Mining in Manitoba is vanishing like an early morning fog. The mining industry is near collapse in the keystone province, while I continue to raise the mining crisis in the provincial legislature to no avail.
The Manitoba government’s policy on mining is confused, if it exists at all.
Before entering politics, I worked in the mining industry as an engineer in training. My education as a geological engineer provided me with unique opportunities to see most open-pit and underground operations in Manitoba.
Since 2008, poor public policy has exasperated the demise of the mining industry in Manitoba. Yes, low commodity prices have played a significant role, but the nail in the coffin to mining in Manitoba has been government ignorance of the important role that mining has played in our history.
Commodity prices go up, and they go down. Mining seems to go on, but not in Manitoba. Huge tracts of Crown land have been taken off the map, so far as the mining industry is concerned.
In early 2017, the federal Liberal government announced that there would soon be a 4,400 sq. km national park in the area between Manitoba’s great lakes. Exhibit “A” is the Lowland National Park, which was announced without any due diligence.
The Manitoba government did not object to the feds inserting a huge park in the middle of Manitoba without provincial knowledge or First Nation consultation, nor did the federal government or Manitoba’s regional minister in Trudeau’s Cabinet raise concerns.
This is ironic because Manitoban Jim Carr was the federal minister for natural resources at the time.
This new National Park will overlie the southern extension of the Thomson Nickel Belt. Readers of The Northern Miner will immediately recognize the long-term disaster this announcement is having, and will have, on the mining industry in Manitoba.
The Thomson Nickel Belt is a world-class nickel deposit, on the same scale as Sudbury in Ontario.
However, even the threat of a National Park on top of this resource scares prospectors from prospecting on land that now will never be mined. And large industry actors such as Vale simply and quietly move their investments to locations that do not have these types of hindrances.
It is no coincidence that the Vale investments in Manitoba are going south, literally. The highest probability locations for future development have been erased from the map, so far as mining is concerned.
Exhibit “B” is another swath of land that has been set aside as a United Nations heritage site. It encompasses over 29,000 sq. km of the Precambrian Shield east of Lake Winnipeg and deep into northwestern Ontario. In addition, there will be a buffer zone of 35,900 sq. km for a total area that’s bigger than Switzerland.
Obviously, there are large areas, including greenstone belts, that will never be prospected or developed due to these kinds of designations, and so Manitoba’s mineral potential has effectively been fenced off to mining.
The opportunity costs are enormous, as revenue for future taxation, employment and First Nations’ prosperity have all been written off.
It is through my activities as a naturalist, engineer, politician and canoeist, and my passion for sensible public policy decisions, that I believe it is possible for our mining industry to coexist with minimal impact on the environment.
However, the current government in Manitoba and the federal government in Ottawa have policies that “undermine” mining, and once critical mining infrastructure such as smelters are gone. They may never come back.
Action must be taken. There is not enough political leadership in the mining industry in our province, or in our country.
The Manitoba Party is bringing forward a comprehensive provincial mining strategy, and calling this initiative “Mindful Mining Manitoba,” with details available at www.mindfulminingmanitoba.com.
It is designed to bring mining back, as a major, sustainable, economic, job-creating and revenue-producing industry in Manitoba.
— Steven Fletcher is Leader of the Manitoba Party and a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba in the Constituency of Assiniboia. He was a federal Member of Parliament for 11 years and a federal Cabinet Minister for five years in Stephen Harper’s government. He worked in the mining industry before an automobile collision with a moose left him a quadriplegic. Visit www.stevenfletcher.com for more information.