B.C. faces pressure from two sides with the industry leaning for improvements in competitiveness and environmentalists pushing for stricter protections.
A recovery in B.C.’s mining industry continued building in 2018 with improved revenues, increased hiring and bigger payouts to government in taxes and royalties, according to a new report from the accounting and consulting firm PwC.
“While a slow, steady turnaround in the mining industry appears to be underway after an extended period of depressed prices, the optimism is somewhat tempered,” said Mark Platt, the leader of PwC Canada’s mining practice.
The report, released Thursday, highlighted increased revenues to mining firms, $12.3 billion in 2018 compared with $11.7 billion in 2017, thanks to higher prices for key B.C. commodities such as coal used in steel making, copper and zinc.
Mining companies also employed more workers in 2018, the equivalent of 11,281 direct full-time jobs compared with 10,221 in 2017.
Pre-tax profits, however, remained stagnant in 2018 at $3.5 billion, compared with $3.6 billion in 2017.
The industry “began 2018 with optimism,” Michael Goehring, CEO of the Mining Association of B.C. wrote in the report, “and despite some headwinds, the positive sentiment continues today.”
Goehring said commodity prices remain stable, which has helped support mergers and acquisitions in the mining sector.
American gold-mining giant Newmont Mining Inc., for instance, closed a deal to buy Vancouver’s Goldcorp Inc. It also purchased a big stake in the Galore Creek Partnership, a mine-development proposal in far northwestern B.C.
Platt, however, said optimism in the industry has been tempered by regulatory changes, such as an increase to the carbon tax and alterations to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act.
Those, Platt wrote, are “having an adverse effect on British Columbia’s competitiveness and creating significant concerns,” for the industry.
At the same time the industry is applying pressure to government about maintaining its competitiveness, environmental groups are leaning on the province to increase environmental protection related to mining and mineral exploration.
Also this week, a group of communities, organizations and First Nations called on government to reform B.C.’s mining legislation with a view to improving protection of waterways from mine waste and stricter penalties for polluters.
The group highlighted the 2014 tailings dam failure at Imperial Metals Corp.’s Mount Polley mine that dumped millions of tonnes of mine waste into Quesnel Lake, an event that has resulted in no charges.
“The transition to a clean economy will require some minerals mined in B.C.,” said Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, “but we have to do it right and responsibly.”
“Right now, we don’t,” Sandborn said.