When it comes to mining, transparency is one of the things Canadians care about, says Mining Association of Canada CEO Pierre Gratton.
Gratton was the keynote speaker at a Mining Week event hosted in Williams Lake, May 2, by Imperial Metals Mount Polley and Taseko Mines Ltd.
Presently there are 45 mining companies in the association.
Under MAC’s Toward Sustainable Mining program, companies evaluate themselves and every three years receive an external audit to ensure they’ve measured themselves accurately.
The results are posted on the MAC website to give the public a chance to look at all the member companies’ mines and see how they’re performing against a criteria from year to year.
“It also gives you the chance to see how the industry is making continuous progress in terms of how it manages its environmental and social performance,” Gratton said. “It’s one of the ways of making sure you can trust the corporate citizens that live and operate in your town.”
Imperial Metals Mount Polley general manager Tim Fisch said Imperial Metals completed phase one of the audit process in 2012.
Mining is an essential industry, with 320,000 employees working across Canada, Gratton said.
“It pays the highest industrial wage of any sector in the economy, 30 to 60 per cent above many other sectors, including forestry or oil and gas. We paid $9 billion in taxes and royalties to governments in 2011.”
A major investor in capital, mining is the largest private sector employer of Aboriginal people in Canada, with some mines employing more than 50 per cent Aboriginal employees, he added.
“Presently there are more than 350 agreements between mining companies and Aboriginal communities in Canada. There isn’t another sector that comes remotely close to that.”
Resource revenue sharing with Aboriginal communities is symbolically significant because it ensures the wealth coming out of the ground in traditional territories is shared, he added.
“It sends a very rich important signal of respect. I truly believe it’s imperative on a go-forward basis that Aboriginal Canadians participate in and benefit from the resource boom in our sector in the next 30 years. If they don’t we will have failed.”
Mainstream economic Canadian society traditionally excluded Aboriginals, but the industry is working hard to change that, he suggested.
“We’ve developed a protocol on Aboriginal community engagement. Here in B.C. you have a tremendous success with the BC Aboriginal Mine Training Association.”
The present age cannot live without mining, Gratton said, arguing mined materials have to come from somewhere.
“I always feel, working for the Canadian mining industry, I’d rather it came from here because that means it was coming from a place where the jobs were here, where I knew that we had the strongest environmental laws and regulations in the world, and where we have companies that had the highest level of environmental awareness and knowledge.”
Gratton recently returned from a trip to Turkey. He was invited there by the Turkish Mining Association because they wanted to learn about mining in Canada.
“They wanted to know how we run our industry and our sustainable mining program, which is a program of responsible mining, and how they can apply it in their country.”
Mining is one of the few industries that Canada dominates in globally, he added.
“We are considered and recognized as leaders in the world. In many other sectors of the Canadian economy we’re branch plants. The Americans, Europeans and Japanese are here. Look at our automotive industry. There aren’t Canadian cars. We make them here, some of them, but they are not our industry.”
Working for MAC was not something he was trained for, Gratton told the Tribune.
“I was working politically at the federal level for the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Natural Resources Anne McClellan. I’m not an engineer, I’m not a geologist.”
While he was working for McLellan, a friend was hired by the MAC as an economist. “He called me up when a public affairs role opened up and encouraged me to apply,” Gratton said.
“I’d been on the hill for three years and in my head had told myself that would probably be enough time because those are crazy jobs. My wife was pregnant and I didn’t think it was a good idea to be a dad and have a job on parliament hill.”
He applied and then got the job.
“I remember at the time wondering what I was getting into. Wondering what this mining industry was all about. I had my own perceptions about whether it was responsible or not. About its environmental performance and the rest of it.”
Gratton went into the job wondering how his conscience would feel and found out he was working for a sector he “just loved.”
The people in mining are “pardon the pun, down to earth,” very collaborative, and really ethical, he added.
Using the overhaul of the Canadian environmental assessment act as an example, he said MAC has been involved very closely.
“The position we took all along was that we wanted an act that was well-run and efficient. We did not try to get it out of environmental assessment. When the Conservative government made the reforms it did, they removed a whole level of environmental assessment called screening.”
As a result some sectors are no longer assessed at all, Gratton said, adding mining could have lobbied to “get out,” but didn’t, on a principle position.
“It was not the ethical position to take. We have major projects with impacts that should be evaluated, so all of our recommendations focused, not on getting out, but on just ensuring it was well run, predictable, and that decisions made sense.”
And the association is satisfied, he said.
“We think that since 2010, C.E.A.A. runs the agency much better than it used to. Mining is ‘hugely’ regulated. It’s not the industry of yesteryears.”