Chapter Eleven: Shifting Foundations: a Political History of Canadian Mineral Policy

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Access to Land Issues

Mineral exploration in Canada, which peaked in 1987 at more than one billion dollars, fell by more than half by 1990. This could be attributed to many factors including the growth of offshore competition. Industry representatives, however, suggested that it was also a result of unfavourable government policies and public perceptions. (Peeling, 1998)

In the previous decade, environmental non-government organizations were raising an alarm about the impact of resource development on wilderness areas and governments were responding. Moreover, First Nations groups were gaining increasing legal recognition in the use, management and ownership over lands claimed as traditional territories. The designation of protected areas following the recommendations of the United Nations Brundtland Commission as well as the launching of a number of multi-stakeholder land use processes and commissions signalled that governments were prepared to listen to a diversity of voices including labour, environmental non-government organizations and First Nations peoples

The 1991 British Columbia Commission on Resources and the Environment (CORE) was perhaps the most extensive of these processes initiated under the governing provincial New Democratic Party. The CORE processes led to the development of land use planning strategies that assisted in the determination about where resource development could take place and under what conditions. In the protected areas, no exploration or development could take place. One particular event during this era turned into a flashpoint for the Canadian mineral industry. It became known as the “Windy Craggy” affair. The mineral industry wanted to develop an enormous copper deposit (which included some cobalt, gold and silver) in northwestern British Columbia. The problem was that the proposed mine was to be built at the confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, an area highly rated for its wilderness values. The environmental perspective prevailed and the region became a World Heritage site protecting it from development. Although it could be argued that the Windy Craggy situation was unique, many in the industry believed that it signalled that Canada was not open to mining.
Many unresolved land claims also contributed to the air of uncertainty for the mineral industry. It takes many years to bring a mine into production and investors are reluctant to put their resources into a project if there are unresolved questions about ownership and the legal requirements governing the potential mine site. Once the land claims are settled, the industry must be able to negotiate effectively with First Nations peoples. Yet, its history for effective negotiation is spotty at best. As Jerry Asp discusses below, the industry has a track record that would not always inspire trust in First Nations Communities.

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