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Mining going strong in north

Mining in B.C. is on the rise. The northern region is leading the province in healthier returns from that sector of the economy that hasn't been strong in recent years. Operations near Prince George like Mount Milligan (north of Fort St.
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Mining in B.C. is on the rise. The northern region is leading the province in healthier returns from that sector of the economy that hasn't been strong in recent years.

Operations near Prince George like Mount Milligan (north of Fort St. James) and Gibraltar (near McLeese Lake) have continued through the downturn, but a drop in global commodity prices caused an overall slowdown in many mining plays, and a significant cutback in the amount of exploration going on in the search for new deposits.

The price of key commodities like coal and copper are starting to climb again, said B.C. Mining Association vice-president of corporate affairs Lindsay Kislock and the signs of a waking industry are now being seen in B.C. where mining plays a pivotal role in the overall economy.

"Mines are a stabilizing force in a regional economy because the jobs are usually quite high-paying so families can be supported over a long term, there are many special skills involved in that work so there's a diversity in a community's makeup, and a lot of the money invested in the operation of a mine stays in the community where the mine exists," Kislock explained.

"Prince George plays a huge role in the supply and support side of the mining industry in the whole northern context," she added.

"Finning just hired 50 people in Prince George specifically to address the mining sector, and that's just one example. High tech companies are now moving out of the Lower Mainland into other regions, and that has a lot to do with addressing mine operations. Those companies want to set up shop where it is cheaper on their bottom line, which regional cities offer compared to the Lower Mainland, but they also want to set up shop close to their clients. We are seeing a lot of mining companies look to B.C.-based high tech companies to help them develop the tools to solve their needs. Because you already play the role of headquarters for a lot of the spinoff sectors of mining in the north, Prince George stands a great chance of developing that, the high tech, side of the business. What a great addition that would be to the local economy, because these high tech companies do a lot of other things, too, so it would be an unbelievable benefit to the local economy."

Kislock said the way B.C.'s regulatory system, taxation system and robust environmental assessment system were set up, mining companies from around the world favour working here. There is a higher up-front cost and a slower journey from deposit discovery to cutting the ribbon on a functioning mine, but each step is meant to provide proponent companies with certainty. It is a trustworthy jurisdiction with cutting edge people and tools.

"There really is no better place on earth to mine, given the low GHGs (greenhouse gases) due to hydroelectricity, and due to framework now wrapping around First Nations that puts Aboriginal interests at the front of the process. Those partnerships being made between mining companies and First Nations really do provide win-win situations that help everyone involved," Kislock said.

The freshly released PwC Canada report on mining, the 50th in that auditor company's history, suggested that this province's mining industry is in a good position.

"Canada's major mining companies have entered a period of relative stability after weathering a period of boom, bust and recovery. The sector has been paying down debt, improving balance sheets and judiciously investing in capital projects, on trend with the wider global mining industry in 2017," said a PwC Canada statement on the national mining sector.

"This mood of patience coincides with relatively stable prices for most commodities... Last year's activity may pale in comparison to the dramatic movement in recent years, but as commodity prices have stabilized at a moderate level, an attitude of cautious confidence has emerged for growth prospects in 2018."

The BCMA cannot point to a new mine's opening in the past year, but there are some on the cusp, notably including New Gold's Blackwater project located close to Prince George and Vanderhoof, and HD Mining's Murray River Coal play near Tumbler Ridge.

"Mining makes an enormous contribution to the revenues of First Nations, local communities, and the federal and provincial coffers that pay for the public services we all enjoy and rely on," said Kislock.

Her data indicated that spinoff was about $650-million in 2016 but has climbed to $850-million and looks to improve still further as long as the provincial playing field maintains its place on the global mining landscape.

That, she said, has something to do with tax regimes and regulatory policies.

With a new provincial government than past years, there is some question within the B.C. industry if an advantageous position will be maintained.

Kislock said the BCMA was happy to work with governments of all stripes and so far, at least, she reports a willingness to listen and learn being communicated from the current NDP-Green coalition and she was cautiously optimistic about the near future.