February 2010

Strong support, spotty understanding

A country-wide survey captures the Canadian public’s attitudes towards industry

By J. Borsato

For recession-hit mining industry people, here’s a bit of good news. Most Canadians appreciate the value of the Canadian mining sector. This is the chief finding from an Angus Reid public opinion poll commissioned last year by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). The poll also suggests that many respondents have a favourable attitude towards the industry.

Conducted in June 2009, the survey of more than 2,500 Canadians found that 96 per cent of respondents believed that mining was either important or very important to the economy. A quarter of those polled considered themselves strong supporters of mining and agreed that the industry creates new wealth and jobs and is more socially and environmentally responsible than it was in the past.

An equal proportion of respondents were unconcerned with issues related to the mineral industry, be they economic, environmental, or otherwise, while 14 per cent reported to be staunchly anti-mining. Another 36 per cent of respondents remained undecided and, according to the survey report from Angus Reid Strategies, they “see merit to both sides of the argument and are yet to make up their minds.” Just four per cent of respondents thought that mining is not important to Canada. This seems to confirm the industry’s view that mining and mineral exploration are seen by most as a critical feature of the Canadian economy.

PDAC president Jon Baird views the survey results as positive in that they “highlight some surprising and some expected results of the attitudes and sentiments of Canadians towards the mining industry.”

Unfortunately, the poll also revealed the poor state of public understanding with respect to mining. Only 11 per cent of respondents were aware that more mineral exploration activity takes place in Ontario than in any other province. Alberta and the Northwest Territories were considered the regions with the most activity.

Among survey respondents, 56 per cent agreed that land should be evaluated for its mineral potential before being designated as protected. This result, said Baird in an earlier press release, bolsters the case against Bill 191, the Far North Act. “The proposed bill would prohibit exploration and mining in half of northern Ontario. The survey shows that Canadians tend to disagree with the approach taken in Ontario’s proposed Far North Act.” Encouragingly, two out of three respondents supported the sharing of mining tax revenues with First Nations people.

The poll results also suggest that Canadians trust the traditional media most for information about mining. The press was considered the most reliable source by 36 per cent of those polled. Industry associations, the chosen medium of 28 per cent of the respondents, polled one percentage point ahead of television and radio. Only 15 per cent ranked the Internet as the most reliable information source.

When asked to choose, more respondents sided with the industry case for mineral development rather than the environmental argument against it, and yet, three-quarters of respondents believed that exploration companies damage the environment.

“With different exploration approaches like airborne geophysical surveys,” says Baird, “that don’t even touch land, we need to better inform Canadians how exploration done right isn’t a threat to the environment, and that mining itself has made considerable strides to safely extract mineral wealth and mitigate environmental impacts.”

About one in seven respondents had a personal connection to the mining sector. Men, residents of rural areas and those with a university education were more likely to report such a connection. One out of four respondents had invested in mineral exploration, mining or oil and gas stocks. Most respondents agreed that “mining and exploration are essential to the economies in many small towns across Canada,” and most disagreed that “Canada would be better off without mining.”

The polling firm conducted the online survey among a randomly selected, representative sample of 2,582 adult Canadians. The margin of error for the sample was plus or minus 1.9 per cent 19 times out of 20.

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