November 2011

Women in Mining

Doing it right the first time

By H. Ednie

How Louise Grondin is bridging the gap between mining and communities

Louise Grondin is passionate about her job. Agnico-Eagle Limited’s senior vice-president, environment and sustainable development is spearheading the corporate drive to ensure environmental policies are applied across all operations and that all stakeholder relations are prioritized. “In essence, my role is to ensure that environmental and community relations issues are taken care of at the same level as production and safety issues, because it is now part of good management,” she says. “It requires people on the ground at all operations and having environmental management plans in place while looking ahead to evaluate potential risk.”

Grondin spends a lot of her time travelling to Agnico-Eagle’s various operations in Canada, Mexico and Finland. She ensures everyone adheres to corporate standards, and she herself helps enable greater sharing of best practices, providing a link between the various sites.

Starting off on the right foot

“Good management and planning are key,” says Grondin. “If we spend all day fighting fires, we will not move forward. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to convince people of that – our employees push for best practices.”

In 2007, Agnico-Eagle acquired the Meadowbank property in Nunavut and jumped in with both feet, working with Northern and Aboriginal communities. “From the beginning, we understood that as the only game in town, we could have a tremendous impact on the communities, be it good or bad,” explains Grondin. “We worked closely with the Hamlet Council to better understand each other. We were bringing hope to a depressed area and we didn’t want to disappoint.”

With only a three-year timeline to build the operation, an aggressive construction schedule thrust community relations into high gear. “The [Agnico-Eagle] board visited the village of Baker Lake so that it would be in their minds when making decisions,” she says. “It’s important that they see the community, beyond its infrastructure. In fact, they visit all our operations in turn. It is our role to feed them information about the projects and the communities, but they need this foundation of understanding.”

Grondin and her team worked with the mayor, making every possible effort to listen to the community and respond to their questions and concerns. “With such an aggressive development plan, we were bringing about big change – and quite fast,” she recalls. “The key to it all is communication.”

A learning opportunity

While she spends a lot of her time sharing her experience, Grondin says she learns a lot from the communities as well. For example, the Kittila operation in Finland showed her the importance of cultural awareness. “Yes, language is a bit of a barrier, but the cultural differences came as somewhat of a surprise,” she says. “In general, the Finns are very pragmatic and think more long term than North Americans.   For effective communication, we must adapt to the way they think.”

Grondin sees potential for growth, even in areas that seem to have a handle on operations. “At the Pinos Altos operation in Mexico, there’s a lot of mining experience – they know what they are doing,” Grondin says. “However, we can get much more involved with the small communities, and we’re in a position to help them.” Agnico-Eagle aims to employ as many people as possible from the local areas. ”This can happen through a constant presence in the community, learning about what is going on and what their needs are, and showing them we’re there to stay.” She adds that the Pinos Altos community relations department is partly staffed with residents of the local communities and works closely with them in terms of training, helping schools and providing supplementary health care. More than 99 per cent of the mine employees are from Mexico.

As an industry, Grondin believes more must be done to improve the image of mining, and one approach is through the mining associations. “We must place increased peer pressure on the bad actors to adhere to performance standards,” she explains. “Everyone suffers because of the damage done by just a few bad apples. If every company truly understood the impact they have from the very first day on the ground, it would benefit us all. From A to Z, from drilling to closure, it must be done properly. There’s no other acceptable option.”

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