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Vol. 15, No. 17 Week of April 25, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Quebec tops list of best places to mine

Mining survey: Alaska, Canadian territories get low marks for lack of infrastructure; First Nations issues plague British Columbia

Shane Lasley

Mining News

Quebec is considered the best place in the world to mine, according to the Fraser Institute’s Survey of Mining Companies 2009/2010.

“Mining executives say Quebec remains an international standout for investment because stable government policies offer them the certainty that reduces risk for long-term projects,” said Fred McMahon, coordinator of the survey and the institute’s vice-president of international policy research.

The Toronto-based thinktank asked 670 mining executives and managers to rate the government policies and mineral endowment of 72 mining jurisdictions around the globe.

Respondents ranked Quebec particularly high for its government policies, giving the province a score of 96.7 out of a possible 100 on the survey’s policy potential index.

The policy potential index is a composite index that measures the effects on exploration of government policies including uncertainty concerning the administration, interpretation and enforcement of existing regulations; environmental regulations; regulatory duplication and inconsistencies; taxation; uncertainty concerning native land claims and protected areas; infrastructure; socioeconomic agreements; political stability; labor issues; geological database; and security.

Yukon Territory ranked No. 11 on the index, climbing from the No. 15 position in 2008/2009. The miners rated Alaska as having the 18th best government policies in the world, while British Columbia came in at No. 38, Nunavut at No. 43 and Northwest Territories at No. 50, near the bottom half of the list.

Highly prospective Alaska

Taking into consideration Alaska’s mineral potential as well as its government policies, the mining executives ranked the northernmost state as the fifth-best mining jurisdiction in the world behind frontrunners Quebec, Nevada, Chile and Saskatchewan.

Though Alaska received only a lukewarm response when it comes to government policies, mining leaders consider the state to be the second-most prospective place in the world to look for minerals, according to the survey.

When asked to rank jurisdictions assuming no land use restrictions in place, and applying industry “best practices,” only the Democratic Republic of Congo ranked higher.

Though the miners consider Alaska to be the second-richest mineral province in the world, they pointed to a lack of infrastructure as a drawback to doing business there. More than 70 percent said the lack of roads and power is a deterrent to investing in the state.

Uncertainty about Alaska’s environmental regulations and which areas of the state will be protected as wilderness areas or parks are two other issues that trouble mining leaders. Nearly half the survey-takers said these issues would cause them to think twice before spending money in Alaska.

Yukon regulations are fair

The Yukon Territory, taking the No. 10 position in the composite policy and mineral potential index, fared well on the survey overall.

In government policy the territory ranked 11th globally, and the miners considered it to be the eighth-best region in terms of mineral potential.

The mining executives had a much better view of environmental regulations in the Yukon than those in Alaska, with only 20 percent of respondents listing the area as a concern.

The territory also is considered a fair place to do business. Survey respondents rated the Yukon as fourth in the world when it comes to its administration’s interpretation and enforcement of existing regulations.

The miners also said Yukon’s geological database is the sixth-best in the world.

Lack of infrastructure and uncertainty over what areas will be designated as wilderness areas or parks were deemed the biggest drawback to investing in the territory.

“The Yukon has settled most First Nations land claims. The new environmental screening regime (YESAA) has been in effect for 5-plus years and is working reasonably. There have been some recent discoveries that are very significant. My greatest concern is that the land use planning process, particularly in the Peel Planning region, is ‘off the rails,’” according to a consulting company president who responded to the survey.

Low marks for NWT policies

Though the Northwest Territories was rated No. 7 for its pure mineral potential, it ranked near the bottom when it comes to government policies.

An exploration company president responding to the Fraser Institute survey said, “In the Northwest Territories, there is total uncertainty within the regulatory and permitting framework.”

“In the Northwest Territories, you can’t get a permit to do any thing there. Even simple environmental baseline studies require multiple layers of red tape and have over-the-top community consultation requirements. Parks and protected areas are being created at break-neck speed and still more layers of bureaucracy are being considered to assist in stalling development proposals,” an exploration company vice president wrote in answering the survey.

Miners are most unsettled about First Nations land claim issues in the territory. Respondents rated the territory as the third-worst jurisdiction in the world when it comes to aboriginal land claims.

The Northwest Territories also ranked in the bottom 10 regions when it comes to infrastructure and uncertainty over what areas will be designated wilderness areas or parks.

Low view of Nunavut potential

Though miners consider Nunavut’s government policies to be in better shape than its neighbor to the west, they do not consider the territory’s mineral potential to be as good. Considering both its policies and its mineral potential, Nunavut is considered to be the 31st-best place in the world to mine.

Mining executives rated the mineral potential of Nunavut last among all Canadian jurisdictions.

“Nunavut is also becoming an exploration backwater. Although it is an area with a settled land claim, the regulatory regime is complex and processing of applications is extremely slow,” according to an exploration vice president.

Like Alaska and the other Canadian territories, miners gave Nunavut low marks for lack of infrastructure.

Opinions of B.C. policies erode

Mining leaders’ opinions of British Columbia’s government policies eroded substantially over the past year. The western Canadian province slipped from No. 24 in 2009 to No. 38 this year.

Survey respondents ranked British Columbia as the worst place in the world when it comes to settling aboriginal claims.

The province also received low marks for uncertainty over which areas will be protected as wilderness areas and parks. California was the only jurisdiction worldwide that received a lower score in this category.

Uncertainty over environmental regulations is another area that depressed British Columbia’s score. The province was ranked worst among Canadian jurisdictions in this category.

Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia President and CEO Gavin C. Dirom said, “We are working with government, First Nations, and stakeholders to identify and implement key initiatives that will increase both industry and investor confidence in B.C.”

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