Commentary: Mining industry in Manitoba is near collapse

An aerial shot of HudBay's processing facilities in Flin Flon, Manitoba. Source: HudBay MineralsAn aerial shot of Hudbay's processing facilities in Flin Flon, Manitoba, in 2013. Source: HudBay Minerals

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

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.

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5 Comments on "Commentary: Mining industry in Manitoba is near collapse"

  1. Jeremiah A Coffey | October 24, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Reply

    Fletcher is totally right. Parks for eastern elites who don’t live here and will never visit. We need industry and jobs, we need to use our natural resources wisely so Manitoba can prosper. These parks are a waste of money and opportunity. With no park the land will still be there to enjoy.

  2. these ‘parks’ are all simply taking prime resources off the market for future use or collateral for loans to keep the fiat money ponzi scheme going. pure fraud. legalized theft. same goes for unesco..

  3. I very much agree with Mr Fletcher’s central points. Over the past 10+ years the province has managed to kill the only real potential driver for northern economic development. There is no longer an effective Geological Survey, the Mines Branch has been hollowed out and no longer has anything close to needed capacity, and the lack of an effective permitting protocol have all crippled the industry.
    Until the province can show that they actually value resource development there is no point in pretending that there is any hope whatsoever for northern development.
    What to do??……
    1. Make it clear that the province’s resources belong to the crown and that these resources will be exploited for the benefit of ALL Manitobans.
    2. Build out capacity within the Mines Branch to effectively administer the Act while encouraging development.
    3. Re establish an effective Geological Survey.
    4. Create effective permitting protocols that are inclusive of First Nations’ rights and provide certainty to the exploration and mining industry and their investors.
    None of the above should be beyond the capacity of government.
    Given the long life cycle for finding and developing resources, there are no short cuts and few short term wins in this. It all requires government with some vision and some willingness to build out capacity for the longer term.

  4. Canada is heading into economic suicide. Self inflicted and it is just interesting to watch how it plays out.

  5. Len Abromovich | July 25, 2019 at 2:54 pm | Reply

    mines in manitoba do not bay taxes unless they show a profit, any other buseneses get the same breaks as mines in Manitoba? if you pay wages you are makeing profits, Mines are privatly owned companies, why is these government concerned with companies that are not paying taxes.one should be concerned with the mining communities that this Government and mining compamies forgot about>

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