August 2011

Peeling leaves behind a legacy of trust

Stronger Aboriginal ties and TSM among outgoing MAC president’s top achievements

By Thom Loree


Photo courtesy of MAC

He may no longer be president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC), but the name Gordon Peeling will remain synonymous with progress in the industry. Born in Galt (now Cambridge), Ontario, in 1947, Peeling spent the past 13.5 years lobbying tirelessly on such mining-related issues as trade, the economy, energy and environmental policy, tailings management, northern development and Aboriginal affairs.

Peeling stepped down from MAC on April 30, and has since been succeeded by Pierre Gratton, former head of the Mining Association of British Columbia.

“Gord built relationships of trust with a lot of Aboriginal leaders and organizations,” recalled CIM executive director Jean Vavrek. “The way he made MAC receptive to the needs and wishes of Aboriginals through the Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) Community of Interest Advisory Panel is definitely ‘best-practice,’ but it’s also courageous, and courage is something that exemplifies a lot of what Gord has done.”

In 2009, both MAC and PDAC signed memoranda of understanding with the Assembly of First Nations to work together and help improve relations. As well, mining companies and First Nations have entered into hundreds of impact and benefit agreements across the country. Without these agreements, numerous projects would be unable to move forward. When Peeling joined MAC in 1997, only a few such agreements were in place, mostly between Aboriginal groups and diamond companies.

“As a result of numerous land claims and court decisions over the past decade, the rights process has become much clearer,” said Peeling, who remains committed to strengthening relations with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples and continues to sit on the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. “Basically we’re operating on their land. It’s land that is increasingly identified as treaty-controlled, and in order to get access to it, we need to form partnerships with the First Nations, Métis and Inuit. That’s the new reality.”

A Parliamentary presence

Under Peeling’s leadership, MAC won a Globe Industry Association Award for excellence in environmental performance, as well as two awards from Voluntary Challenge & Registry Inc. for achievement in climate change work. These plaudits reflect MAC’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency.

In 2009, the Ottawa-based news weekly, The Hill Times, named Peeling one of Canada’s top 100 lobbyists. “Lobbying, to me, is an effective, fundamental way to influence public policy,” Peeling said. “Our strategy at MAC has been to lobby jointly with NGOs and other stakeholders and help them see the larger economic picture, while we are informed by their views and values. The important thing is to build broad support. This, in turn, leads to more robust policy outcomes and helps in the decision-making process.”

Unarguably Peeling’s greatest achievement in building such support is the award-winning Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative, which sets out performance indicators that MAC members are required to implement and report on annually. TSM developed earlier work further by placing the environment in a broader context of sustainability and adding a verification process. Indeed, under Peeling, MAC became the first – and so far only – national mining association to have a mandatory sustainability program that includes third-party verification of its performance reporting. “We broke new ground on that,” Peeling conceded.

Peeling’s success at the negotiating table is largely due to his “quiet, unflappable style,” according to Douglas Horswill, senior vice-president, sustainability and external affairs, with Teck Resources. “It’s a style that has earned him the respect of MAC members and those people he interacted with on MAC’s behalf. Under him, MAC became known for its ability and willingness to collaborate positively with all sorts of interest groups in pursuit of solutions to tricky problems. NGOs and governments alike called on Gordon for his input and advice.”

Vavrek concurred. “He understands the value of respect, even when dealing with so-called opponents. He’s the ultimate professional in that sense. For me, he has been a model.”

Collaboration, patience and respect are essential when entering into discussions with multiple stakeholders, said Peeling. “It’s a gratifying process, and you invariably end up with some good friends on all sides of the table.”

A legacy of good will

When pressed to name his proudest accomplishment at MAC, Peeling concedes that the association has helped restore the public’s trust and faith in mining. “When I came in, terms like ‘sunset industry,’ ‘rust-belt’ and ‘old economy’ were being applied to mining,” he said. “Today, more than 13 years later, most Canadians and the politicians appreciate that mining is absolutely essential to the future of this country. They know that along with the oil and gas industry, mining helps determine the value of the Canadian dollar, and they know, too, that demand for metals is rising fast in the big-population economies like China and India, which augurs well for Canada.”

This awareness is largely a reflection of TSM, which, through its Community of Interest Advisory Panel, has kept the industry aligned with public expectations. “Public values don’t stand still,” said Peeling, “and the industry can’t afford to lose touch with them. They’re the key to our social licence.”

That social licence will be Peeling’s legacy, said Vavrek. “Simply put, Gord Peeling has gained the trust of civil society. He has done so by proving that the mining industry can take on hard issues and be collaborative – and that it can change.”

As Pierre Gratton put it, “Thanks to Gord, Canada’s mining companies are being recognized worldwide for what they’re doing in the area of corporate social responsibility.”

In addition to his ongoing participation in the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, Peeling recently joined the board of Great Quest Metals, a Vancouver-based junior exploration company. He also sits on the global advisory board of Alexander Proudfoot, a management consulting group to the industry, and is a member of Inmet Mining Corporation’s External Stakeholder Advisory Panel.

Other priorities include spending more time with his family, which includes Catherine, his wife of 36 years, their three children and one grandchild.

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