May 2012

Northern exposure

Quebec tour offers Latin American journalists new perspectives on mining

By Ryan Bergen

Panamanian journalist Marianela Palacios (left) discusses the issues facing Canada’s indigenous people with Salomée McKenzie, chief of the Lake Simon Anishnabeg Nation Council, at a supper hosted by the Abitibiwinni First Nations community of Pikogan | Courtesy of Nicole Lunstead/DFAIT

Over a third of all Canadian mining assets abroad are located in Latin America, according to recent figures and, inevitably, Canadian firms have endured their share of critical attention from the press and local stakeholders. To help inform the debate, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) invited journalists from Central and South America to the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of northwestern Quebec to see for themselves major projects that have succeeded despite enormous challenges.

“We wanted to create a venue where the journalists could freely interact and ask questions about the industry as it operates today,” explained Nicole Lunstead, trade commissioner with DFAIT’s Latin America strategic relations division. She was on hand to accompany the group comprised of members of the media from Argentina, Honduras, Gua­temala, El Salvador, Panama and the Dominican Republic. “It was our hope that this experience would help them report on mining issues in the future, which, in turn, will help foster an informed exchange amongst stakeholders in their own countries.”

The two-day trip featured a tour of Osisko Mining Corporation’s Canadian Malartic mine, the neighbourhood the company relocated to accommodate the mine pit, and the massive earthen wall created to limit the amount of noise from the operation that reaches the town. The group also spent the evening at the Algonquin community of Pikogan near Amos, followed by a day at Hydro Québec’s Eastmain 1 hydroelectric in­stallation near James Bay. The multi-billion-dollar project was only realized after the public utility company and the local Cree established a development and compensation agreement in 2002.

At the Eastmain office, Ted Moses, who as grand chief of the Cree signed the 2002 Paix des Braves agreement with Quebec, explained the broad financial and economic benefits the Cree gained from the accord. Moses, who is now the secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance president, noted the accord includes a $70-million minimum annual payment from the province and the sharing of tax revenue created by natural resource projects, such as Goldcorp’s Eleonore mine, which is currently under construction.

The tour, however, did not avoid the conflicts that persist in Canada. At the Pikogan Community Centre, Aboriginal leaders, including Ghislain Picard, chief of the Quebec and Labrador Assembly of First Nations, who has been a vocal critic of Hydro Québec’s handling of its latest project in eastern Quebec, addressed the journalists. Together, they outlined the duty to consult Aboriginals about projects that may impact them, citing both cases from Canada’s Supreme Court and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. They also underlined their enduring frustration with being “invisible people.”

Claude Thibault, director of the Abitibi-Témiscamingue export development agency 48e Nord International, which helped organize the trip for the journalists, explained the event was designed with the forces of development and resistance in mind. “We wanted to show them how mining companies are working with communities on the ground. Yes, there are unresolved issues, but we wanted to put them in context.”

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