Transformative Impact: Mining and Canadian First Nations – by Joe Oliver, Canadian Natural Resources Minister (November 19, 2012)

The Honourable Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources opening remarks at the Canadian Aboriginal Mineral Association Conference in Toronto, Canada, November 19, 2012.

Check Against Delivery

Thank you very much, Bill, and ladies and gentlemen. First, let me say how much I appreciated the welcome and the prayer from Elder Garry Sault of Mississaugas of New Credit who have welcomed us into their traditional territory. I’d also like to acknowledge Hans Matthews, President of the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association, Aboriginal leaders and chiefs in attendance this morning. My thanks to CAMA and the Canada Forum for their invitation to share a few words and to be part of your 20th anniversary celebrations. I’m delighted to join you this morning.

Permettez-moi d’abord de remercier l’Association canadienne des minéraux pour les autochtones et leur Forum canadien pour l’amiable invitation à prononcer quelques mots et à participer aux célébrations de votre 20e anniversaire. Je suis vraiment enchanté d’être parmi vous ce matin.

I applaud your association for increasing understanding and awareness among industry, Aboriginal communities and government about the knowledge and expertise that First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities bring to the mining sector across our great country.

Mining can have a wonderfully transformative impact on Aboriginal communities and indeed all communities. Let me give you a small anecdote.

Two summers ago, while I was travelling with the Prime Minister in Nunavut for his annual Northern tour, we visited the community of Baker Lake. The Mayor took us on a tour of his community and he brought us to the Metal Bank Mine. And he told us because of the mine the unemployment rate had fallen from 45 percent to two percent. And then he said, “I know those two guys and I wouldn’t have hired them either.”

In addition to hiring local people, the company helped build cell phone towers to connect the community to Northwest Tel’s cell phone – sorry, cell phone service. The arrival of workers from across Canada also helped develop local tourism and now there is potential for a uranium mine called the Kiggavik project which is being proposed by Areva Resources Canada. In short, a community that was struggling to survive is now thriving and booming.

Aboriginal-industry relationships and partnerships have evolved tremendously in the last 20 years leading to a growing number of projects and related agreements that provide jobs, training and wealth, that together are the foundations of success, sustainability and prosperity for communities.

But make no mistake, it’s not only Aboriginal communities that strive – that thrive when strong partnerships are built. History has shown that companies that reach out to Aboriginal groups early at the design stage, and often, because plans change, are the most successful. When companies realize the tremendous labour and skill potential of Aboriginal peoples, they, too, can thrive.

Canada is facing labour shortages in many areas where resource projects are planned. Aboriginal peoples are Canada’s youngest population so there is a great complementarity here. But companies must see – they must see collaboration with Aboriginal communities as long-term investment and as a long-term proposition.

So, too, should Aboriginals view negotiations regarding resource project as an opportunity to obtain long-term employment for their communities, training and skills for their people and a path to wealth creation that will sustain future prosperity.

While natural resource projects alone are not the solution to self-sustainability, they are an important piece. So what can we do to educate communities and companies about the advantages of collaboration from the earliest stages?

Well, lots. One example is an information tool that my department created based on feedback from groups, including CAMA. The Mining Information Kit for Aboriginal communities is a valuable educational tool to inform Aboriginal peoples about all the stages of the mining cycle as well as the many developments and benefits that mining can bring to communities. We also recognize that early engagement on the part of the Crown is essential to ensure our wealth of natural resources is sustainably developed and produces benefits for all Canadians.

Our government’s responsible resource development plan has an entire component dedicated to ensuring Aboriginal consultations are consistent, accountable, meaningful and timely. It reinforces our government’s commitment to: integrate Aboriginal consultations into the environmental assessment and regulatory process; provide funding to support consultations with Aboriginal peoples to ensure their rights and interests are respected; and promote positive and long-term relationships to facilitate greater participation of Aboriginal peoples in the direct and indirect benefits of new resource projects.

Together, these measures will ensure Aboriginal peoples are more fully engaged in the environmental assessment and regulatory permitting process from beginning to end and that the duty of the crown to consult is met effectively and meaningfully.

As you know, economic growth, job creation and prosperity for all Canadians are our government’s top priorities. And we are at a pivotal moment. The economic opportunities in Canada for Aboriginal peoples in the natural resource sector are unprecedented. We know that natural resource industries are already a significant engine for economic growth. In 2011, 8.3 percent of the working Aboriginal population was employed in natural resources, making natural resources the largest private employer of Aboriginals in Canada. And that translates into more than 31,000 jobs.

The mining industry is especially important. Aboriginals make up seven and a half percent of its workforce. If we compare this figure to the data from 1996 when only three and a half percent of the mining workforce was Aboriginal, we see the growing impact and the progress. Newfoundland and Labrador saw a staggering 775 percent increase in its Aboriginal mining workforce from 2001 to 2006, mainly due to the Voisey’s Bay Mine. And the numbers may even get better. Pending the results of an underground exploration program, Vale may expand its Voisey’s Bay operations with the development of an underground mine and expansion of the concentrator. Vale estimates an additional 350 people will be employed.

Northern Ontario’s massive chromite deposits may unleash some of the largest mining operations this country has ever seen. Private sector projections indicate chromite resources there could be worth as much as $50 billion and their estimates for deposits of base metals and platinum group metals worth as much as $10 billion. There may also be deposits of gold, iron and other minerals in the region.

Investors are convinced the Cliffs chromite project is proposing to build a 30-year open pit and underground chromite mine with ore processing capabilities. And Noront’s Eagle Nest project is proposing a 10-year nickel, copper and platinum group metals mine along with onsite processing.

All this means thousands and thousands of new jobs, including employment and skills development opportunities for the 31 Aboriginal communities in the vicinity.

As Aboriginal people are the fastest-growing population in Saskatchewan, they also stand to benefit from BHP Billiton’s $1 billion investment in its Jansen Lake potash project in the province. And that’s expected to create another thousand jobs.

In the North, a third De Beer’s mine is expected to be in operation in the Northwest Territories within the next few years, representing an investment of up to 650 million and creating 350 new jobs.

For every region where there’s economic development, there are improvements in living conditions, health and safety, education and employment. In short, jobs lead to a higher standard of living and quality of life.

This understanding was at the heart of Prime Minister Harper’s pledge at the Crown’s First Nation gathering last January: to create the conditions necessary to accelerate economic development opportunities and enable strong, sustainable and self-sufficient communities.

We’re committed to creating new markets that help the Canadian mining industry compete in some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. We’ve kept taxes low, eliminated red tape and paid down debt. We’re reducing the regulatory burden and promoting free trade and innovation. We’re the only G-7 country to have recouped all of the jobs lost during the last recession and added 820,000 net new jobs since July 2009. Real GDP is now significantly higher than pre-recession levels — again, the best performance in the G-7. And both the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Monetary Fund have named Canada to be among the leaders in economic growth in the industrialized world over the next two years.

Canada’s economic fundamentals are sound and our fiscal house is in order. The security of Canada’s economy makes us attractive partners as other countries look to diversify their economies. And that is good for the mining industry.

Over the past several months, I’ve been to the United States, Europe, China, Korea, Japan, Israel, India, the Phillippines and Hong Kong to promote Canada’s abundant natural resources. At every stop, I met with industry and government representatives and emphasized our immense resource wealth, our advanced technology, our liquid capital markets, our world class technological expertise, our non-discriminatory regulatory system and our unprecedented plans for development.

Canada has a wealth of natural resources, a stable economy, and key mechanisms in place to ensure responsible resource development and environmental protection. The number of projects already on the books is significant. According to an analysis done by Natural Resources Canada, there are some 600 large resource development projects currently under construction or planned over the next 10 years. And many of them are close to Aboriginal communities. Together, these new projects represent a total investment of more than $650 billion and offer the potential for significant benefits to Aboriginal communities.

Just look at the map of Canada and you’ll find exploration and mining projects in every region. Nickel at Voisey’s Bay in Labrador. Chromite in the Ring of Fire in Ontario. The oil sands in Alberta. Copper and gold in B.C. and new diamond mines in the North.

During the conference, this conference for the next two days, you’ll hear about some of these successful collaborative partnerships. As our mining sector continues to grow and expand with new projects coming on stream, so, too, does the need for skilled workers. In fact, according to a recent report from the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, the mining sector will need to hire more than 100,000 additional workers in the next decade. Who better to capitalize on these opportunities than Aboriginal communities?

According to the Public Policy Forum, about 400,000 Aboriginal youth are expected to enter the workforce over the next decade. Economic Action Plan 2012 provides for more than 690 million to make sure they are job-ready.

Without question, one of the most important ways we’re supporting resource development projects is with our new streamlined and modernized approach to responsible resource development. This plan will ensure Canada’s regulatory regime for major projects is among the most efficient, effective and competitive in the world. This legislation introduces a sweeping new approach to regulation that eliminates duplication and enforces beginning-to-end limits on environmental assessments.

Just last week, John Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, introduced the Northern Jobs and Growth Act to improve the regulatory regime north of 60.

Our government believes we do not need to choose between economic development and environmental protection. We can, we must do both. Canadians deserve and expect nothing less from their government. These changes will position us to capitalize on the jobs and long-term growth opportunities for the development of our resources while strengthening our world class environmental standards.

I’m here because our government is determined to partner with Aboriginal peoples so your communities continue to benefit from these immense resource opportunities.

Ma présence ici aujourd’hui témoigne du désir, de la détermination de notre gouvernement de s’associer aux peuples autochtones afin que vos communautés continuent à bénéficier des perspectives offertes par les richesses naturelles.

As we increase access to capital, reduce regulatory burden, underwrite training and skills development, and leverage and development partnerships with other sectors, we are creating the right conditions for Aboriginal communities to prosper. Our vision is a future in which Aboriginal peoples and communities prosper and participate in the development of resource projects, making strong contributions to the natural resource sector, your communities and the country as a whole. And I look forward to working with you to see that this vision is realized.

Thank you very much. Merci.