Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 16th, 2012
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Wes Hanson President and Chief Executive Officer, Noront Resources Ltd.
- Kirk McKinnon President and Chief Executive Officer, MacDonald Mines Exploration Ltd.
- Ian Brodie-Brown President and Chief Executive Officer, AurCrest Gold Inc.
- Elijah Moonias Marten Falls First Nation
- David Kilgour Councillor, City of Greater Sudbury
The Vice-Chair Claude Gravelle
I call the meeting to order.
Good morning and welcome to the natural resources committee. It looks like the chair is a little bit late this morning, so we're going to start without him.
We're going to start with the witnesses as they appear on the agenda. Our first witnesses are from Noront Resources: Wes Hanson, president and chief executive officer, and Olya Yousefi, manager, corporate communications. I'd like to welcome all of the witnesses here today.
Go ahead, Mr. Hanson.
February 16th, 2012 / 8:50 a.m.
Wes Hanson President and Chief Executive Officer, Noront Resources Ltd.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's a pleasure to be here today to discuss the Ring of Fire with the committee.
My name is Wes Hanson. I'm the president and CEO of Noront Resources. I'm a professional geologist by trade. I've practised my trade for 30 years, mostly in northern Canada. I believe before the meeting many of you received a copy of a brief that Noront prepared in advance of the meeting. The brief basically describes my qualifications, the history of Noront, the history of the discoveries in the Ring of Fire, and Noront's future plans in the Ring of Fire.
It's certainly heartening, from Noront's perspective, to know that this is receiving some form of recognition at a federal level, and this committee's discussing it is very heartening and promising for us.
The Ring of Fire, in my mind, represents perhaps one of the greatest mineral discoveries in the history of the world. I don't say that lightly. I have the experience and the qualifications to be able to make that judgment. I've actually travelled and seen many of the great mineral discoveries of the world in South Africa and Russia and other parts of the world, including the Sudbury camp in Canada.
The promise and the potential of this area are second to none. It's going to take a lot of work, a lot of investment, and a lot of cooperation between various levels of government, the first nations, and industry to realize the true potential of this tremendous opportunity, but I think it's a challenge that we can all rise up to meet together. Noront is certainly committed towards that path. We are looking at working cooperatively with all levels of government to see responsible development of this particular region. We think that at some point in time not only will nickel be produced from this region, but also chromite, and potentially copper and zinc, potentially gold. The opportunities are endless. This is an opportunity that everyone should take very seriously.
I know we have a number of speakers here. Most of the points that I want to make in regard to Noront are laid out in the brief.
In short form, Noront made the original discovery in the Ring of Fire that triggered the staking rush--that was a nickel sulphide discovery similar to the deposits in Sudbury. That staking rush led to the discovery of chromite in the Ring of Fire. Chromite gets a lot of the focus, both on the federal government level and on the provincial government level, largely because these chromite discoveries in the Ring of Fire will someday rank amongst the largest in the world. The chromite market is tight. Most of the chromite in the world is currently consumed in Asia, so getting it to the marketplace at a cost-competitive price is going to be a difficult challenge for Canada, but certainly it's something that could potentially happen in the not-too-distant future.
Those are my opening remarks. Thank you.
The Chair Leon Benoit
Thank you very much, Mr. Hanson. We appreciate your concise remarks. You'll of course get questions later.
Now, from MacDonald Mines Exploration Limited, we have Kirk McKinnon, president and chief executive officer. Go ahead, please, Mr. McKinnon.
Kirk McKinnon President and Chief Executive Officer, MacDonald Mines Exploration Ltd.
Thank you. My name is Kirk McKinnon. I'm the president and CEO of MacDonald Mines.
I just was reading The Globe and Mail. The article talked about Ontario's challenges being unprecedented, but I have to disagree with Mr. Drummond when he says economic growth will not save Ontario this time. Perhaps we can start there.
Here's a brief history of James Bay. I share Wes's opinion on the opportunities James Bay holds. I have, working in our company, two of the most renowned geologists, Dr. Jim Franklin and Dr. Larry Hulbert, and they basically talk about James Bay as being a jewel box, but I'm not sure that situation is understood.
Two things are required for something to really change. More than 400 years ago, the Hudson's Bay Company in James Bay and in Hudson Bay dominated the world. I think it owned 10% of the world's land mass, and the reason was the fur trade and the huge demand for furs. We see an example of that today in Alberta, where we have the oil and the huge demand for oil.
The opportunity in James Bay, in my opinion, is unprecedented. The issue for the government, I believe, is to recognize that opportunity. I have a proposition for you, and the proposition is very simple. It is that if you believe there is an opportunity in James Bay that is unparalleled in Canada—and I urge you to have your people search that out—then that opportunity would provide, in my opinion, for the province of Ontario an economic growth engine that would be unprecedented, especially in this time of need in this province. The opportunity, for me, is being lost because of lack of recognition. You see here at this table different people who represent different desires and different directions. There is no clear, concise process as it relates to the interface with the first nations. Sometimes I quarrel with our friends in Quebec, but I tell you in all honesty that they have a system in the province of Quebec that is by far the best in Canada and is recognized throughout the world as that.
Look hard at that, because it is a system through which they have made the necessary arrangements to work in concert with the first nations and mining communities. We do not have that kind of opportunity. If you believe that the Ring of Fire and the James Bay lowlands offer the opportunity that I'm outlining for you, then it requires government leadership to bring stability, discipline, and direction.
I can tell you we have an investment partner in our company, HudBay, and HudBay is highly reluctant to operate in this province—I'm probably not supposed to say that—because of uncertainty. Big companies do not like uncertainty. They are spending more than $1 billion in Peru, with the issues in Peru, and they're reluctant to spend it in Canada.
Cliffs, as Wes mentioned, has on the table $2,250,000,000. That's ready to go. De Beers spent north of $1 billion on Victor in James Bay, so you have evidence of expenditure. Our scientists tell me that we haven't even scratched the surface yet, so why are we challenged in James Bay? There are two reasons: first, the wetland environment is challenging; second, there is uncertainty.
Here's my proposition. When the government awarded the contract to build the navy vessels—I think the contract went to Saint John, New Brunswick, and a smaller part of it went to Vancouver—to me that was somewhat synonymous, in that you had a situation that had to move forward. Money was spent, and I don't have to explain to you the benefit to those areas.
I would like you to designate James bay, the Hudson Bay lowlands, and the James Bay lowlands as a special area worthy of special attention, not because I want it but because of the opportunity it holds. We can quantify that for you.
If you look at the metals in James Bay--copper, zinc, nickel, chrome, titanium, vanadium, gold, and lead--there has never been a treasure trove like this anywhere. Unless we get out and treat this differently, it's just going to sit there and languish.
The other thing is, we have a quote in here from the Premier of the Province of Ontario, and it makes me sad. He says: “We may not have natural resources...”. In fairness to the Premier, I think he's saying it relative to what they have in Alberta. We have the opportunity in James Bay to make something significant happen, so I'm asking you to designate that area.
What can you do? You can double the flowthrough opportunity for investment and you can fund feasibility studies. There are necessary mechanisms in place to do that. We're not asking for money; we're asking for you to stimulate investment. If you do that, the treasure trove and the metals in that area will pay back big time.
The Chair Leon Benoit
Thank you very much, Mr. McKinnon, for your presentation.
Now, from AurCrest Gold, we have Ian A. Brodie-Brown, president and chief executive officer. Go ahead, please, sir, with your presentation.
Ian Brodie-Brown President and Chief Executive Officer, AurCrest Gold Inc.
I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me to address this important issue, as well as thank my colleagues who are talking today.
I'll take the lead from Kirk on the sad report yesterday to save Ontario's economy. I'm just going from what Evan Solomon kept saying on CBC last night about the need for more lotteries and liquor stores. What we want to say about resources is that I am proud. I think Ontario and Canada need to take a second look at what drives this economy, who we are, and what brought us here. If the solution is between liquor and gambling on the one hand and developing the north on the other.... That's offhand, but it's what we're seeing in the media.
Let's have some attention on our assets as Canadians--hewers of wood and drawers of water. What's wrong with that? We can go ahead in Ontario developing assets that in today's dollars are in the trillions and trillions of dollars. People take numbers from when nickel was at a $1.65 to $2.50, or when gold was at $250, but if you apply today's prices, you're talking about trillions of dollars. I encourage you to look at it that way.
An important issue that is not going to go away and is relevant throughout the world is first nations. That's in the paper I submitted to you. I am co-founder of a drilling company that's partly owned by the first nations, CYR Drilling International. I have financing in AurCrest by the Lac Seul First Nation. They put in half a million dollars and sit on our board of directors. This issue will never go away, and it needs to be addressed.
If you look at Australia, you will see that they have just 4.5% unemployment and a net migration of labour from the urban centres to the interior. That's all around jobs in the resource sector, and they're proud of it. I am proud.
Canada has 7.8% unemployment, but we have native reserves with 90% unemployment. To take the resource sector where it needs to go is to address this problem. I feel that this problem has been ignored both federally and provincially. It has been handed off to us, the businessmen and businesswomen, the entrepreneurs.
If we have no road map.... I have a different agreement with Webequie. Two years ago the Ring of Fire was blockaded, and we were the only company sanctioned to drill, because we had an agreement in place with Webequie. I'd started a drilling company with them. With Lac Seul, they sit on my board of directors, but not everybody has half a million dollars to put into a junior mining company. They received a $27 million payment for mismanagement of their timber rights years ago. I was then contacted by another group in Thunder Bay that had just received $175 million, asking if would advise them on how they might spend that money.
That leads to a potential answer that needs a lot more looking into: establishing a way for the first nations to be involved in the ownership of the companies, because it's not just staking and line-cutting or owning a store that's necessary. Everybody in Canada, whether they've been here for a month or a year or several generations.... I am proud to be a Canadian, and we have that one last item we need to take care of, and it's instrumental to where our assets are. Our resource assets are in the first nation territories. They need to be involved.
It's no longer something that can be left to develop organically. We have to solve the problem and have a study or committee to look into a fund that might support them to buy into junior companies to get these resources. The resources are out there, but as Kirk said, people are leaving the country, and it's not just the big companies. I'm on the board of directors of a company called Bold, which is a major player in the Ring of Fire. That's their only property in Ontario; they're going to Quebec, and then outside the country.
For these assets to be valuable, people like us have to spend. I think, Kirk, you've spent close to $20 million, and I have no idea how much Noront has spent. We've spent close to $4 million in the Ring of Fire. A fortune has to be spent, but the first nations need to be involved in order to find those assets and bring them forward.
My main issue here--and I look forward to questions--is how we involve the first nations in the development of an asset that we as Canadians need to advertise a little more and need to be a little prouder of. It's a wonderful opportunity to bring the first nations and the rest of Canadians together. It is “the” opportunity.
The Chair Leon Benoit
Thank you, Mr. Brodie-Brown.
From the Marten Falls First Nation, we have Chief Elijah Moonias. Please go ahead with your presentation, sir.
Chief Elijah Moonias Marten Falls First Nation
Thank you for allowing me to speak here for the few minutes I have. I hope in this short time I do some justice to the people I represent.
We are located on the Albany River, at the junction of the Ogoki and Albany Rivers. We were the third peoples that signed Treaty 9, in 1905. We are about 150 kilometres from Nakina and another 150 kilometres from the Ring of Fire, which is our territory. The Black Thor, Eagle's Nest and Big Daddy deposits are major deposits and are in our territory. They are not Webequie's or Lansdowne's or Matawa's; they are ours, and for what happens there, you'll have to get our agreements first.
The exploration in the area is huge, and those huge deposits will take a long time, for years to come. Industry will become wealthy. The federal government will have its taxes. These things happen. It is obvious that this is what will take place.
However, we would like to point out our situation in Marten Falls. You need to ask those of us who have lived there for who knows how long. Our own history is in the petroglyphs. They point out a history of 16,000 years in this area. We have been here a long time.
What do we want from the developments? That is the question. You have heard from Cliffs what they want to do with the chromite deposit. We say that these are not just big holes in the ground. These will be dug in the muskeg, in our wetland sponge area, not in the highlands and grasslands, as in Kimberley, South Africa, where the Big Hole is. This will be on top of the water, on top of the sponge.
We understand that the Cliffs company wants to make a road or a railroad on the north-south corridor to connect to Nakina. We understand that electricity will be supplied by fuel oil. Using fuel oil to generate electricity is not great and adds to the issue of environmental concerns.
We heard Noront's presentation today. They want to develop a nickel deposit on the ground and transport this as slurry through an underground pipeline through thousands of freshwater lakes.
They want to build an access road to Webequie to be taken west, I assume, to Pickle Lake.
We said that it doesn't do justice to these projects to simply call them “mines”. They are not just tools in the ground where the proponents can simply scoop up minerals and take them away. Getting the ore from the ground will require people, power, processing facilities, and hundred of kilometres of roads to be built in our territory, crossing at least three major rivers, hundreds of streams, sensitive boreal forests, and wetlands. Also, they want to cross two riverway parks.
From everything we have heard here, we know that government wants to expedite the approval of these developments and will likely subsidize their construction, but again I ask, what about us? We know these developments will forever change our community and our way of life. We know that whatever happens at the mines has the potential to spread hundreds of kilometres through the rivers and wetlands.
We know that if this doesn't get done right, and if there isn't any proper attention given to the environment and the needs of our people when decisions are being made, we will end up with either disaster or disappointment. This is the story of development in the north, and it is a story that needs to change.
From our perspective, we need a thorough process to be applied to the study of these proposed developments, and we need to be involved in the decisions that are made. No one can represent our views or decide what is best for us. Only we can do that.
This is why we have been proposing a joint panel review. We first asked for this process to be used back in May 2011, but the companies and the federal government have decided that they will use a comprehensive study process. This type of process will not work for our people. It is conducted entirely on paper, does not provide for hearings, and is ultimately conducted by consultants and bureaucrats who have no knowledge of our community or any connection to it.
Most of our elders do not speak English, and for many of us English is not our first language. We do not have the technical capacity in our community to read the technical reports or to set out our concerns in writing so that the consultants and bureaucrats will fully appreciate them.
Even the proponents, Cliffs and Noront, have recognized that there must be hearings with translation in order for our people to fully and meaningfully participate in the environmental assessment. Canada has not changed course. It has offered us $28,200 to participate in the Cliffs review, as though a little bit of money will solve these problems, but how can we participate in a process that we know, and they know, is flawed?
It is insulting for Canada to offer us only a tiny fraction of what we realistically require to meaningfully consider and address the significant issues that these multi-billion dollar developments pose for our community.
This is why we asked the Minister of the Environment for Canada to negotiate an agreement with us on the terms of a joint review panel environmental assessment. This is why we are in court today: to stop what we consider to be a sham of an environmental assessment. We want a negotiated process in which we are full partners in setting the terms for the review and in the design of a process that meets our needs, and we want to be full participants in making decisions after it's complete.
Our inherent right is with the lands and waters and in the animals, fish, and fowl that sustain us. We did not give up those rights when the treaty was signed. In fact, they were affirmed.
The commissioners negotiated the treaty and said in their own reports that when the Indians were assured their way of life would not be disturbed, they signed. That's in the Treaty 9 document. We need to know whether our way of life will be disturbed by the proposed big holes in the muskeg, by the tailings, the slurry, the access roads, the fuel oil generation, and all of the other things that these mines represent.
Canada has a constitutional obligation to answer this question and to make decisions in accordance with the treaty and with our constitutionally protected rights. We understand all too well that leaving such decisions to ministerial discretion can result in disaster. We only need to consider the situation now in Alberta, the poisoning of the Athabaska River by the tar sands tailings, and the circumstances of the aboriginal communities in that region. We don't want that situation repeated here.
There is no way to quantify the billions and billions of dollars that companies have taken out of the ground in Canada and elsewhere around the world, while natives continue to suffer because few of these benefits come back to us. Things that you take for granted—clean water, sewers, houses without mould, schools that educate instead of assimilate, good jobs for your children in your own communities—are things that are still beyond our reach.
Will we have imperialism, meaning you take the wealth and leave the natives barefoot, or will we have development? I'm referring to that big hole in South Africa, from where Cecil Rhodes and the De Beers brothers took three tons of diamonds, and now Zimbabwe is dying of AIDS without any modern medical facilities to fight their disease. That's the imperialism I'm talking about.
If development does occur, we question whether development would damage our lands, air, waters, and wildlife, and we definitely oppose development that would leave us destitute. Nothing lasts forever, and these mines are but a moment in time, even if they last for a century. When they end, we will need our lands to continue the way of life that has sustained us.
Development has to occur in a way that Marten Falls First Nation can accept, and this means having a final say in whether and how it happens. We share a responsibility with Canada under our treaty to make sure that development in the Ring of Fire is sustainable and environmentally sound.
Make no mistake: either we will be part of the decision-making for these developments or there will be no development.
The Chair Leon Benoit
Thank you, Chief Moonias.
Next we have, from the City of Greater Sudbury, David Kilgour, councillor, and Ian Wood, director of economic development.
Welcome, gentlemen. Go ahead with your presentation as you've planned.
David Kilgour Councillor, City of Greater Sudbury
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, honourable members and fellow witnesses.
On behalf of Her Worship, Mayor Marianne Matichuk, members of city council and the citizens of the City of Greater Sudbury, I am very pleased to be here this morning to discuss some of our history in mining and resource development in northern Ontario. It's a subject we've been dealing with for more than 100 years.
Greater Sudbury is an undisputed global centre of mining expertise. Over the past 130 years, billions if not trillions of dollars in nickel, copper, platinum, gold, and many other minerals have been mined, milled, smelted, and refined in our city. Today, even with more than a century of mining activity, an estimated $40 billion of mineral reserves have been currently identified, and constant exploration adds to this total every day. We are the largest geographic municipality in Ontario. Within our municipal boundaries, there are approximately 7,000 workers employed directly in mining production and mineral processing, while about twice that number work in the mining supply and services industries.
Nowhere else in the world will you find this level of mining activity within a fully urban city. Our community is an outstanding example of where the mining industry has been and where it's going. We lived through the environmental devastation of the antiquated mining and mineral processing methods that were in place up until the 1960s. People in Sudbury and our constituent communities of Garson, Copper Cliff, and Coniston faced the sulphurous fumes of the roasting beds and smelters, living in a landscape devoid of vegetation and hostile to the eye, but over the past 40 years, we have reclaimed our environment by planting almost 10 million trees, neutralizing acidic soils, and improving lake water quality.
Our mining industry partners have joined us in these efforts and made substantial changes to their processes and facilities. Sulphur emissions have been reduced by as much as 90%, dust has been controlled, and tailings drainage is now treated and contained. The result is a regional capital of 160,000 people in a city that contains over 330 freshwater lakes amid the natural beauty that is northern Ontario. We are a green and beautiful city, but we remain a mining giant. In 2011 alone, operations in Greater Sudbury produced 106,000 tonnes of nickel, 164,000 tonnes of copper, more than 3,000 tonnes of cobalt, and more than 73,000 ounces of precious metals.
Where does this leave us? What can the City of Greater Sudbury offer to your study on mining and resource development in northern Canada?
We believe very strongly that Sudbury's history and experience provides a unique perspective and significant lessons for new developments such as the Ring of Fire. We believe as well that the federal government has an important role to play in advancing these developments and the entire mining and mineral processing industry in the coming decades. More than ever before, Canada requires a national mining strategy, a policy framework that recognizes the high-tech, research-driven nature of modern mining and positions the resource-rich areas of our country to realize maximum benefits from the riches under our feet.
There is no doubt that the consolidation and expansion of international mining players will continue to have an impact on our resource sector. It is important that global companies be able to invest in Canada, as they are able to access the large amounts of capital required to bring large projects like the Ring of Fire into development and production. At the same time, however, it is critical that the federal government ensure that Canada’s natural resources are developed in a way that benefits the region and the province in which they are found. This balance is challenging to achieve, but is critical to the long-term future of our resource sector.
The next 10 to 20 years present an historic opportunity for Canada in terms of mineral development. Global demand for commodities will allow continued expansion of our mining sector, and new discoveries are being readied for development on a regular basis. The challenge for the federal government is to respond with a regulatory regime that protects the legitimate interests of Canadians while encouraging timely development.
At the present time, Canadian mines and mining companies have a technological and political advantage over emerging areas. We need to maintain this momentum by responding aggressively to develop our in situ resources.
As mining opportunities like the Ring of Fire continue to expand in more remote areas of Canada’s north, there is a need for the federal government to work proactively to assist in workforce development. These new projects will require thousands of workers directly, and a great number along the supply chain. Local communities, particularly first nations, need active support and capacity-building programs in order to realize the potential of these opportunities. At a macro level, federal policies should allow access for foreign workers when necessary, but they should ensure robust local workforce development prior to moving offshore.
The federal government can also assist by helping communities such as Greater Sudbury and our industry partners to counter the misconceptions and misperceptions of modern mineral development. Today’s Canadian mining industry has changed dramatically from the practices of the past and operates in a manner that is sensitive to the environment and to its local host communities. It offers excellent employment opportunities for educated and skilled workers alike, and will provide important economic development opportunities for all of northern Canada.
Mining and mineral processing is an industry that has learned the lessons of the past and adapted to current realities. We need to communicate this message in order to foster the workforce expansion required to meet the Canadian industry’s current and future needs. We need to communicate this message in order to create the political will to move projects forward to production with shorter timelines.
To take full advantage of existing and emerging opportunities, strategic infrastructure investments will be required. The federal government must share in these investments, in partnership with other levels of government and the private sector, of course. This new infrastructure development should be strategic, so that it enhances community and economic development in addition to simply meeting the goals of resource development. One example of this infrastructure development is a project in Sudbury called the Maley Drive extension, which we've been trying to put forward for the last few years; this project will simply to take the 15 million tonnes of ore that is moved across our city streets every year and put it on a drive so that is going to be more feasible and easier to handle. Another example would be the transportation corridor to the Ring of Fire. If this were also connected with James Bay, it would be a good way for the federal government to get involved in open access to James Bay and the lower James Bay area.
As you continue to examine the future of mining in northern Canada, we urge you to consider both sides of the mining equation: on the one side, the need to encourage investment and to bring new projects on stream, and on the other, the need to for reasonable regulation to maximize benefits to local communities, to provinces, and to the people of Canada as a whole.
I'd like to thank you for your time and attention this morning.
The Chair Leon Benoit
Thank you very much, Mr. Kilgour.
Thank you all, once again. It was a very diverse set of presentations, and I think we'll learn more that way.
We'll start the process with Mr. Allen, followed by Monsieur Gravelle and then Mr. McGuinty.
Go ahead, please, Mr. Allen, for up to seven minutes.
Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.
I would like to start with Mr. Hanson and Noront Resources.
I noticed in your brief that you've spent about $150 million in the Ring of Fire on exploration and development activities, but you also indicate in here that you've filed an application with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency just this past March. Where do you stand in that process, and how far away do you believe you are from actually starting to develop?
President and Chief Executive Officer, Noront Resources Ltd.
Noront's plan is to be in commercial production by 2016. We have filed our project description with CEAA, and it's already gone out for the first round of public comment. Reasonably speaking, we'd expect that process to last another nine to 12 months before the CEAA process is through.
The final permits for the mine development would be sometime in mid-2013 to the third quarter of 2013. That's the timetable we're working towards.
Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB
I understand you've also signed a partnership agreement with the Marten Falls First Nation. What are the basic tenets of that partnership agreement?
Maybe the chief could talk about that agreement. Is there economic development built into it? Is there training for the first nations community? What is in that partnership agreement?
I'd be interested to hear the chief's perspective on that too. If that agreement has been signed, what are they expecting to get out of it?
President and Chief Executive Officer, Noront Resources Ltd.
We had an historic exploration agreement with the community of Marten Falls and we've tried to renew it. I believe the proposal went before chief and council in 2010 for a renewed exploration agreement.
Noront's approach with all of the communities we deal with in the Ring of Fire is that it's unfair to negotiate any impact benefit agreements until we have a feasibility study completed. We hope to have our feasibility study completed in March or April of this year. Once that feasibility study is completed, we'll look at negotiating independent IBAs with all of the affected communities in the Ring of Fire, such as Marten Falls, and with communities that are adjacent to the Ring of Fire, such as Webequie and Nibinamik and Eabametoong and some of the communities that would follow our proposed access road forward.