Mining companies show increased confidence in British Columbia

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Appeared in the Vancouver Sun

British Columbia was once regarded by miners as hostile to investment and ranked last in Canada for the attractiveness of its mining policy environment. However the tide has turned in recent years and British Columbia has again improved its ratings for global mining investment.

Bringing a mine from discovery to production is a long, expensive and time consuming process with thousands of mineral prospects explored for each new mine eventually developed. For this reason, mining companies seek out stable, predictable, and transparent policy environments for mining investment. Results from the recent Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies suggest that the province is becoming more attractive to mining investment with miners rating the province higher for a fifth consecutive year. However, despite this vote of confidence, BC could go further and become a global leader in mining.

The mining survey is based on the opinions of mining executives and assesses the effects of different public policy factors on attracting or dissuading investment. British Columbia has been included in the survey since its inception in 1997, where British Columbia ranked last of Canadian mining jurisdictions assessed. Since then, the survey list has expanded to include countries, states, and provinces around the world yet BC has lagged both within Canada and globally despite excellent geological prospects.

But there's still plenty of room for improvement. On the basis of pure mineral potential, British Columbia ranked 5th of 112 global mining jurisdictions and leads Canada in terms of geological attractiveness. Yet on the basis of mining policy, British Columbia ranked 32nd and behind Alberta (ranked 3rd), New Brunswick (7th), Newfoundland and Labrador (9th), Saskatchewan (12th), Yukon (19th), Manitoba (26th), Ontario (28th), and Nova Scotia (29th).

To continue its upward track, BC policy makers must continue to provide policy certainty and stability; however this has not been the case in recent years. A recent study by the Fraser Institute looked into why BC has continued to lag in the survey results and found policy uncertainty to be a key deterrent to investment in the province. Uncertainty deters investment by increasing risk for investors as it decreases their confidence in being able to recoup and profit from investments.

Uncertainty concerning disputed land claims was found to be a key deterrent to mining investment in the province. The evolving relationship between Aboriginal peoples and government is a primary reason for this uncertainty, compounded by relatively few finalized treaties and a lack of clarity concerning industry obligations regarding the Crown's 'duty to consult.' This uncertainty can deter investment and exploration in areas where prospectors are uncertain if they will be able to develop any viable deposits discovered.

Uncertainty over which areas will be protected and unstable environmental regulations were also found to be factors deterring investment. Arbitrary removal of land from mining after significant mineral discoveries, lack of stability in environmental regulations, and the expropriation of legally obtained mineral claims all served to repel investment in the province. These changes not only remove mineral wealth from development but also create delays in project approval that can compromise the viability of projects by causing them to miss the windows of high mineral prices and favourable market conditions.

A fourth key factor deterring mining investment in the province was regulatory duplication and inconsistencies. Overlapping and opaque regulations make it more difficult for mining companies to comply and can lead to costly delays. Duplicative processes can also generate uncertainty where outcomes differ, as highlighted by the environmental assessment process for Taseko’s Prosperity Project which was approved by the BC government but rejected by federal review.

Fortunately BC appears to be on the right track for encouraging mining investment with improved ratings in these areas for a third year in a row. British Columbia also improved its ratings for political stability and availability of labour and skills contributing to a higher score in the survey.

This is good news for BC's economy as the mining sector in the province was valued at more than $8.3 billion in 2012, and employed 32,625 workers at 37 producing mines and four smelters and refineries. It's also good for government revenues, used to provide education, health care, and other essential services. In 2011 the sector generated around $939 million in total tax revenue with $449 million going to the federal government, $415 million to provincial tax revenue, and almost $75 million to municipal taxes. An additional $364 million was also reported for mineral royalties and mineral land taxes.

British Columbia's economy and workers benefit greatly from mining and the province has improved its attractiveness to miners in recent years. However BC has the mineral potential to be Canada's top province for mining investment and should focus on ensuring its mining policies are stable, predictable and certain to continue to move ahead.

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