Funding Furor Erupts in Ontario Over Mining Research – by Marilyn Scales

Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.

Residents of northern Ontario, and Sudbury in particular, are furious with the funding of a new mining innovation centre in Toronto rather than where the industry operates. The $20-million centre will be built at the University of Toronto and named after Pierre Lassonde, president of Newmont Mining. The federal and provincial governments are each putting up $5.5 million. The balance will come from private donations, and Lassonde is said to be the largest donor.

What makes the deal such a bitter pill for northern residents to swallow is that it sets up a new mining innovation centre in direct competition with the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) already established in Sudbury. The new institute’s mandate is reported to be the same as CEMI, its name is so close as to be confusing, and its technology will duplicate what is already available.

“The decision by the federal government to deny funding to CEMI is a deliberate, calculated snub to the city of Sudbury, its provincial member [Rick] Bartolucci … and, most assuredly, [FedNor executive director Louise] Paquette,” Michael Atkins, president of Northern Life, wrote in that newspaper last week. “The willingness to quickly invest in a competing institution in Toronto just adds incredulity to the inside story.

“Either Sudbury sees its future as an international mining cluster, or it doesn’t. There will be no help from the province unless you demand it. There is a choice. Cower in the corner praying for the next grant or demanding the respect that is due a cluster that is more respected in Argentina, South Africa and Australia than it is in its own province,” he concluded.

Atkins further suggested a complete overhaul of the governance model: “You can rest assured that, if northern Ontario was a separate province, or if it was a regional government, or if some internal planning group in the province had some logical internal accountability in a province that respected the potential power and value of its mining cluster in Sudbury, it would not be building new buildings or fixing up old ones for a re-branded mining innovation centre in Toronto. It would be moving whatever activity was in that sector to the mining cluster, where it belonged, just the way the province moved the geological survey to Sudbury, many years ago.”

Strong words indeed.

But does anyone outside of Ontario care? We have all heard the adage “Divide and conquer”, and it is my fear that the Ontario government is dividing and destroying a part of the industry that needs to attain a critical mass to move forward. Without Canadian innovations, our mining companies will no longer be competitive on the world stage.

It is up to us to remind our governments, both elected individuals and bureaucrats, repeatedly of mining’s ability to contribute to the national and local economies. We must also give them clear instructions about how to support growth and strength in the mineral industry. That is as true in British Columbia, Nunavut and Quebec as it is in Ontario.

Anyone wishing to read Atkins’s remarks in their entirety can follow this link: http://www.RepublicOfMining.com/2009/06/02/funding-mining-innovation-in-toronto-instead-of-sudbury-fuels-northern-ontario-resentment-%e2%80%93-michael-atkins/

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