Good afternoon, Chair and committee members.
I'd like to acknowledge that we are on the territory of the Algonquin Nation.
My name is Michael Fox. I'm from the Mushkegowuk Territory, from a community called Weenusk First Nation on Hudson Bay coast. I'm also an elected board member of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, PDAC.
I'm joined by my colleague Lesley Williams, the director of policy and programs of the PDAC.
The PDAC is a national voice of Canada's mineral exploration and development industry, representing over 7,500 members. We work to sustain a vibrant and responsible mineral industry and ensure that Canada is the top destination for mineral investment so we can continue to make new discoveries that will become tomorrow's mines and generate significant economic opportunities for Canadians.
Thank you for the opportunity for me to be here today to provide input on behalf of the mineral industry in relation to aspects of Bill C-262. Our comments will focus mainly on the evolution of the partnerships between the mineral industry and indigenous people in Canada. I particularly want to share the ways in which the on-the-ground activities of our sector demonstrate our leadership in indigenous engagement, which in our view are consistent with the spirit and principles of UNDRIP.
The mineral industry strongly supports the government's commitment to a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples. However, discussion of the process around UNDRIP proposed by Bill C-262 cannot be separated from the broader questions, such as what mechanisms would be used to achieve UNDRIP implementation in Canada and what it would look like in practice. While we do not have amendments to propose to the bill, we hope that sharing the story of our industry will provide a practical example of the indigenous community partnerships that exist in practice and in parallel to frameworks such as UNDRIP.
The value of Canada's mineral industry cannot be overstated. The mineral exploration and mining industry makes vast contributions to our country from remote indigenous communities to rural areas to large cities. It generates significant economic and social benefits for Canadians.
The relationship between indigenous communities and businesses in the mineral industry in Canada is a shared success story to be proud of. Our industry has made many advancements in all areas, in health and safety, the environment, and community participation, but we are especially proud of our leadership working with indigenous partners on engagement and participation. For all parties involved this has not necessarily been an easy journey. It remains a work in progress.
In recent decades the relationship has gone through a significant transformation, particularly as the landscape has evolved. Some might argue that the legal framework in Canada was the sole catalyst for creating an environment for companies to engage with indigenous communities. However regulations do not create relationships. I'll say that again. Regulations do not create relationships.
Companies are, of course, responsible for abiding by what is legally required, but it is increasingly understood and accepted industry practice that regulatory requirements are the minimum standards for operation. While they are necessary, they do not exactly translate into the development of meaningful partnerships. Mineral industry leaders realize that building partnerships with communities is critical to the success of their project, not because it's the right thing to do or because the law requires something, but because good partners lead to successful projects that benefit everyone.
The evolution we have seen in the mineral industry is unparalleled. More so than any other Canadian industrial sector the mineral sector has a proven track record of effectively working toward maintaining a positive and respectful relationship with indigenous communities. More importantly the result has been positive mutual benefits.
Proportionally the mineral industry is the largest private sector employer of indigenous people in Canada. We have seen over the last couple of decades markedly increased community participation in projects on a number of different levels, from project design, environmental assessment, employment, etc. We have witnessed increased industry awareness about indigenous people in Canada, specifically the history and unique cultures of local communities.
Mineral exploration and mining companies are also embracing indigenous traditional knowledge and are incorporating it while they seek input on their projects. In addition to the benefits of direct involvement in the exploration and mining companies, there has also been a proliferation of indigenous businesses that provide an expanding number of services to the sector, such as drilling, heavy equipment, camp catering, to name a few. Economic opportunities generated by mineral development have contributed improvements to the socioeconomic conditions of a number of communities, including investments in training initiatives and community development.
A key mechanism through which relationships and economic opportunities have been formalized in Canada is through community-company agreements. These voluntary agreements are increasingly recognized internationally as a leading practice. A significant number of agreements have been signed between companies and indigenous communities, with over 500 agreements signed since 1974, the majority within the last decade.
These agreements include various commitments, such as training and skills development, employment targets, contracting, joint venture provisions, community investments and development, environmental monitoring, and financial considerations. These agreements are a testament to the strength of commitment by the industry in developing mutually beneficial partnerships and to the interests of many indigenous communities and the economic development opportunities generated by the minerals sector.
Overall, a long-lasting, trusting partnership has been developed between the minerals industry and indigenous communities all across Canada, from early exploration to mine developments enclosure. These are positive, mutually beneficial relationships. You need to look no further than the Éléonore project in Quebec, Ekati in the Northwest Territories, or New Afton in British Columbia.
Despite the significant positive outcomes of company-community partnerships, the narrative that is, unfortunately, most prevalent is that there is widespread discord, which generates the perception that the nature of company-community interactions is adversarial. As I have demonstrated, this is not typically the case.
Relationships are complex, comprehensive, and constantly evolving. Naturally, challenges will arise, but these are not insurmountable. That said, there are larger public policy issues that have an impact on industry-community relations.
Numerous unresolved issues exist across Canada related to jurisdiction and land claims. While matters of jurisdiction are strictly negotiated between the crown and indigenous people, these challenges can generate a sense of uncertainty. Often industry can be caught in the middle of jurisdictional issues that are not within its control.
Ongoing socio-economic conditions for many indigenous communities remain dire and we can all agree require immediate action. Foundational investments that contribute to the improved quality of life for communities are needed. Challenges related to health, education, housing, etc., can impact the ability of indigenous people to participate in mineral projects and to fully realize opportunities generated by the industry. Furthermore, ambiguity and complexity related to the crown's duty-to-consult processes has resulted in delayed projects, increased costs, investor uncertainty, and negative impacts on company-community relationships.
PDAC's cross-country research identified some key, overarching challenges with the way in which federal, provincial, and territorial governments implemented the duty to consult. Some of these include the trigger for consultation in its scope; the process for identifying impacted communities; roles and responsibilities, including delegation to proponents; the crown's role in consultation costs; the timeline for the process; and defining accommodation.
Government has committed to renewed relationship with indigenous people. This has encompassed a commitment to implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a review of laws and policies, and the creation of a recognition and implementation of the rights framework. These actions are a positive step towards addressing some of the policy challenges I have raised.
These are not small tasks. There is a lot of work to be done. We applaud these efforts by the government in taking interest in how crown and indigenous relations will evolve. Meanwhile, the minerals industry will continue to be a leader. It will put into practice principles of engagement, and will reflect respect for indigenous rights, relationship building, and partnership development on the ground at exploration mining sites across Canada.
A strong, global, comparative Canadian exploration mining sector will be well positioned to deliver local, regional, and national benefits. As I have outlined here, it is the cornerstone of this strong, trusting relationship between companies and indigenous communities that results in mutual benefits.
Thank you. Meegwetch.