Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication.
Has Canada been reduced to the level of a mere “branch office” in the global mining industry? That’s what Don Argus, chairman of BHP BILLITON, called this country at a recent business gathering in Brisbane, Australia. He was talking about two years of mergers when a large chunk of our base metals industry passed into English, Swiss and Brazilian hands. Argus is concerned lest the Australian mining industry meet the same fate.
For decades Canadians have been leaders in the highly technical business of finding and mining deposits in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. They still are. The fact that our industry attracted the attention of foreign suitors speaks to that. To be called a “branch office” is an insult.
But, truth be told, Canadians have lost control of a large part of a very important industrial sector. Part of the blame belongs to the federal government for allowing the takeovers to happen. Part of the blame belongs to investors who failed to see opportunities in the Canadian resource sector.
A measure of how far Canada has fallen can be seen in this fact: Canada has lost more mining head offices than any other country since 2003. Numbers compiled by PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS show that 12 of the world’s top 40 mining companies called Canada home four years ago. Since then, seven of the 12 have been taken over.
If the trend continues, what will be left for Canadians? Will all the profits from our natural resources (minerals, fuels, water) leave the country? Will research opportunities move offshore? Will Canadian jobs be the first to go when the mineral industry reaches its next cyclical downturn? Will Canada be poorer for losing its domestic mineral industry?
The answer to the last question is “yes”. I doubt there will be much argument there. The arguments will start when someone thinks he can reverse the trend.