The mining industry as B.C. knows it today will not exist within 10 years, the head of the province’s mining association told a packed house at the Natural Resources Forum Thursday.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t exist at all, said Russell Hallbauer, chair of the Mining Association of B.C. But the future of the $4 billion/year industry hinges mainly on how the provincial government reacts to the chief roadblocks to reviving it, he said.
“If existing government policy remains unaltered, by the year 2013 it is likely there will be just one metal mine – Kemess – left operating and some, but not all, of the existing coal mines in southeast B.C.”
Hallbauer described government mining policy in B.C. for the last 30 years as swinging between “indifference” at best and “hostility” at worst.
He singled out the decade of NDP rule as the worst in B.C.’s history.
“For more than a dozen years now, British Columbia has consistently closed more mines than it has opened. In fact, during the 1990s, two mines closed for every mine that opened.
“With no new mines coming on stream to replace those nearing the end of their operating lives, it is just a matter of time before the province will have lost the better part of a $4 billion, high-wage, job-generating industry.”
In 1982 there were 27 mines operating in the province employing 30,000 people. In 2003 there are 12 with a workforce of just 7,800.
In spite of those numbers, B.C.-based companies continue to dominate the mining world, he said.
Vancouver is home to almost 700 mining and exploration company offices, including drilling companies and analysis and testing facilities. Some 65 per cent of Canada’s 1,030 exchange-listed mining companies are based in B.C. Canadian-listed companies did 90 per cent of the equity financing for mining companies worldwide in 2003.
And yet, of the $2.7 billion in venture capital raised by these companies in the first three quarters of 2003, only $50 million is being invested in B.C., said Hallbauer.
“If you were one of the 700 mineral exploration companies located in this province, where would you like to go? Would you rather load up the back of your pickup truck and drive up to Prince George, or load up your office and all your employees and all your cash and head off to Africa or Mongolia?”
Hallbauer noted the B.C. Liberal government has introduced a number of measures to grease the investment wheels, including B.C. investment-friendly legislation on capital taxes, corporate taxes, flow-through share credits and tax breaks on equipment purchases.
He went on to outline six principal “problems” his association sees as impediments to a renewal of the industry.
One is a bureaucracy run by a “control and restrict” mentality that thinks about “how many ways to get to ‘no’ as opposed to how many ways to get to ‘yes’.”
He also cited the Mines Ministry’s lack of power within cabinet, government’s hesitation to give guaranteed access to land and resources, fuzzy land-use policy and unresolved native land claims issues.
“If they are addressed with determination and purpose, you will see the mining industry flourish again in our province,” he told the luncheon crowd.