Sept/Oct 2012

Nova Scotia fishes for exploration talent

Prospectors get a late-season boost from government

By Rachel Brighton

Prospectors and junior miners in Nova Scotia will have to lace up their boots quickly to capitalize on a new $700,000 mineral incentive program from the provincial government before the season ends. Projects were not approved until August, after a hurried program launch in July.

According to Fred Walsh, who is vice-president of the Nova Scotia Prospectors Association, the program is “extremely necessary” to close a funding gap with other provinces. But, he said, the program launch “will be pushing it in terms of this year’s season. It kind of should have been done at the beginning of the season – in April.”

The program was oversubscribed, and a departmental panel was charged with finding the best prospects among a pile of some 70 applications: about 40 for prospector’s grants of up to $15,000 each and about 30 seeking public and private matched funding for advanced-stage exploration projects of up to $100,000. The advanced-stage exploration grants require applicants to find matching funding from the private sector. To receive complete funding, reports for all exploration work will have to be submitted to the government by February.

Gold was “the overwhelming commodity of interest,” said Donald James, who is the executive director of the province’s mineral resources branch in the natural resources department. Other targets were base metals, notably zinc, rare earth elements and gypsum.

Despite the program’s delay, which one official put down to the usual processes of government, the strategic injection of funds may give industry a leg up in such a tight investment climate. Glenn Holmes, CEO of NSGold Corporation, said although equity markets are “effectively closed for junior explorers,” the funding sought by his company would enable a fall drilling program to assess the open pit potential of the West Zone of its Mooseland gold property, the site of the first recorded gold discovery in Nova Scotia in 1858. NSGold applied for a $50,000 advanced-stage exploration grant.

According to Pat Mills of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, the grant program signals the government is attempting to change the perception among investors that “Nova Scotia’s not really in favour of mining.”

James affirmed that “most other jurisdictions in Canada have a mineral incentive program or tax incentives [and] we didn’t have one.” He hopes the new program, modelled on New Brunswick’s and crafted with industry support, will level the playing field among provinces competing for scarce investment dollars.

One third of the $700,000 was earmarked for prospectors’ grants, just over half for advanced projects, and the rest for marketing and training grants. The latter include $30,000 to polish and market properties at mineral exploration events in the new year and $50,000 to train “a new cadre of prospectors,” said James, who noted that many prospectors in Nova Scotia got their start under a four-year prospectors’ assistance program launched in the late 1990s. 

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