A proposed park covering a vast swath of northern Manitoba may not impede a potential copper mine, but the project is raising alarm bells over other mines that might never be found.
In its latest budget, the federal government revived a long-dormant proposal to establish the Manitoba Lowlands National Park on the northwest shores of Lake Winnipeg.
While the borders of the park could change, existing boundaries fall about
90 km away from the potential Tower mine.
“[The park] would never impact it,” said Ken Lapierre, president and CEO of Rockcliff Copper Corp., which has a royalty claim on the Tower property.
The Tower property, located about 120 km south-southeast of Snow Lake, hosts a potential copper mine that could open as early as 2018, pending favourable results from a feasibility study.
Lapierre said he has no concerns relating to other Rockcliff projects, including the highly touted Talbot deposit about 75 km due south of Snow Lake. Talbot is on option from Hudbay.
Ruth Bezys, president of the Manitoba Prospectors and Developers Association (MPDA), is deeply troubled by the park proposal.
She estimated the potential parkland hosts hundreds of mineral claims, many of which are older deposits being taken up by companies now conducting exploration.
Bezys said while mining is allowed in provincial parks – as is the case with Hudbay’s Reed mine outside Flin Flon – it is forbidden in national parks.
“Our North needs development,” she said.
“If you put a federal park in, you will sterilize mining in that area.”
Bezys worries the project would not only impact claims within park boundaries, but also create a chilling effect on mining and exploration across the province.
Others such as Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Manitoba Chapter, applaud the concept of the park providing it is established in partnership with affected First Nations and includes their full support.
He told the Winnipeg Free Press in May that the lowlands region is valuable in terms of Indigenous culture and the environment.
At 4,400 sq km, the proposed northeastern Manitoba park would cover an area nine times larger than Winnipeg.
Under the boundaries currently proposed, about half of the park would be situated inside the triangle formed on a map between The Pas, Norway House and Grand Rapids. The other half would lie south of Grand Rapids.
Parks Canada told the Free Press the boundaries are negotiable and that early discussions have begun with provincial officials about the feasibility of the project.
Bezys said MPDA has voiced its opposition to the Manitoba government, which she said can legally refuse any federal attempt to create the park.
She said she is tired of mining being portrayed as an “evil” industry from a bygone era, adding it provides important revenue to government programs.