OTTAWA – Newly appointed Minister of State for Science and Technology Greg Rickford gave a speech at the World Mining Congress Monday in which he referred to the industry as a “cornerstone of the Canadian economy” and iterated the need for continued growth.
He described how the feds have streamlined the regulatory process, eliminated redundant bureaucratic requirements and made project reviews more market sensitive.
But unlike other, similar speeches given by his Conservative comrades, Rickford’s emphasized environmental stewardship and the need for the mining industry to “(obtain) a social licence to operate.”
If the social licence can be defined as a trust among parties that all are benefiting satisfactorily and feel their priorities and concerns are taken into account, then the renewal of such a thing between the federal government, mining companies and the local communities they affect – namely First Nations – could prove invaluable. Because when it comes to the resource extraction industry in particular, public confidence in “the system” is abysmal, said Rob Roach, vice president of research at the Canada West Foundation.
Roach said his most recent numbers showed “that 84% (of Western Canadians) feel the regulatory system is rigged, either in favour of industry or against it, but they don’t trust it.”
“That social licence has eroded over time,” he said. “It has to be earned back and that’s a challenge, because we want to develop our resources, that’s the key to prosperity.”
Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire is a 5,000-km area filled with gold, chromite, zinc, copper, nickel, and it’s been valued at between $30 and $50 billion.
Though discovered a decade ago, it’s been plagued by setbacks. Some uncontrollable – commodity prices, for example – but the Matawa First Nations groups have yet to come on board.
Former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae stepped away from his MP position to represent them at the negotiating table.
Their apprehension isn’t for environmental reasons, nor are they against the development on principle.
Rae’s description of it – as wanting to feel like equal partners in negotiations with assurance their communities will see tangible benefits – aligns with Roach’s idea of the social licence.
“Those communities want to see the perceived benefit,” Roach said. “There’s a general concern about the environment, but it goes beyond wanting to be consulted.
The government has to re-establish itself as an honest broker. The industry can’t do it itself.”
A renewed social licence could foster a greater sense of pride among all Canadians in the resource industries, Roach said.
All First Nations groups contacted for this story declined to comment.
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