If any region in the country can appreciate the cyclical nature of mining, it’s Flin Flon and the rest of northern Manitoba.
But how is mining doing today? And what can be done to improve its viability? Those were among the questions The Reminder explored in an email interview with Renae Campbell, director of communications of the Mining Association of Manitoba.
REMINDER: Mining seems to be in a funk right now. The Thompson smelter and refinery closes in 2018. Flin Flon’s 777 mine closes in 2020. Bucko Lake shows no serious signs of reopening. What are your general thoughts on the state of mining in northern Manitoba?
CAMPBELL: The global industry has been in a difficult part of the cycle for several years. Mine operators in northern Manitoba are certainly not immune to those difficulties. 2016 is showing signs of a recovery in commodity pricing and we are hopeful this will continue through 2017. There are also a number of exploration projects active in northern Manitoba, which may generate new mines in the future.
REMINDER: Mining jobs have actually been on the decline for some time in Flin Flon and elsewhere in the North. Yet all we ever hear is, “Northern Manitoba is loaded with metals.” Why is there such a disconnect between the supposed promise of mining in this region and the reality?
CAMPBELL: There is opportunity in the region. The current and past-producing mining regions in northern Manitoba present opportunities for the future, as do some truly greenfield prospects.
In the commodity-pricing environment of the last few years, exploration capital has been in much shorter supply than during the decade prior, which does explain some of the decrease in exploration activity within the province.
However, the decrease in activity in Manitoba is disproportionately higher when compared to other jurisdictions, which suggests that the Province of Manitoba has an opportunity to improve the attractiveness of the province to investors.
REMINDER: The PC government has pledged to make Manitoba a more mining-friendly province. What would you encourage them to do in this regard?
CAMPBELL: Our policy priorities for the Government of Manitoba can be summarized in three categories: Competitiveness, Certainty and Capacity.
Competitiveness refers to the financial conditions for exploration and mining within the province, relative to other mining jurisdictions and other sectors within the province.
Among other opportunities, the province must establish a competitive tax environment and maintain competitive exploration incentives and hydro costs. Not only does Manitoba have the least competitive tax regime for mining in Canada, but mining is also taxed more heavily in Manitoba than with other manufacturers.
Under Certainty, the province must establish a permitting and consultation process, which articulates definite timelines and stakeholder participation. In addition, the province must take a sustainable economic development approach to land access and avoid major land withdrawals prior to considering mineral potential in those areas as well as establish a regulatory regime which is stable and fair across all sectors.
Lastly, Capacity includes the establishment and maintenance of infrastructure required to facilitate exploration, mining and transportation, along with the building of workforce and community capability to participate in exploration and mining activities throughout the province and in particular in northern Manitoba.
We have heard positive messaging on these issues from the current provincial government and we look forward to seeing further action by the government on these items in 2017 now that they understand the challenges and opportunities.
REMINDER: Given the state of mining, there is a lot of conversation around the need to diversify the northern economy. While mining is your area of expertise, what do you make of such talk and do you have any suggestions?
CAMPBELL: We are very pleased that the Province of Manitoba has launched the “Look North” economic development strategy task force. The president of the Mining Association of Manitoba, Mark Scott, has been appointed to this task force and we are looking forward to this process, which kicked off in The Pas on Dec. 13, 2016 and will continue over the next six months.
While mining can and should continue to be a cornerstone industry for northern Manitoba, we recognize the importance of diversifying to provide a necessary and sustainable economic foundation for the region.
Our industry deals in non-renewable resources. Every community that enjoys the benefits of having mining activity in their backyard should be actively preparing for the day when that may not be the case.