Evidence of meeting #63 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Louise Grondin  Senior Vice-President, Agnico Eagle Mines Limited
Arlene Strom  Vice-President, Sustainability and Communications, Suncor Energy Inc.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I call to order meeting number 63 of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We're meeting today pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) on our study of the role of the private sector in Canada in showing leadership by partnering with not-for-profit organizations to undertake local environmental initiatives.

Appearing today by video conference from Toronto, from Agnico Eagle Mines Limited, we have Louise Grondin, senior vice-president, and by video conference from Calgary, Alberta, from Suncor Energy Inc., Arlene Strom, vice-president, sustainability and communications.

We will begin with 10-minute opening statements from each of you.

We will begin with Louise Grondin, senior vice-president of Agnico Eagle Mines Limited, for a 10-minute opening statement. Immediately following that, we will have Arlene Strom.

Ms. Grondin, please proceed.

8:45 a.m.

Louise Grondin Senior Vice-President, Agnico Eagle Mines Limited

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about local environmental initiatives that we have undertaken in Canada in partnership with not-for-profit organizations.

Agnico Eagle is a Canadian gold mining company that has been producing precious metals since 1957. We operate eight mines in Canada, mainly in Quebec and Nunavut, as well as in Mexico and Finland, and we employ more than 6,200 people worldwide.

Let's talk first about some of our initiatives in Nunavut.

Our operating mine in Nunavut, the Meadowbank mine, is located 110 kilometres from the hamlet of Baker Lake in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. We've been operating the mine since 2010, providing employment to about 280 Inuit workers from the region, or about 35% of our workforce. Since start-up, the mine has provided over $80 million in wages and $940 million in supply contracts with Nunavut-based companies.

Since the mine's opening, Meadowbank has undertaken environmental initiatives in the area of waste and wildlife management. The stakeholders we've been partnering with in the region are the local hamlet of Baker Lake, the Government of Nunavut's environmental department, and universities.

Nunavut is a remote territory and has no local facility to deal with hazardous waste or waste recycling. This makes waste management more complex for both the Meadowbank mine and the nearby hamlet of Baker Lake. A few initiatives were undertaken by Agnico Eagle in cooperation with Baker Lake in the area of waste management.

We were asked by the Hamlet of Baker Lake for help in addressing how they could better manage hazardous waste accumulating at their municipal landfill site. These accumulated wastes had no form of containment. We brought in an external Nunavut-based environmental company, which worked with the hamlet to sort through this material, remove it from the landfill, place it in appropriate packaging, and load it into shipping containers that we then shipped to licenced waste-handling facilities in the south. A total of 25 containers were prepared for shipment during the 2011 shipping season.

In addition, an old landfill in Baker Lake had been closed for over 20 years but was still used to store used barrels, obsolete heavy equipment, scrap metal, and used tires, which were strewn around the site. We endeavoured to work with the hamlet to clean up all this material and return the land as close as possible to its original state. A total of 354 tonnes of scrap metal and 94 tonnes of old tires were recovered and shipped from Baker Lake to Bécancour, Quebec, during the annual sealift in 2011, to be safely disposed of at licensed recycling companies in southern Canada. Over a three-week period, Agnico staff, with the help of five local members, diligently restored the site. The program cost Agnico Eagle an estimated $75,000.

In 2014 the Meadowbank employee environmental committee undertook an initiative to recycle wood pallets with the community of Baker Lake. Meadowbank already sorts its materials before disposal. Hazardous materials and metal are separated and shipped south each year for proper disposal or reuse. It became obvious that wooden pallets could also be reused. Instead of being sent to landfill for disposal, used pallets that are clean and free from contamination are now collected and taken to the community. One major user is the local high school shop class, where the teacher plans projects for students to learn woodworking skills and produce usable items such as sheds and sleds. In 2014 more than 500 pallets were saved from the landfill and reused.

Nunavut is a huge territory, and it is difficult for the Government of Nunavut to gather data to help in their wildlife management. Agnico Eagle has helped in the area of caribou migration tracking, raptor protection, and aquatic life monitoring. We believe that increased understanding of terrestrial and aquatic life in Nunavut will help minimize the effects of project development.

For the past decade, there has been much debate about the reliability of information about migration patterns and herd ranges of barren land caribou populations, particularly the status of the Beverly caribou herd. In 2009, the population was reported to have sharply declined. Elders held the belief that the population had rather likely shifted its calving grounds to the north. We began participating in the caribou collaring and satellite tracking program in 2008. The program involves the mining industry, caribou management boards, and the Government of Nunavut Department of Environment. The tracking information gathered to date indicates that the Beverly caribou herd has indeed shifted its calving grounds from the central barrens near Baker Lake to the coastal regions around Queen Maud Gulf.

To date Meadowbank has funded the deployment of 25 caribou collars for a cost of over $250,000. In 2011 Meadowbank contributed an additional $35,000 to estimate the number of breeding females in the Beverly herd. In 2013 we committed to an additional three-year contribution in support of the regional caribou monitoring program.

We also work closely with the University of Guelph to improve aquatic monitoring methods and to inform future aquatic ecology research in the north. Furthermore, we've worked on refining current methods of evaluating fish habitat and productivity of a fishery with consultants and academic researchers and provided our raw fish out data and habitat mapping to DFO scientists. At the regional level the data and tools used at Meadowbank are currently being applied by Agnico Eagle and other consultants at other proposed projects in Nunavut. We believe that these improvements in understanding of aquatic ecology will help future management of the resource.

Agnico Eagle has also been working with the University of Alberta and a local group of wildlife experts based in Rankin Inlet on site-specific protective measures for raptors at Meadowbank. We are also working to extend terrestrial modelling to include linkages to aquatic food webs, which will also assist to inform productivity models.

The raptors and fisheries researchers are training future master's students and local field assistants while collecting valuable monitoring data.

I will now move to environmental initiatives in the Abitibi region where we own and operate three mines and are in a joint partnership for the operation of a fourth mine. Our partners in that region are the Quebec Ministry of Forest, Wildlife and Parks, the Val-d'Or hunting and fishing organization, our local cottagers' association, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Mining and Environment Research Institute.

In 2014 the Quebec Ministry of Forest, Wildlife and Parks with the assistance of the Val-D'or hunting and fishing association, the Sabourin Lake cottagers' association, Agnico Eagle, and other stakeholders launched a program aimed at protecting the woodland caribou herd in the Val-D'or area of Quebec. The Val-d'Or woodland caribou herd was down to 20 individuals. Inventories of recent years indicated a high mortality rate among calves, whose survival is crucial to maintaining and increasing the herd.

The program aimed at capturing pregnant females to protect them during the calving period but also to protect calves during their first weeks of life, when they are most vulnerable to predators. Calves born in May and June are kept in an enclosure with their mother and monitored until early in July before being released into their natural habitat. This pilot project was supervised by biologists and veterinarians specialized in the management of large mammals. Such work has already been carried out successfully elsewhere, including in the Yukon. Collaboration was built with the Yukon team and resulted in the active participation of a Yukon veterinarian in the 2014 campaign.

The program shows promising results. The first-born calf of the 2015 campaign is already up and about following his mother, and two weeks ago we had a second birth with a third on the way.

Now I'd like to talk about our partnership to rehabilitate an orphaned tailings site. In 2004 we were looking for potential locations for a future tailings impoundment for the Goldex mine in Val-D'or. The Goldex material was chemically inert and had neutralization potential. We partnered with the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources to use this material to rehabilitate the acid-generating orphaned Manitou tailings site that had been contaminating the Bourlamaque River for decades. Rehabilitation started in 2008 with the start-up of the mine and is now more than 50% completed.

The Mining and the Environment Research Institute is also involved in this project. Overall, this cooperation will save taxpayers' money, reduce the footprint of the Goldex mine, and resolve an environmental problem.

This concludes my remarks. I thank you once again for the opportunity to appear before the committee today, and I would be pleased to answer your questions.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much. You're well within your time. We appreciate that, and you have good material.

We want to proceed now to Arlene Strom from Suncor Energy Inc. in Calgary.

Welcome.

8:55 a.m.

Arlene Strom Vice-President, Sustainability and Communications, Suncor Energy Inc.

Thank you very much.

Thank you for the opportunity to represent Suncor today. Although I'm sure you're familiar with Suncor, I thought I'd start with just a brief summary of our company.

We're Canada's leading integrated energy company. We employ about 13,000 Canadians. We work from coast to coast. We also work closely and have business relationships with about 150 first nations and aboriginal communities across Canada. Our operations include, of course, our oil sands development and upgrading in northern Alberta, as well as conventional and offshore oil and gas production. We own and operate refineries in Edmonton, Sarnia, and Montreal. We also have a lubricants plant in Mississauga. We're active in renewable energy. We have interests in seven wind farms, and in Sarnia we operate the largest ethanol facility in Canada. Of course, many Canadians know us from our gas stations. We have almost 1,500 Petro-Canada stations across Canada.

We're guided in our operations by our vision. We seek to be trusted stewards of valuable natural resources. It's core to our business. We're guided by our vision of sustainability. We seek economic prosperity, social well-being, and a healthy environment for today and tomorrow.

We have a long history, of course, in the oil sands. We've been a pioneer there. The nature of that business has called for not just economic investment but real social innovation and investment in our environment over the years. I think our success is really rooted, though, in our topic today—collaboration and partnerships in the communities where we operate. We all know about the complex environment we're operating in today. It's increasingly polarized. With increasing concern over infrastructure, and concern about climate change and our relationship with indigenous communities, I think the imperative for collaboration and developing partnerships becomes even more important.

I can't talk about collaboration without mentioning Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. This is where we came together as a founding member several years ago with 13 other oil and gas companies to work together on improving environmental performance. We felt it was too important to compete in this area. We're very proud today that we have already shared $1 billion worth of intellectual property, best practices, and technologies. In fact, 750 technologies have already been shared. We're working hard on tailings, water, land, and GHG, and improving performance in those areas.

I thought I'd give a few examples of some of our collaborative partnerships in the environment. One in Alberta that we're just starting, really, is with The Natural Step and Energy Futures Lab in Alberta. It's convened by Natural Step, but together with the Pembina Institute, the Banff Centre, and Suncor Energy Foundation, we are bringing together a diverse group of individuals from academia, from government, from industry, and from the environment, and some of the young leaders in Alberta to talk about what kind of energy future we want in Alberta and to think about the policy implications and the implications for the very social fabric of our communities.

We are also a sponsor of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, which brought together economists from across the country, together with an advisory council with a broad spectrum of people from different political associations, academia, business, and environment to align on Canada's economic and environmental aspirations.

We've also had long-time partnerships with folks like the Pembina Institute. We have worked together with them on water, land, GHG issues, offset issues, and many different issues over the years.

Going back to 2003, we're a founding member of the Boreal Leadership Council. We're proud of the work we've done there. It's been a collaboration with first nations, resource companies, financial institutions, and leading conservation groups. We're a signatory to the boreal forest conservation framework, which calls for the establishment of a network of large interconnected protected areas covering about half of the country's boreal forest.

Together with that partnership, we've worked with the Alberta Conservation Association. Since 2003 we have worked to set aside and protect about 3,200 hectares in Alberta's boreal forest. We've committed $4 million to that conservation effort over the years.

I also want to mention just a few of our other collaborative organizations, where we're active in communities. One is the Oil Sands Community Alliance, which is focused on socio-economic impacts in northern Alberta. We've also been actively involved in Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo, which helps to build capacity in the non-profit sector.

We've partnered with other companies and first nations communities in the Fort Chipewyan and Janvier communities on the sustainable communities initiative. There, we're working with youth in those communities to explore safe, healthy, and sustainable communities. A lot of that is around traditional education and helping to empower and build capacity within those youth communities.

We're very proud of the work we've done with aboriginal communities. In 2014 alone, we spent over $450 million with aboriginal businesses, but we engage with many different advisory groups on many different issues. We've actually incorporated feedback from the aboriginal communities into our winter drilling program to help make it more successful and sustainable.

We've also worked with the Tsuu T'ina Nation on a business incubator program. We've been helping to build sustaining business capacity within that community. In fact, recently we celebrated an evening where there were over 72 businesses represented that had worked through that business incubator.

We're also involved in cultural awareness and healing. One of the organizations that we are proud to work with is Reconciliation Canada.

Finally, in our investments in partnerships that create opportunities for aboriginal young people, we're very proud to partner with Indspire. I want to thank the federal government for their recent matching of $10 million. Our CEO Steve Williams co-chaired that fundraising campaign for their Building Brighter Futures effort.

I'll probably leave it there. Our partnerships are foundational to our success, and I welcome the conversation we're about to have. I think our greatest learning over time is that community partnership goes way beyond just the dollar investment. We really believe it's important to come together with government, industry, and community to create those collective purposes and work on achieving those solutions together. I like the African proverb: if you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go with others.

Thank you for this opportunity.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thanks again for your testimony this morning.

We'll move now to our members for questions. We'll begin with Mr. Carrie from the Conservative Party.

Mr. Carrie, you have seven minutes.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for being here today. It's great testimony and really lets us know how involved you are out there. I think your leadership is really being noticed.

I want to start with you, Madam Grondin. How exactly has AEM implemented the “towards sustainable mining” initiative? How has that made a difference for the environmental impact that AEM has had locally? Specifically, could you talk about your work with the Inuit in Baker Lake, Nunavut?

9:05 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Agnico Eagle Mines Limited

Louise Grondin

Yes, we have implemented the TSM initiative of the Mining Association of Canada in all our divisions. In fact, in 2015 we went through a first external audit. In that initiative there is a community outreach protocol. We have grievance mechanisms and we need to consult our Inuit partners.

But you know, I think we've gone way beyond that. In Nunavut, when you start the environmental assessment process, you need to gather traditional knowledge. The Inuit have been occupying the territory for thousands and thousands of years, so they know a lot more than we do just coming in. We were talking to our Inuit partners a long time before we had anything done there, and before we did the baseline study. In fact, we hired them to do the baseline study. We also gathered traditional knowledge.

We had Inuit workers who we needed to train, so we went into the communities. We needed to explain mining to them, because Baker Lake had never seen a mine before. We had community tours to show the mine to them once it was built. We still have them once a month. People from the communities are free to come in.

We've done a lot of culturally sensitive things. Some of the Inuit have never had a job before; some of them certainly have never had a job in an industrial complex. They sometimes feel a bit alone, so once a month we bring in elders from our surrounding communities to spend two or three days at the site. Elders in Nunavut are very respected, and their opinion and their counsel are sought.

So in terms of what we're trying to create, we're being good neighbours and at the same time good employers. Really, the mine site is a village—a big village that's 35% Inuit.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Now, to your knowledge, is this a world first? Has anybody else ever gone out into the community like you guys have?

9:05 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Agnico Eagle Mines Limited

Louise Grondin

Well, in Nunavut we're the first mine, so....

You do have to go an extra mile. These guys leave home for 14 days, and their wife—sometimes it's a husband—doesn't necessarily understand what they're doing. We recently brought spouses to the site to stay for a few days, to see what their husband or wife does and to understand what goes on. In these areas, it's quite a shock to build a big industrial complex and to work there. It takes time for people to get used to that, and I think we need to make space in our management for that.

I don't know if it's a first, but we have Inuit HR counsellors at the site. We have Inuit HR counsellors in each of the main communities to help the families, because sometimes, if the husband is gone for 14 days, the family might need them. We're trying to help these guys. We had a lot of turnover at the beginning. We dug deep into what the issues were. That's why we're trying to solve the issues with them. I think the partnership is there.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

You mentioned in your opening speech that you work with wood pallets, turning them into sheds and sleds. You talked about caribou collars and caribou monitoring. You talked about your partnership with Guelph in fisheries aquatic ecology. I know that you've been recognized by several NGOs for working together with local communities to develop these things and with local economies to protect the environment.

Has AEM entered voluntarily into its best practices, such as the carbon disclosure project, the global reporting initiative, and the “towards sustainable mining” initiative, or have they been entered into as a result of government regulation?

9:10 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Agnico Eagle Mines Limited

Louise Grondin

No. Those are all voluntary.

As you know, the first thing about improving performance is to measure. We entered the carbon disclosure project because we started measuring our greenhouse gases. Once you measure them, then you look down and ask what you can do. “Towards sustainable mining” is a systematic way of managing the most important risk you have—the tailings.

We've recently included biodiversity. In Nunavut, biodiversity is very important. The caribou is very important to the Inuit because they still need it. It's a main staple of their diet. So if it's important to them, it's important to us. That's why we're putting money and effort into understanding the caribou migration patterns. In fact, in our Meliadine project, we changed the location of the site because it could have been interfering with the migration pattern. You live in that territory if you have a mine there, so you have to protect what's important to the Inuit, and the caribou is very important.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

How much time do I have left, Chair?

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

You have about 10 seconds, so I'll think we'll move on to the next round. I'll add it on to your next time.

Mr. Bevington, please, for seven minutes.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to the witnesses for joining us here today.

Ms. Strom, the participation of communities in environmental efforts has not been consistent throughout the last two decades. Perhaps you could talk to us a bit about the Cumulative Environmental Monitoring Association that was set up to do that. What happened to that particular organization?

9:10 a.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Communications, Suncor Energy Inc.

Arlene Strom

I'd be happy to.

The Cumulative Environmental Monitoring Association is still in place. I think we all believe right now that there is an opportunity to bring together organizations that are doing this kind of monitoring under the joint oil sands monitoring, but one of the things the Cumulative Environmental Monitoring Association did was to engage with stakeholders in the community.

I think our challenge is to ensure that we have the right opportunities and the right infrastructure, I would say, to ensure that this engagement is happening right now. I think we're in a bit of a transition, although the Cumulative Environmental Monitoring Association remains in place. That currently is where that sits. I think together we're working to determine what the future looks like and whether there is an opportunity to bring that stakeholder engagement piece into JOSM.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

A number of stakeholders pulled out of the organization. Is that not correct?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Communications, Suncor Energy Inc.

Arlene Strom

That is true. That's part of the challenge. You've hit the nail right on the head there.

On a Suncor basis, we continue to engage regularly with a number of those stakeholders that pulled out, and we believe that engagement is absolutely critical. I think part of the work we're doing in Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance and also in the Oil Sands Community Alliance is to begin to use those organizations to engage as well.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Well, obviously people must be very concerned about penalizing environmental impacts, because that's one thing that does happen with any modern-day industrial work that goes on. Why would these groups have pulled out? Is it because they didn't feel that they had enough control over the direction this was taking?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Communications, Suncor Energy Inc.

Arlene Strom

I'm afraid that when it comes to the actual reasons about why they would have pulled out, I have just enough information to be dangerous. If I start to speculate, I'm afraid I would mislead you. I think for us, though—

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Okay, but it does point out that when you're engaging with groups outside of government, where there are regulations in place and where you're attempting to provide a cooperative basis, there is a great need for understanding between the groups. Is that not correct?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Sustainability and Communications, Suncor Energy Inc.

Arlene Strom

It is absolutely, and I can tell you about some of the Suncor initiatives we have undertaken to ensure that we are building that understanding and that deep engagement. We take our environmental experts, go into communities, and really have the kinds of conversations that allow us to explore the concerns of the first nations communities, and understand how we can partner with them on traditional knowledge, with our environmental focus, and our EH&S groups.

As an example, in our winter drilling program, we took that engagement to the point where we were able to adjust that program based on the feedback we got from the community.

I completely agree with you that engagement is very important. I can't speak for my industry colleagues, but I know from sitting around tables that we all believe it's important.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Ms. Grondin, the dust on the access road had been identified as an issue. Has that issue with the community been resolved?

9:15 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Agnico Eagle Mines Limited

Louise Grondin

There are concerns for sure. Actually, we just went through public hearings in August 2014 in Rankin Inlet about our Meliadine project. We have a 25-kilometre road there.

You're right about the population being very concerned about dust from the road. We have mitigation measures such as speed limits and watering of the roads, and we are going to put in some monitors, some dust collectors, and we will come back to the communities and engage them on this issue, which is an issue for gravel roads everywhere.

Certainly Nunavut is unique. They don't have roads. This is a new thing for them. We'll have to work with them and make sure we manage this issue to their satisfaction.

June 18th, 2015 / 9:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Both with Baker Lake and, I'm sure, with your mine, there's a high cost of energy. What is your company's commitment to looking at sources of renewable energy?

We've been very successful in the Northwest Territories with Ekati mine installing wind turbines. Have you done any work in this direction yet at your mine site?

9:20 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Agnico Eagle Mines Limited

Louise Grondin

I wouldn't call that a Catch-22, but almost. It's a big capital investment to build in the north. Unfortunately, a wind turbine cannot satisfy the baseloads. If you add wind turbines, you also need to have a full capacity without the wind.

We've done wind studies at both Meliadine and Meadowbank. It is possible to install wind turbines, but they cannot be the baseload. We would still have to have the big generators.

In other areas, we've put solar panels and wind turbines in for telecommunications, because it's a smaller load and the batteries can supply the power.