By Anja Jeffrey, Director, Centre for the North and Dr. Siomonn Pulla, Senior Research Associate
Mining will play a key role in boosting economic growth and development for Canada over the coming decades, as global demand for metals and minerals continues to rise. Nowhere will this development be more evident than in Canada's North. An economic forecast prepared by the Centre for the North for our upcoming report - The Future of Mining in Canada's North - speaks for itself: Projections for metal and non-metallic mineral output show a 91 per cent growth from 2011 to 2020 with a compound annual growth rate of 7.5 per cent.
These are staggering prospects compared to the Canadian economy as a whole, which over the same period is forecast to grow by "just" 21.5 per cent with a compound annual growth rate of 2.2 per cent. Such developments, however, beg the questions: How might Canada best position itself to fully reap the benefits of this enormous mining potential? And how do we mitigate the risks and act on the opportunities?
One important factor relates to Aboriginal rights and the ability to engage Aboriginal communities constructively in discussions around economic development. Governments and industry must acknowledge and respect Aboriginal rights. The settlement of outstanding land claims and resource agreements, as well as their meaningful implementation, is needed to create greater stability and certainty around resource development. If these issues are not addressed adequately, future mining projects and their resulting economic development will risk not moving forward.
Equally importantly - and amplified right now by current Aboriginal demands for greater self determination - is the need for trust between Aboriginal communities, governments and industry. Many northern and Aboriginal regions continue to worry about the effects that mining projects may have on their lands and on the environment. Such issues can only be resolved through meaningful dialogue. An important step in establishing these positive relationships is ensuring that consultations begin at the outset of mining projects and continue with frequent communication throughout the project's lifecycle.
Another critical factor in ensuring the future sustainability of mining in the North concerns the need for skilled labour. There is currently little understanding of the implications of mining growth in terms of future human resources needs. Our report estimates that about 17,000 Northerners will occupy new mining jobs created over the 2011-20 period. Overall, the long-term total employment impact of projected mining output ranges between 43,000 and 70,000 Northerners-jobs that will be created in retail and other related industries.
Education and training programs - at all levels - are necessary to provide opportunities for local residents working in mining development. The mining industry has taken the lead in this area, but multiple levels of government also need to be involved, as current funding models for such initiatives are either sun-setting or not efficient. Business and governments must work more closely to determine where and how to invest to obtain the best long-term results.
Another critical factor for the long-term success of sustainable mining is the support of a competitive business environment in the North. For example, legislation or practical arrangements that encourage information sharing between proponents and communities would go a long way toward addressing issues such as the granting of permits, mine closure, environmental protection, the involvement of Aboriginal groups, and duplication of processes. One solution may be to conclude impact and benefits agreements in a more transparent manner. This would allow companies to accommodate local residents' needs, while giving communities the chance to participate fully in negotiations by drawing on other experiences and agreements.
Finding the right balance between risk and opportunity will be a challenge.Governments need to be conscious of how changes to the regulatory environment can affect communities and industry. Strong efforts to ensure a favourable business climate can leave communities feeling vulnerable. Going too far in the opposite direction can act as a deterrent to investment.
The Centre's report - The Future of Mining in Canada's North - emphasizes that the most effective ways of overcoming such challenges involve meaningful and long-term collaboration between governments, industry and communities, as well as the setting of clear objectives. This includes demystifying the mining life cycle by ensuring continuous communication between all parties from the initial exploration phases through to mine closure.
The Future of Mining in Canada's North will be available for download from the Centre for the North's website on January 28, 2013.
 The definition of Northerners used in this report is those living in the Northern extents of the seven provinces and in the three territories.