Boom in the making - Northwest’s minerals worth billions
Northwestern Ontario stands to reap huge financial rewards when the region’s developing mining sector matures, but a great deal of time and money must be invested to ensure the region is ready, a new study states.
Mining in Northwestern Ontario: Opportunities and Challenges examined several in-development mining projects, and found that when up and running, thy have the potential to create more than 13,000 jobs in the region alone, and the yet-to-be mined minerals and metals found here have a value of around $136 billion.
In addition, more than $16 billion in tax revenue is expected to be collected by the provincial, federal and relevant municipal governments during the average 17.5-year lifetime of the mines.
“There are a few objectives we had for this report,” Bahram Dadgostar, dean of Lakehead University’s faculty of business and one of the study’s authors, said Thursday after the release of the report.
“One is to make sure that communities are aware of the wealth that we have underground here, and the opportunities that we can have when we explore that.
“And second is (to) make government aware of the wealth here and the profit that they can get out of it if they . . . effectively contribute to the process.”
The report examined nine mining projects — currently-operating mines weren’t included in the study — being developed by Bending Lake Iron Group, Cliffs Natural Resources, Goldcorp, Osisko, Noront, Rainy River Resources, Rubicon Metals, Stillwater Mining Company, and Treasury Metals.
The projects had to meet a few criteria before they were picked: they’re all nearing development — the report says every project has the potential to be an operating mine within five years — and have adequate public data available to enable them to be properly studied.
There are still myriad obstacles to overcome before the region is ready to fully take advantage of the rosy outlook, the report states.
One challenge is ensuring there are enough workers available.
Over the next decade, the report states, the region will have to attract large numbers of new mining-sector workers.
One of the recommendations is that the mining sector reach out to women and aboriginals, both under-represented in mining today.
The report also recommends raising awareness about mining careers among high school, college and university students.
The mining sector will have to work with aboriginal communities, which are often overlooked as projects develop, says the report.
The report states that companies need to ensure aboriginal community members are given opportunities for training and employment.
Treaty rights must be recognized as projects move forward, with aboriginal communities properly consulted, to expand agreements between mining companies and aboriginal communities to partnerships and revenue sharing.
Finally, the region’s infrastructure needs heavy development if new mines are to be supported.
Transportation, energy, and communications networks have to be expanded.
The report states that expansion of roads, rail and power lines for the nine in-development mines alone will cost $1.7 billion, or about 10 per cent of anticipated tax revenues.
Thunder Bay city manager Tim Commisso said the report fits well into the city’s own, separate mining readiness strategy, which is still being developed.
Thunder Bay is not quite ready to take advantage of a mining boom, he admitted.
There is still work to be done, such as ensuring the city has enough land for residential and commercial developments. Commisso said making sure that land is available and ready for development is, in fact, his “biggest concern”.
“Developing mining in Northwestern Ontario over the next five to 10 years has got a huge economic benefit for Thunder Bay,” he said.
“We recognize that. We also recognize we’re really wanting to be a good partner within the region.
“The challenge now is to get the infrastructure in place,” he said.
“We’ll take this (report), we’ll glean from it in terms of what has to be done from a strategic and from an action plan standpoint, build it in.”
But Commisso was careful to point out that things are happening on the city’s side, and there’s no danger of Thunder Bay missing out.
“The opportunity will happen,” he said.
“To me, the key is getting infrastructure in place, and also getting a really good, strong framework for working with First Nations.
“We will be going through the process of identifying what we need over the next few months with this mining readiness strategy, and we’ll put it in place.
“I think we’re ahead of the curve.”
Harold Wilson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, said the report will be a valuable tool as the region pushes government for mining development support.
“It’s important that we have this information, because it’s about economic impacts,” Wilson said.
“This is revenue-side. This is for the provincial and federal coffers — some to municipalities, but it’s really for the provincial and federal governments.
“The province of Ontario really needs to look at the revenue side,” he said.
“A lot of the announcements (are) all about expenditure control. Here’s an opportunity for revenue generation.
“This is huge. The Ring of Fire, the mining projects all throughout Northwestern Ontario, can yield huge amounts of new dollars into the economy, which is really what the province needs. But what we need from them is to address the regulatory side,” said Wilson.
He said the report will be used by municipalities, chambers of commerce and other regional representatives as they lobby the government to expedite various regulatory approvals that mining projects in the region will require.
Ron Nelson, president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, said it was “very, very encouraging” to see how much potential mining holds for the region.
“It gives us the tools that we need to go to government and say ‘cut the red tape, get off it, move it forward. Opportunities like this don’t come very often,’” he said.
“We understand there are policies that you have to follow, but in a lot of cases, there are way too many policies, and the government has to slim that down.”
A .pdf version of the full study can be found at thunderbayventures.com