This September, I had the opportunity to attend the 2007 Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference and the inaugural Asia Pacific Mines and Minerals Conference, hosted by the Mining Association of British Columbia. In addition to the conference sessions, the mining associations from across Canada had a joint session to discuss issues of common concern. The theme for the discussions centred on the three pillars of sustainable development—economic, environmental, and social. It is the latter, or the softer side of our resource business, that attracted a significant amount of attention. We had the opportunity to listen to numerous case studies that described the successes (and failures) of what is being done. As a general observation, I am encouraged by the progress being made in a lot of areas, particularly aboriginal and community involvement. I would suggest there is a general belief that “mining is here to stay—so how do we make it better?”
However, if we expect to do better in the long run, we have to address the broader issue of the public perception of our industry. I call this our soft underbelly. As an example, recent media coverage of mining incidents has made many individuals, communities, and politicians skeptical and perhaps less friendly to our extractive industries. In reality, the real story on safety is very different than that described in the media. Mining is one of Canada’s safest industries and we have to tell our story.
This leads to my second concern, where I believe the use and value of mineral and petroleum resources in society is not being taught broadly enough in our schools. There also needs to be a connection of the wealth generation from resource development and its contribution to our many social programs. We are currently very focused on our short-term need for skilled labour; however, over the longer term we need to focus on our K-12 grade school content. To meet this need, a number of associations have initiated excellent programs but we as an industry need to combine our collective efforts to really make “education” happen. CIM has volunteered to be a catalyst for bringing our efforts together. Over the next while, you will hear what is happening across Canada as we reach out to our teachers and students.
Jim Popowich, CIM President