The 2016 North West Rebellion
When we look across Canada exploration is way down, financings are down, and certainly discoveries are down, but there a few that are quite exciting. Resources in general seem to be taking a beating. Comparatively, Manitoba and certainly Saskatchewan are doing moderately well. There are bright lights out there with some new discoveries and the top 15% of Junior companies seem to be doing quite well, as what money there is gravitates to the few with good projects and good fiscal connections. Still it is hard to ignore the: hundreds of geology students (approximately 50% young women) that can’t get a job in the industry; or unemployed or underemployed drillers and the overall decline in exploration activity and junior financings. Most of the money has walked away from exploration as being just too high risk with investors having seen explorations portfolios so drastically lose their value over the last few years so Junior explorers continue to struggle and many majors are no longer doing grass roots exploration.
Saskatchewan comparatively, although even with lower oil and potash prices, continues to be one of the better places to explore in Canada with such a diverse numbers of mineral deposits, many of them world class. New uranium discoveries have continued to catch the imagination that many more deposits can be found here. The Pikoo diamond camp continues to have encouraging signs by North Arrow in its search for an economic diamond pipe. Canalaska’s new kimberlite targets in the Athabasca Basin, being explored by De Beers, has been disappointing, but that is the way of exploration, more disappointments than successes, but at least targets are being tested. Land access, infrastructure and very amenable regulations on permitting continue to be one of the great drawing points for the province besides its enormous mineral potential.
Manitoba also has great mineral potential but lacks the great deposits of potash and uranium. The story of whether the new Conservative government would improve conditions for a vibrant exploration and mining sector is still out. The Mines Minister does not have it in his title! There certainly were great hopes that it might. The Mines branch has struggled through a transition period of changing governments missing deadlines for grant approvals and overall trying to adapt to a new focus, all of which for this past summer we have been patient, however this year is almost over.
Our association of Manitoba and Saskatchewan Prospectors and Developers (MSPDA), continues to serve the exploration community having in the past three years lobbied the provincial government to increase their tax credit to top up flow-through share financing creating a supper flow through for Manitoba investors. Taking our suggestions further the province increased the Mineral incentive Grants for companies and prospecting grants for prospectors to offset the capital crises. We were also successful in obtaining a doubling of assessments credits to help prospectors and exploration companies to hold onto their key claims during our economic downturn. The previous NDP government was receptive to our plea to help our industry and gave us the above and we are very grateful. This year given that Hudbay Minerals will be out of feed in four years for its Flin Flon Mill when the Triple Seven and Reed Lake Mines reserves are exhausted we lobbied for an increase from 40 to 50% in Mineral Incentive grants for projects that could either provide feed for the Hudbay’s Mining infrastructure in Flin Flon or advance gold projects. This is critical for Flin Flon as a mining town, although it would still survive, it would certainly lose amenities and population. On this the New Conservative Government delivered and again our Association, northern communities, junior explorers and prospectors are grateful and appreciate the their shared concern.
MSPDA along with our sister Association in Winnipeg took a strong position against the boreal forest initiative in Northern Manitoba which wanted to make 50% of the boreal forest, including the Barren Lands and Taiga all the way to the Nunavut border into a park. This was largely driven by US backed lobby groups who don’t live in the north. Our north in Manitoba aside for a few centres and small communities is virtually empty. Enshrining wilderness around northern communities as parks, does little to create jobs in the north, where a lot of First Nation communities have up to 80% unemployment. Large parks would sterilize enormous tracks of land around northern communities from economic development including exploration, mining, forestry and hydro. The northern economy is based on resources and there is no farming north of The Pas. Many northern communities need a better quality of life brought on by economic opportunities. I was happy to see that many communities and stakeholders supported our position that large Parks sterilizing economic development were not the answer to the needs of the north and for the future of our youth.
Our Association MSPDA threw our support behind the Provincial Government’s committee that instituted shared revenue from all new mines for First Nation communities so they could benefit directly from the mineral wealth in their own back yard aside from employment opportunities new mines would create. This was a giant step and long overdue. The few Park jobs most of which are not high paying create little opportunity for the growing population of First Nation youth. They have cell phones and internet and can see the better quality of life that lies outside their community-their world. Economic development creates such opportunities, large monstrous parks do not.
Perhaps the most pressing issues this year were amplified by a number of events that have effected or will soon affect the major economic centres of Northern Manitoba and north eastern Saskatchewan. Those were the shutdown of the Churchill Grain Port and the announcement of that the large Paper Mill in The Pas owned by Tolko would close in December. Add to this that the town of Flin Flon would be in serious trouble in four years with the such down of two producing mines together with the shutdown of the Thompson Smelter in 2018. The four major economic centres in Northern Manitoba have or would be suffering major blows. The ramifications however, do not stop there; the Hudson Bay Railroad, in need of significant upgrades to the rail line, with less traffic may be no longer viable. This is western Canada’s only northern Railway and a life line to industries in the north and perhaps someday a line to Nunavut. We should be building infrastructure not letting it deteriorate. Railways and infrastructure are critical to the development and extraction of mineral resources to our industry. There are federal programs and funds under our new Liberal Government for infrastructure that Manitoba should be applying for. This includes roads to First Nation communities where there is no excuse for them not being built. Why?; because to quote Justin “because it is 2016”. Communities should not be paying more than double the price of groceries and heating fuel because of a lack of all- weather roads.
I was aware of these federal infrastructure programs partly through the media but also through the PDAC where I was a director. After speaking with some individuals in the Provincial government I became aware that the New Conservative government was not keen on subsidizing industries or railroads in the north. Almost all northern infrastructure in Canada whether rail, roads or air traffic are subsidized because of less traffic and shear remoteness; either we want to claim the north or not as part of Canada.
I therefore wrote the Honourable Cullen our provincial Mines Minister! (mining is no longer mentioned in the title of the portfolio) basically reminding him that federal infrastructure money was available. I also sent emails to the federal ministers: MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment Workforce and Labour; Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of Resources (both Ministers from Manitoba) and the Honourable Bains who oversees the federal infrastructure program. I outlined the effect on our major economic centres including the probable demise of our northern railway and what it would mean for Northern Manitoba and to our industry. I asked if they could help Manitoba, in particular with infrastructure.
It is my hope that Manitoba’s new conservative government will take this serious and not abandon our northern communities and that the federal government can help the province within their federal programs. The mining industry in Manitoba needs the Province to create better conditions for the investment in Manitoba’s vast mineral riches and infrastructure is important. Every region in Canada must compete with every other region of the country and even the world for those investment dollars.
On a good note it appears that there may be a buyer for the Paper Mill in The Pas, Callinex Minerals has drilled an exciting new hole of high grade zinc, copper, gold and silver on their Pine Bay project in Flin Flon, which if it develops into a large orebody could help with Flin Flon’s coming feed shortage. Rockcliff continues to be an active player in the Snow Lake Camp and south to Talbot Lake, adding projects and continuing to build mineral resources on these projects.
On a bad note it looks like Feds may eliminate Flow Through Funding which will be the death knell to 50% of junior explorers and a further drop in our discovery rates as exploration funds becomes almost impossible to attain but for a few. It was the Feds that allowed the Banks to take over the Brokerage Firms making them risk adverse and cutting the legs out of junior exploration’s abilities to finance which they should be compensating us for. To eliminate Flow Through is totally turning off the life support Junior explorers so desperately need sending a message they don’t care if we have a future mining industry. Mines just don’t happen they need to be discovered first. The ball is in their court, if they drop it, they do it at the peril of mining’s future in Canada.
Perhaps we need a new National Prospectors Association, one that truly represents the small prospector and junior company; one that is regionally based that know the regional issues and who works with the smaller sister prospecting organizations and affected communities truly fighting for the needs of exploration in this country. One that is EFFECTIVE in tackling some of the land access issues, aboriginal issues and addressing access to capital and financing needs similar to what MSPDA, MPDA and the Saskatchewan Mining Association has done but only nationally. This need nationally is not even close to being met, resulting in a declining industry. Our geology students have little place to gain experience, and our mining and northern communities feel the pain. There is no need for this decline, our nation is vast, the wealth is hidden there; we just need money and the opportunity to find it. Mining and exploration represent the largest employers of First Nations people and we need this to grow. We need to develop the north.