Paul Stothart is vice president, economic affairs of the Mining Association of Canada. He is responsible for advancing the industry’s interests regarding federal tax, trade, investment, transport and energy issues.
During the past five years of strong growth in mineral prices, the mineral exploration community in Canada has been facing an increasingly difficult challenge — namely, how to find resources in promising northern regions where underlying mineral data is either weak or non-existent.
The federal government has been under-investing in its geological mapping responsibilities for some 20 years, with annual spending declining from $98 million in 1988 to $50 million in 2007. This decline has been equally dramatic at the provincial and territorial government levels. One interesting consequence of this neglect is that some 73 per cent of Nunavut, for example, is unmapped or poorly mapped and, at present investment levels, the first full mapping of the territory would not be finished for 80 years.
Given such a weak foundation of data, private companies are less able to undertake effective exploration programs. While exploring for minerals is, to some extent, akin to “searching for a needle in a haystack,” it is the public policy investment in basic geological survey work that allows those accessing the data to at least find where the haystacks are. In view of the high level of interest in diamonds, uranium, base metals and other northern resources, one must question the public good served by this pattern.
Questions of national sovereignty in the North are also raised by this under-investment.