Dec '12/Jan '13

Rising risks in Quebec

Mining industry focused on recovering public trust

By Krystyna Lagowski

Mining developments in Quebec can meet with considerable popular opposition | Courtesy of Socialist Canada, Socialist Quebec

In 2008, Quebec was ranked as number one by the Fraser Institute’s annual survey of mining companies, which gathers opinions about 93 mining jurisdictions around the world. But in 2011, Quebec slipped several notches to number five. At the recent Mining Business Risks summit in Toronto, the decline of the province’s standing was in the spotlight, as major players discussed how miners can mitigate growing social risk in Quebec.

According to Jean-Marc Lulin, president and CEO of Longueuil-based Azimut Exploration, the downward path began with the 2009 Quebec Auditor General’s report that targeted loopholes in mining taxation and triggered a systematic protest within Quebec against mining. “This covers a large range of protest, not only about taxation, but also issues like uranium exploration and open pit mining, which have been subject to well-­organized protests by anti-mining activists,” he said.

Lulin pointed out that activists are preying on Quebecers’ heightened sense of fear over the environment.

Those fears were quantified in a 2012 Canadian Environmental Barometer study by Environics Research Group. “Residents of Quebec were second only to British Columbia in their concern about the environment,” said Darren Karasiuk, vice-president of corporate and public affairs at Environics Research Group. “They’re very alarmist when it comes to the environment.”

What is more, 39 per cent of those polled believe environmental groups – specifically Greenpeace – show leadership in addressing their concerns. The government’s leadership only impressed four per cent of the respondents.

One antidote may lie in public outreach. The auditor general’s report was one of the factors that spurred the creation of an organization called Minalliance in 2009 by the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association (AEMQ), the Quebec Mining Association (QMA) and other industry players. Minalliance’s mandate is to educate the public about the positive aspects of mining. “Our vision is to make the mineral industry a source of pride for all Quebecers,” said Normand Champigny, chair of the board of directors of Minalliance, as well as president of Donner Metals. “And ‘pride’ is a word we use deliberately – it’s important to Quebecers.”

It is possible that the very success of the mining industry in Quebec has made it a target. “Quebec has witnessed a boom in this industry, which has elevated it to more visibility,” said Champigny. “Once, it was the successful forestry industry that was under attack, but as it diminished in importance, mining has taken its place.”

Minalliance has taken a proactive stance, and started by hiring a skilled communications specialist. “We understand where our target market is,” noted Champigny. Initially, he said, Minalliance members were skeptical about an edgy video that portrays rocks as “sexy.” But when it was released to the general public, an Environics study found that the video increased the public’s approval ratings of the mining industry by three per cent.

Minalliance has also released videos featuring interviews with industry insiders to both dispel myths and present the industry’s realities to the public, using social media and web tools. “The industry often has been categorized as low-tech,” observed Champigny. “A book created with the Université du Quebec à Montreal, the Mining Association of Canada and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) focused on 100 innovations in the industry, and is available as a reference tool for the media, academics, et cetera.”

A study and strategic forum was held on the role of Montreal in the development of Quebec’s natural resources. “Many Quebecers believe the benefits of mining are for the north, when in fact, there are over 1,800 suppliers to the mining industry in Montreal,” said Champigny.

Minalliance is also targeting young people with positive messaging about mining. The organization attended the Eureka outdoor science festival in Montreal, reaching 60,000 students. And the Mining Matters elementary and high school educational initiative, sponsored by PDAC, will be brought to Quebec schools in French. “We want to make sure younger people get a better understanding of what the industry is about,” explained Champigny.

“Quebec is still a great place to do mining, and we want to stay up there,” he said. “Our messaging highlights what is being done right.”

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