Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ontario Provincial Elections – Stumbling at the Threshold of Opportunity in Northwest Ontario

3 October 2007

It is no secret to my readers that I have often written on the topic of mining, but rarely about mining in Northwest Ontario.

As the Ontario provincial election nears, perhaps it is time to rectify that, though my time is brief.

I have just reviewed the
statements of all four Northwestern Ontario candidates, and not one of them has voiced the recognition that mining is the future of Northwest Ontario.

The Conservative candidate Penny Lucas came closest, with a proposal to remove the diamond mining tax.

But that is all that has been said on the issue so far.

The focus is retrograde, a backward look at the decline of the forestry industry, rather than a forward look at the rise of mining.

How sad.

In a decade’s time, with mining activity far advanced globally, I'm sure this issue will garner the attention it deserves.

Let me reiterate: mining is the future of the north. And we’re not talking small stuff. Anyone who has visited Red Lake recently is aware that gold exploration and mining are ramping dramatically. Believe me, that is not even the tip of the iceberg. Everything we have seen so far – including the current explosion in exploration activity in Red Lake – is only an intimation of where we are going.

The tip of the iceberg fails as an analogy. We have seen perhaps only the single molecule of the ice on the tip of the iceberg.

For every job now being lost in forestry, some multiple of that will be created in mining over the next 2 to 3 decades – perhaps there will be 10 new jobs in mining for every job lost in forestry by 2037.

With its rich but forgotten mining heritage, Northwest Ontario is in a position to become the “next Alberta” in Canada. How unfortunate that our leaders, and perhaps many among our populace, have forgotten where we came from in this region.

How far have we drifted from our traditional focus on mining activity?

We no longer even train people in mining occupations in our region. Decades ago, it was possible to receive mining skills training in Sault Ste. Marie, for example, as a geologist’s assistant. That program has closed.

Confederation College, with campuses throughout our region, offers few if any courses relevant to mining skills training.

We are not without our visionaries and our leaders. Certainly Rob McEwen's return to Red Lake through his investment in Rubicon Minerals is a strong affirmation of our region’s future. And I am a great advocate of Ewen Downie and the Stares brothers in Thunder Bay.

In fact, our region has a rich mining heritage, and we have the skill and knowledge base to refocus on our future in this booming global industry. But the potential place of mining in our region is taking a backseat to discussions about forestry’s decline, the needs for education, health care and roads, and specific proposals to throw money at the forestry industry to arrest its inevitable decline.

Northwestern Ontario residents and the candidates vying for election in our district, seem largely unaware that mining activity will be our future direction. Based on their stated platforms, I am finding it difficult to locate a candidate in whom I can invest my vote.

How do the parties stack up with respect to their vision of the north’s future?

Well, the Conservatives at least want to remove the diamond mining tax – and to arrest forestry’s decline, improve infrastructure, etc. The usual stuff.

The Liberals – regrettably – are proposing to throw a billion dollars of taxpayer’s money at the forestry industry to see what sticks to the wall. Believe me, it will be less than we desire. My estimate – a billion dollars, thoughtfully directed to spur mining activity – would create 10 jobs for every one that the Liberals’ new forestry initiative will bring to pass – and perhaps 100. The Liberal’s regressive and costly forestry policy gives good reason not to vote for this party.

The Green candidate is proposing growing hemp. At least this person has considered that new industrial development is needed in our region. But we are not a traditionally agricultural region, and I doubt that hemp will be our future, but more power to her.

Mr. Hampton, our NDP incumbent, is very clued-in to the pulse of the north, but seemingly paying little attention to mining, perhaps because the population itself has not yet awakened to this issue.

So – the critical issue of our era – the need for infrastructure, facilitative legislation and government policy, the reopening of local mining offices, training in mining occupations skills, incentives to attract the best and the brightest to our area, incentives for mining exploration and mine development – is receiving no attention In the present election.

To be honest, how we vote this month will thus have little impact on our future. But perhaps we can at least begin to promote discussion about the issues that concern our region.

Regardless of what happens at the political level, entrepreneurs such as Mr. Downie, the Stares brothers, and many more, will move forward in mine development. Perhaps they will have to travel far beyond our region to find the skilled employees they need to carry out mineral exploration and mine development in Northwest Ontario, but it will happen, no matter how backward looking the citizens and political leaders of the north remain.

In summary, all four candidates seem to be marching backwards into a future that will be dramatically different than the recent past, and not one candidate seems to be prepared for the dramatic opportunities that rest at our doorstep.

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