Meeting the demand for human resources is a fundamental challenge for the mining sector.
A gilded recovery
After being caught up in the economic crisis that curtailed its activities and limited its exploration and investment spending, the mining industry has watched metal prices and producers’ stocks gain ground in 2009. In addition to continued strength in the gold sector, experts are predicting rising global demand for base and ferrous metals in 2010.
Mining is an important lever of economic development in Quebec. It accounts for shipments worth nearly $5 billion and over 50,000 jobs in some 30 municipalities, including approximately 15,000 jobs directly linked to extraction operations.
In urban areas too, the mining industry generates considerable activity in research and development, education and training, consulting and financial services, as well as for suppliers and processors.
A cluster of projects under development
The strength of the gold sector, evident from the recent historic peaks in gold prices, is leading Quebec’s resources sector recovery.
In August 2009, Agnico-Eagle inaugurated its new Lapa Mine in Abitibi, after having opened its Goldex Mine the year before. The Osisko Mining Corporation started construction (at a cost of approximately $1 billion) at its Canadian Malartic complex, which is slated to become Quebec’s largest gold mine, with annual production of more than 500,000 ounces of gold. Investing over $400 million, IAMGOLD commenced shaft sinking at its Westwood project.
Many other gold projects have reached advanced stages of development. The LaRonde Mine (Agnico-Eagle) has been deepened to more than three kilometres. Production at the Lake Pelletier project (Alexis Minerals) is scheduled to begin in 2010 and the Francoeur Mine (Richmont Mines) has been revitalized. Other notable projects include Joana (Aurizon), Metanor Resources’ project at Desmaraisville (northern Quebec) and the Opinaca Mine at James Bay.
In other sectors too, major projects continue to move forward. These include the Lake Bloom iron project near Fermont (Consolidated Thompson), New Millennium’s direct shipping ore (DSO) project and Stornoway-SOQUEM’s Renard diamond project at James Bay.
All this mining activity generates numerous spinoffs. This year, Abitibi enjoyed the lowest unemployment rates in Quebec. The Corporation de développement industriel et commercial de la région de Val-d’Or opened the Northern Mining Transit Centre, a building that will serve as a hub for the air transport of goods and personnel to northern projects. Rouyn-Noranda intends to double the space dedicated to Xstrata Nickel at its airport, while the Sept-Îles port, expecting to triple its annual iron shipping volume, is considering increasing its handling capacity.
Major challenges for Quebec’s mining industry in 2010
Human resources: New operations and ongoing retirements are generating considerable demand for manpower. However, the current situation is one of contrasts — some sectors, professions, regions and qualification levels are experiencing labour shortages, while others are plagued by surpluses.
Maintaining health and safety objectives: Accident prevention and occupational health remain fundamental concerns. Quebec stands out on the international scene with its eighth consecutive year of improvement in accident prevention. In 20 years, the frequency of accidents in all mines has fallen by 75 per cent, which is the Quebec mining industry’s best-ever performance.
The social acceptance of mining projects: In 2009, issues concerning the social acceptance of mining projects arose. During the mandatory public environmental hearings on the Osisko project, some groups questioned the development of open pit mines, deeming them incompatible with sustainable development. Around 100 briefs — 78 in favour of the project and 22 against — were filed. The Quebec Mining Association (QMA) emphasized the disciplined and integrated environmental management work carried out by Osisko, and its remarkable efforts to communicate with the community.
Some organizations are opposed to any exploration for uranium in Quebec, particularly on the North Shore. A regional forum on uranium organized by the Conférence régionale des élus de la Côte-Nord (the regional conference of North Shore elected representatives) at Sept-Îles gave the public an opportunity to analyze the repercussions and the impacts of exploration and development of uranium projects.
Finally, some politicians feel that Canada should stop exporting chrysotile asbestos, believing that it represents a health threat. The QMA is concerned about all these issues and will continue to monitor them.
Government policies: In his 2008-2009 report, Quebec’s Auditor General censures the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune (the Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife) and, indirectly, the mining industry. The report’s recommendations cover five aspects — mining taxes, financial guarantees for site remediation, the monitoring role of the Ministère and its obligations with respect to the acquisition, regulation and distribution of information about the mining sector, and the development of a mineral strategy.
For many years, the QMA has been trying to influence the Ministère’s policies of budget and staff cuts and the tightening of regulatory supervision of remediation. More specifically, the QMA supports the increase in the coverage of mining site remediation costs to 100 per cent, as well as the proposals to expand the scope and change the timelines of guarantees. The QMA is also calling for a tightening of regulations in the event of changes of ownership of properties.
Quebec’s mineral strategy and the revision of its mining act: In June, the Quebec government unveiled the guiding principles of its mineral strategy, implementing many of the Auditor General’s recommendations. These principles are evidence of the government’s intention to support the competitive development of Quebec’s mining industry while addressing the concerns expressed by the industry, by communities and by environmental pressure groups.
The government also announced that a bill would soon be introduced to amend the mining act. Consultations are being held now. According to Sylvain Simard, Minister for Natural Resources and Wildlife, all future mining projects in Quebec will be subject to public consultations. Another bill concerning the revision of the tax system will be introduced later in 2010.
In the years ahead, the actions it takes will bear witness to Quebec mining companies’ concerns about and commitment to promoting community involvement. Its proactive approach will reveal the extent to which the industry cares about the harmonious integration of its activities. The QMA will continue to support its members on environmental, sustainability-related and regulatory issues.