establishment southern auto factories and the disappearance of irreplaceable farmland.
Given supportive policy changes, the mining sector could reinvigorate the depressed northern economy and also become a key employer of the region’s growing aboriginal populations.
Placer Dome’s Musselwhite gold mine, located 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, is an excellent example of native participation in the mining industry. A precedent-setting agreement between the company and four surrounding First Nations communities ensures that qualified aboriginals are given priority in the hiring process and native businesses are strongly encouraged to supply the mine site with services, ranging from construction and nursing to catering and air travel. First Nation employees were also provided with apprenticeship training programs in various trades.
However, Ontario must work out an equitable revenue-sharing agreement to ensure First Nation communities benefit from any resource deveope3mtn on their traditional lands. Municipalities automatically receive tax revenue form resource operations within their vicinity . First Nations do not. Both the mining sector and First Nations want the province to establish clear revenue sharing rules. This has been one of the most contentious issues holding up increased mineral exploration and development.
As with all sectors of the economy, a new generation of geologists and mining engineers must be trained. Currently there are three small mining engineering and eight geology programs scattered across the province. This is a horrific waist of Taxpayer’s money. Bob Rae, who is currently leading a review of Ontario’s post-secondary education system, should centralize the programs at Sudbury’s Laurentian University, encourage aboriginal participation and create a “Harvard of the Mining Sector.”
Another critical factor for a healthy and growing mining industry is public funding of geo-science information. These surveys are critical to the discovery of new mineral deposits. Every public dollar spent on geo-science activities generates five private sector dollars in exploration activities. When a mine is found, that single dollar will generate hundreds of dollars of investment and provide jobs.
The Ontario Geological Survey, a provincial agency that makes geo-scientific information available to the mineral sector, has not seen its budget increase since the late ‘80s.
In a recent speech at Ford’s 100th anniversary celebration, in reference to provincial aid packages for the auto sector, Premier Dalton McGuinty said, “In Ontario, our leading goal scorer is the automobile sector. So I’m going to help our leading goal scorer score more goals, create more high quality, high paying jobs.”
In northern Ontario, the leading “goal scorer” is the mining sector. There are billions of dollars worth of untapped mineral deposits waiting to be developed. These geological riches could provide employment for Aboriginal communities and tax revenue for the health care and education services all Ontarians value. It’s time to pay serious attention to the mining industry.