A sudden chill for miners in Canada – Northern Miner Editorial (September 10 – 16, 2012)

 The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry

The political winds are turning against miners in Canada, with the Sept. 4 victory of the tax-and-spend Parti Québécois in Quebec and the pro-mining Liberal party in B.C. on its last legs, and looking to be replaced by the environmentalist-friendly New Democratic Party.

The snap election in Quebec played out much the way pollsters predicted, with Pauline Marois’ separatist Parti Québécois defeating the incumbent federalist Liberal Party, and Premier Jean Charest losing his seat in Sherbrooke and officially resigning as the provincial Liberal leader.

With 54 seats, the PQ achieved minority power status, finishing ahead of the Liberals with 50 seats, the right-of-centre and untested Coalition Avenir Québec (19 seats) and the left-leaning Québec Solidaire (2).
Once again Quebec voters have treaded a fine line, this time by ousting a tired ruling Liberal party, but giving only tepid support to the PQ, who have proven over the years to be broadly capable managers when in power, looking past all the usual head-butting with the federal government.

The most disturbing aspect of the campaign, though, has been the increasing hostility to non-francophones living in the province, with each party promising to turn the screws even tighter on the province’s language minorities.

For miners, it’s starting to feel as though everything is up in the air in Quebec, after so many years of unusually strong support from the provincial government that even included heavy subsidies for deep-exploration drilling.

Despite grand visions such as Plan Nord, Charest’s Liberals were already chipping away at miners’ ability to do business in Quebec with its tax hike on profit from 12% to 16%, and its moves to block mineral development in huge parts of the province’s north, and steps towards decentralizing the power to grant mining-related permits from the provincial to the municipal level in many parts of Quebec.

The progressive PQ has been slowly morphing from a party that — true to its socialist roots — idealized the blue-collar worker and embraced multi-generational frontier megaprojects like the James Bay hydro-power developments, to one that is taking on more of the Occupy Wall Street mentality that’s hostile to private business, all the while making sullen comments about the provincial government having “given away” vast mineral wealth to private interests, especially foreigners.

The most significant election promise of the PQ with regards to mining is its intention to replace the Liberal’s tax hike on miners’s profits with a 5% tax on the value of minerals extracted, and — inspired by Australia’s progressive national government — slapping on a 30% tax on all mining profits above 8%.

Meanwhile in B.C., if you believe the polls, the pro-business provincial Liberal Party is facing an electoral wipeout when it faces the resurgent, progressive New Democratic Party at the ballot box next May.

Returning from the Labour Day weekend, Premier Christy Clark  unveiled a new cabinet to take into the election, with Minister of Energy & Mines and Minister Responsible for Housing Rich Coleman adding the title of Deputy Premier to the list, after he said he’d stick around to fight the next election. The cabinet overhaul became imperative when several high-profile ministers announced in August that they wouldn’t be running in 2013.

Clark also changed the name of the Ministry of Energy and Mines to “Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas,” to highlight her government’s drive to promote the province’s relatively untapped natural gas and liquid natural gas potential.

Clark became premier in February 2011 — not long after Premier Gordon Campbell’s resignation — but has yet to lead her party into an election. Clark’s Liberals polled as high as 44% upon her ascendancy, but the party’s popularity has shrivelled and now rests at 22% of popular support against the NDP, which has regularly flirted with 50% support for several months.

Veterans of the mining industry in Canada’s West Coast well remember the last time the NDP wielded power in B.C. from 1991–2001. The era was kicked off by Premier Mike Harcourt delaying and then killing the Windy Craggy copper-cobalt-gold project (297 million tonnes grading 1.4% copper plus cobalt and gold) in the province’s northwest by declaring the area a park. That move and others caused an exodus by miners out of the province that took one long, lean decade to reverse.