Mining offers a potential growth in our region’s opportunities


Mining NowTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – Regardless of your point of view, mining is going to play a significant role in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario’s future economy. There are several major efforts underway to explore for minerals. Mining offers a potential growth in our region’s opportunities, but is one that is a little more finite than any of the renewable resources our region has.

Once the minerals have been removed from the ground, they are not regenerating.

Its not like forestry, tourism, or a knowledge-based economy. Therefore one of the goals must be to maximize the benefit to the region. Once the bounty has been harvested, it will be gone forever. Our region will be left with a legacy that is being decided right now.

Exactly what that legacy is, or will be, is growing into a major issue in Northwestern Ontario.

It also appears to be an issue politically which has yet to fully resonate with the various levels of government. That is easy to understand, right now at the provincial level the McGuinty Government is already celebrating and seemingly basking in the spotlight of promises.

The frustration that First Nations are starting to express is growing, and rather than listen it appears at the senior levels of government taking a wait and see approach. Major mistake. For some First Nations leaders, if the long-term benefits are not going to make a difference to their communities, the idea of ‘leaving the rocks in the ground’ and waiting is an idea that appears to be forming.

At the federal level, so far it is quiet. Neither Bruce Hyer or John Rafferty have waded into the debate in a substantial manner. Other than broad statements of support, the Harper government has yet to engage in the discussion.

John Rafferty appears to have a firm eye on that which matters most in Ottawa, and not as strong a focus on Thunder Bay. Bruce Hyer is still wading through his recent decision to sit as an independent.

At the provincial level, Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle has seen his role in the Ring of Fire and the location of the ferrochrome smelter location come under fire. The often quieter worker, Bill Mauro, is remaining quiet too, except during Question Period last week when he was admonished by the Speaker twice during a question being asked by NDP leader Horwath on the Cliffs Natural Resources announcement.

Our regional MPPs are likely in the middle of the issue that will define their political legacies in the region. In the future, once out of political life, it will be their moves right now that will have forged how they are remembered. Their choices right now are also likely critical in defining their political futures and legacies.

At the civic level, the move is toward taking the opportunities forward. The Community Economic Development Commission is doing a $400,000 study. That was originally commissioned to influence where the ferrochrome smelter would be located. Now that it appears Cliffs and the province are happy with the decision that facility will be near Sudbury, there has been no comment forthcoming on what that money will be spent on influencing.

There is little word on exactly what that $400,000 study will now accomplish.

Also up for debate in Thunder Bay is how large our mining future will be. Thunder Bay City Manager Tim Commisso is being cited as saying that 8000 direct mining jobs will be created in the region. Mayor Hobbs was earlier in the year saying that 50,000 jobs will be created in mining. Ontario’s Minister of Finance is stating that 1200 jobs for Aboriginal people will be created by the Cliffs announcement.

nswpbWhat are the facts? The North Superior Workforce Planning Board recently published a report titled, Custom Labour Market Report – Thunder Bay District Mining Industry. Using the information from the NSWPB as a base the figures cited in their reports have formed the basis for informed decision making.

That report offers greater insight into the potential impact of mining in our region’s future. However it does not take into account actions which may impact that economic benefit to the region that recent moves by the Ontario Government and Cliffs Natural Resources have started with First Nations. The announcement that a ferrochrome processor will be located outside the district, and that the potential impact of mining in the region will be less than hoped for, has several First Nations very concerned.

Mining is a volatile industry when it comes to employment. The world economic picture plays a large role in the future planning for major mining companies. Local conditions can impact mining as well. Last week, news from Europe that France and Greece had changed directions politically impacted the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Venture Markets.

So there are a number of variables that will likely impact any mining forecasts, the figures from the NSWPB offer what can be argued are a more balanced base.

The NSWPB report shares, “Between 3 and 8 major mining projects are expected to come into construction and production over the short to medium term (2 to 5 years). These advanced development projects have been incorporated into the forecasting model, resulting in a significant projected increase in size of the regional mining workforce under both the baseline and the expansionary scenarios – more than 30 percent and 70 percent, respectively. In contrast, the most recent Ontario-wide forecasts (2011) show a contraction in total mining sector employment of between 8,500 and 10,000 jobs, depending on the economic outlook”.

For Thunder Bay some of the large figures being reported verbatim, offer contrasting views of what might happen. Take the figure of 8,000 new mining jobs that was offered.

Doing some calculating on what that would mean brings that figure into perspective. However if there were 8,000 new mining jobs in the District of Thunder Bay, that would bring upwards of 100,000 more residents to the district. That would be based on the assumption that some of the new mining employees would be married, and some would have families.

The Thunder Bay District would literally boom to almost twice the population we currently have. Housing would become a massive issue. In April, there were twenty new housing starts, a figure well above the ten year average. Our rental market is fairly tight now, the housing market is very tight as well. This scenario would place enormous pressure on all of the District’s infrastructure.

However some of the cold water of reality is available from the Workforce Planning Board:

“The analysis in this report shows the following key factors:

1) Even under a pessimistic industry growth outlook for the Thunder Bay region – where total employment in the mining sector could contract by some 20 percent – employers will still need to hire more than 1,100 workers over the next decade just to replace workers who are leaving the region or sector for other employment or who are retiring.

2) Under the baseline and expansionary scenarios – both deliberately conservative forecasts – the pressure to hire workers in all occupational areas increases, with hiring requirements of 2,840 and 4,150 workers respectively.

3) Under all three scenarios, the occupations in highest demand will include trades and production occupations such as underground miners, millwrights, minerals processors, heavy equipment operators and electricians. This is not surprising given the expected growth as advance development projects move into production.”

The report on mining sector employment also states:

“Mining sector employment for the Thunder Bay District was estimated at just over 2,125 workers in 2011. Thus in the baseline scenario, total employment by 2022 is forecasted to be 2,785 – an increase of over 30 per cent. The contractionary scenario shows the size of the total mining workforce in the region decreasing by some 20 percent, while hiring requirements remain positive and significant – more than 1,000 workers required to replace those who leave the region’s mining workforce for other regions or other sectors or because they retire. Under the expansionary scenario, total employment in the Thunder Bay district’s mining industry increases by over 70 per cent to almost 3,700 employees”.

There will be many decisions made, in Thunder Bay, and across Northwestern Ontario that governments will make based on the economic forecasts over mining in our region. Having the right information is critical, and yet it appears there is more effort needed to assure that governments are getting those figures.

Getting them right is key to all our futures. The margin for error is very small.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

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