Lakehead mining institute opens dialogue on sustainable development – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – November 26, 2013)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business

Lakehead University’s fledgling mining research institute wants to take a pragmatic, solutions-based, approach to advancing exploration in Northern Ontario starting with an inaugural conference.

The newly minted Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Mining and Exploration is hosting an event aimed at examining past, current and future public policy and how it promotes sustainable mining development.

“The Role of Government Policy in Sustainable Mining Development” is set for December 5-6 at the Thunder Bay campus. “It’s our first major event to advance our goals as a centre,” said institute director Peter Hollings.

The conference will bring together Canadian and world leaders in mining policy and mineral development with speakers and representatives from First Nations, Metis, local communities, government and industry attending.

Hollings hopes the dialogue can be elevated beyond the usual rhetoric and platitudes to delve more in-depth into the main issues and challenges of mineral development that his institute wants to embody.

“One of our goals is to advance resource development in Northern Ontario and we recognize that having some clarity about mining policy – and what works and what doesn’t – is really something we need to be focusing on,” said Hollings.

Among the topics to be discussed are infrastructure, Aboriginal and community engagement, environmental protection, workforce, taxation, benefit-sharing and business development.

On the presenters’ list are Laurie Sterritt of the BC Aboriginal Mine Training Assocation; Bill Gallagher, noted strategist on Aboriginal issues; Steve Lindley, SNC-Lavalin’s vice-president of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs; and Bob Rae, chief negotiator for the Matawa First Nations tribal council.

The format features a series of roundtable discussions based on key issues raised by the speakers.

“I don’t know how successful we’re going to be,” said Hollings, “but we’re ambitious that at the end of it we’re actually going to come up with the recommendations we can take forward.

“We’ve got good buy-in from the Metis and First Nation groups; Bob Rae will be there, and we encourage the politicians to see what’s being said.

He isn’t promising miracles to solve all the complexities in places like the Ring of Fire. “At least maybe we can nudge the parties in the right direction and get consensus on what the right direction is.

“I’m hopeful some people come out of the room with a better idea of what the challenges and issues really are.”

The centre, which was officially launched last March, is modeled after successful mining institutes Hollings experienced in Australia and Tasmania.

It’s focused on mineral exploration, the environment and First Nations engagement by tackling the cultural and information exchange between industry and Aboriginal people.

The institute utilizes about 25 faculty members with expertise in geology, engineering, natural resources management, chemistry, anthropology and First Nation studies.

Securing money for industry-funded research has been hard to come by from many struggling junior miners.

“The responses we’re getting from the companies are, we love this idea. Come back and see us when stock prices go up,” said Hollings.

“It’s an unfortunate time in the industry but it’s also a critical time with everything that’s going on with the Ring of Fire. There’s a real need for that third party, honest broker who isn’t government or the mining companies to try and move things forward.”

Hollings said the centre of excellence has started some collaborative research efforts with area First Nations such as working on a traditional knowledge gathering project.

“The policy stuff’s okay, but the academics and research stuff is what we’re interested in.”

Hollings hope this inaugural event can be a demonstration that the institute is doing something worthy of corporate support.

“This first meeting is the first step to show that we’re not just talking, we’re actually going to try and achieve something here and come up with some concrete steps forward.”