Cosying up with mining industry – by Catherine Solyom (Montreal Gazette – August 10, 2013)

Matchmaking session gives miners, NGOs chance to team up for projects, but not everyone is happy about the process

MONTREAL – Somewhere inside the vast Palais des Congrès, a strange sort of “speed dating” session will be held this weekend to match some unlikely bedfellows.

These are not lonely hearts looking for love, however, but mining companies hoping to hook up with bleeding hearts — the social and environmental groups working to improve living conditions near Canadian mines abroad.

Held on the margin of the World Mining Congress, which will see some 1,500 delegates gathered to discuss everything from rock mechanics to mine closings, the controversial matchmaking session has attracted a lot of interest from both companies and non-governmental organizations hoping to “connect and build relationships,” said Jean Vavrek, the executive director of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, which is sponsoring the event.

The idea, said Vavrek, is to bring these two solitudes together to increase the positive impact of a given mining project, whether in Latin America or West Africa.

“How do we work more systematically, and up front, so the (impacts) are more positive and companies leave a strong legacy and act as an engine for other activities?” Vavrek said, citing the homegrown examples of Val d’Or, Sudbury and Sept-Îles, where mining has spurred the development of small and medium-sized local businesses. “A lot of companies and executives have done a lot of giving. But there are limits to doing that to try to alleviate poverty and improve development.”

The concept is not entirely new, building on the experience of pilot projects in Peru, where World Vision (in 2012) and Care Canada (in 2013) have teamed up with Toronto-based Barrick Gold to foster economic development in communities adjacent to Barrick mines.

For the $1-million World Vision project, Barrick put up 50 per cent of the funding, while the Canadian government (through the agency formerly known as the Canadian International Development Agency) put up the other half. With Care Canada, Barrick put in $460,000, while CIDA put in $1 million.

This new model of development is clearly favoured by the Harper government. Julian Fantino, who was minister of international cooperation until July, has repeatedly spoken about how aid should also serve Canadian interests — particularly in the mining sector.

Since 2009, it has pledged at least $38 million for “community development in the extractives sector” in Latin America alone, some of which was part of $28.36 million earmarked in 2011-2012 to Peru.

Then, in June, CIDA officially became part of the new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. There is now a special email address for private corporations to bid for government funding of international development.

It is not clear whether any partnerships formed this weekend at the Palais des Congrès will receive funding. But a spokesperson for DFATD Canada said the government was “broadening and deepening its engagement with the private sector” and referred to the new Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development, set up at the University of British Columbia with $25 million from DFATD.

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