Dec '07/Jan '08


A sector full of vigour

Quebec Mining Industry

By André Lavoie, director, communications and public relations, Quebec Mining Association 

The Quebec mining industry is currently thriving. Exploration expenditures have hit a peak unequalled in over 20 years. Development and production projects are well underway both in mines and in the related metallurgical sector. The development of new mine operations, combined with numerous retirements in the sector, has created a significant labour demand. The Quebec Government has announced that, for the first time in its history, the province will implement a minerals strategy before the end of the year.

A positive period

Natural resources constitute a significant development engine for Quebec, with total shipments attaining more than $5 billion in fields related to the processing and first transformation of metals and industrial minerals. The mining industry generates over 50,000 direct and indirect jobs in more than 30 Quebec municipalities.

Quebec is world-renowned for the diversity of its minerals production. The main commodities extracted are gold, silver, iron, copper, zinc and ilmenite, as well as industrial minerals such as niobium, asbestos, graphite, silica and salt. Elevated metal prices on world markets, driven by the demand growth especially in China and India, are responsible for the industry’s strength.

In exploration, investments reached nearly $260 million in 2006 and should climb to a record high of nearly $300 million in 2007. Major investments include IAMGOLD in its Westwood Project in Abitibi, Canadian Royalties in Nunavik, Goldcorp with its Opinaca Mine Project in James Bay, the SOQUEMStornoway partnership in a James Bay diamond project, Exploration Osisko in the Canadian Malartic deposit and Alexis Minerals Corporation’s Lake Herbin and Lake Pelletier projects in Abitibi. Exploration for iron and uranium is also increasing on the North Shore and in James Bay.

Development and commissioning projects are well underway for several mining companies. Agnico-Eagle Mines has begun work for the start-up of the Goldex, Lapa and Laronde II mines, representing investments of more than half a billion dollars in the Abitibi region. In 2006, Wesdome Gold Mine inaugurated its Kiena mining complex near Val-d’Or. Aurizon started production at the Casa Berardi Mine north of La Sarre in Abitibi. Xstrata has major projects in Northern Quebec, with investments of nearly $700 million in its Raglan Mine in Nunavik and its Perseverance Mine in Matagami. Breakwater Resources has reopened the Langlois Mine in Lebel-sur-Quévillon.

This beehive of activity in the mining industry can also be observed in the associated metallurgical sector, where three companies have announced major investments to increase production capacity: the Horne smelter in Rouyn- Noranda, the CCR Refinery in Montreal-East and QIT-Fer et Titane in Sorel-Tracy.

Major advantages for the Quebec mining industry

The Quebec mining industry has several major advantages. Quebec possesses excellent mineral resource potential spread across a largely unexplored territory. Examples of this untapped potential include the recent diamond, gold and nickel discoveries.

Quebec mining and exploration companies are leaders in the development and application of innovative exploration methods, the development of mineral deposits and in the extraction and recovery of the metals contained within them.

The province has a dependable mining regime based on a legal structure that allows structured and coherent development of the Quebec mining industry. The mining sector benefits from collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife, whose high quality of technical and professional work is recognized throughout the world. For the last few years, the Fraser Institute has rated Quebec as one of the best places in the world for supporting mining development.

The creation of the research consortium, Corem, allows the mining sector to create synergy in matters of process research and development between industries, government, research centres and universities, thus helping the industry remain competitive. In underground mining, industry can also rely on the services of the Canmet mine laboratory in Val-d’Or.

Quebec also has a university network that supports the competitiveness of the mining sector through training and research and development. The mining industry can also depend on SOQUEM, an exploration company that has played a major role in the discovery and development of Quebec mineral resources since its creation in 1965.

Finally, Sidex and Sodemex financially support junior companies in the first stages of exploration.

A Quebec strategy

By the end of 2007, Quebec will have given itself a minerals strategy for the first time in its history. According to Natural Resources and Wildlife Minister Claude Béchard, who recently held consultations with interested parties and organizations, the aim of such a strategy is to determine the goals and the actions that will ensure the long-term development of the mineral sector. During the consultations, the following points were submitted for study: discovering new deposits, reinforcing the competitiveness of the mining sector, attracting and training manpower,harmoniously integrating mining activities in the environment and ensuring the successful cohabitation between the various users of the land. At the time this article was written, the Quebec Government had not yet announced the official contents of Quebec’s Minerals Strategy.

A major challenge: filling workforce requirements

The start-up of new mines and numerous retirements have lead to significant manpower requirements that must be fulfilled. In this regard, the Quebec Mining Association and the Comité sectoriel de main-d’oeuvre de l’industrie des mines (CSMO-mines) recently held awareness activities targeting young people and workers in mining regions to promote careers in the mining industry. The lack of new manpower is a major challenge for the industry; it must attract, recruit and retain qualified workers among young people,women, First Nations people and immigrants.

For many years, the Canadian mining industry has used state-of-the-art technology and the development of its human resources to establish and maintain a competitive position in international markets. Faced with a probable lack of manpower, the Quebec sector is doing everything it can to ensure the renewal of human resources, the primary “raw material” of the mining industry.

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