Mining and exploration review north of the 60th parallel

Progress and Challenges in the Canadian North

Note, this report is from the 2010-11 issue of the North of 60 magazine.

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Natural resource development in the Canadian North continues to raise visibility amongst Canadian economic policy issues. Climate change, mineral prices, aboriginal relations, northern sovereignty, and environmental review efficiency are closely integrated with northern resource development and continue to influence the pace of such development.

The relationship between natural resource and northern development has been closely linked to Canada’s history, and the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) has remained an engaged stakeholder with a leading role in matters of social responsibility, community relations, and employment creation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARegarding social responsibility, the industry record manifests an upward trend mainly due to the application of Towards Sustainable Mining  (TSM), an initiative developed by the Mining Association of Canada to improve the industry’s performance by aligning its actions with the priorities and values of Canadians. TSM provides a way of finding common ground with communities of interest in order to build a better mining industry, today and in the future. Participation in TSM is a condition of membership in the Mining Association of Canada, it requires members to subscribe to a set of guiding principles that are backed by specific performance indicators against which member companies must report annually.  These results are externally verified every three years. During the month of September, MAC released its sixth annual Towards Sustainable Mining Progress Report.  The 2009 report outlines the corporate social responsibility (CSR) achievements and goals of participating companies.

Highlights from the 2009 report include:

  • Addition of Health and Safety Protocol
  • Addition of Biodiversity Conservation Management Protocol
  • Third party verification is now regularly scheduled
  • Crisis management plans are now in place for over 70 per cent of companies and facilities
  • Almost three-quarters of MAC facilities report achievements in engagement with communities of interest

As sustainable development initiatives continue to evolve, MAC’s award winning TSM program has already earned a leading position within the CSR arena, and forges ahead in its efforts to maximize mining’s contributions to society while minimizing environmental impacts. The focus for 2010 is to work on new indicators related to mine closure and water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 12-4On Aboriginal relations, the mining industry remains the largest private-sector employer of Aboriginal Canadians, and given geographic proximity, and the relatively high proportion of aboriginal youth, there is potential to draw upon this human resource in greater numbers. At the provincial level, some governments are in the process of modernizing mining legislation with the objective of bringing legislative requirements into the new millennium and clarifying the consultation requirements affecting companies and Aboriginal groups. At the industry-wide level, the Mining Association of Canada places a high priority upon this area and, among other activities, completed and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Assembly of First Nations in 2009.

A strong relationship is equally important at the individual company level. Beyond meeting applicable laws and regulations, and passing through relevant environmental review processes, it is increasingly evident that companies must have formal agreements in place with affected Aboriginal groups to facilitate progress on extractive projects. These agreements, generally known as impact benefit agreements (IBA) are usually signed between mining companies and Aboriginal communities, and among other components, may contain commitments regarding education, training, jobs, business contracts, and financial payments. IBAs have also been developed in Canada for pipeline, hydro power, and oil sands projects. It is estimated that there are approximately 120 IBAs relating to mineral exploration and extraction projects.

Despite the positive outlook on further developing the Canadian North, infrastructure remains a complex and costly obstacle. The Mining Association of Canada is a strong advocate for capacity building, particularly improving access and transport of resources which continues to be a challenge in the northern NWT and Nunavut.  Additionally, MAC continues to press for the government’s development efforts in terms of mapping the country and building improved databases of geosciences information.

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