Mining Marshall Plan for Canada now – by Diane Francis (National Post – March 8, 2009)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper. dfrancis@nationalpost.com

For instance, the single greatest discovery in Canadian mining history is the nickel belt
in Sudbury, the world’s biggest deposit. This multi-billion dollar development would never have been found nor discovered if the  Canadian Pacific Railway had been routed
differently. The railway passed through the area in remote northern Ontario.
(Diane Francis – National Post, March 8, 2011)

Canada’s best stimulus package is to launch a Marshall Plan for Mining by building unpaved roads and other infrastructure to open up the country’s vast, unexplored and untapped mineral wealth in its interior and the north.

The world expert on Canada’s geology is petrologist Wayne Goodfellow with the Geographic Survey of Canada in Ottawa. He’s an expert on rocks and petrology is a multidisciplinary incorporating a knowledge of chemistry, physics, mathematics, geophysics, structural geology, and geochemistry.

I interviewed him at last week’s Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada giant conference in Toronto about how Canada is a mining giant but is also one of the most unexplored nations in the world with vast untapped reserves in Canada’s remote interior.

“If I was going to hazard a guess,” he said in an interview this week, “there are three to five times’ more than has ever been found or exploited….three to five times more the current reserves as well as what we have left. It’s huge. There are vast areas in this country where boots have never been on the ground.”

Mining has built Canada and underpins its economy now and Canadians don’t realize, nor do their politicians, that they are sitting on an even-greater treasure trove. And everything in the world is grown or mined.

The best infrastructure bets for governments to bankroll would be to link, by unpaved road and transmission lines, Canada’s dozens of “stranded” orebodies. These are major discoveries of metals and minerals that are too remote to tap.

Mr. Goodfellow said these deposits are known and building roads to them would not only open them up for production but create an exploration boom in their vicinities.

The most dramatic example is a “giant” lead-zinc deposit.

“The Howard’s Pass deposit in the Yukon is probably the largest reserve for lead and zinc in the world. It is a belt that is 20 to 30 kilometers long and this area is continually mineralized,” he said. “There is no access, only an airstrip, no roads, no power grid, no rail. That is just one example. The potential reserves there are 500 million tonnes with a [high] grade of 7% lead with zinc.”

This is five times’ the potential of the Sullivan deposit with 100 million tonnes that just went out of production and was one of the world’s biggest, he added.

Infrastructure is needed to produce base and precious metals because of the huge tonnage of rock that must be transported from the mine to a mill, refinery then markets. (An exception is diamonds which requires minimal infrastructure by comparison which is why the diamond mines in remote Northwest Territories were built recently.)

Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker understood the need for this critical economic development for Canada when he launched a program called “Road to Resources”. Among other projects, the initiative resulted in construction of the two-lane, unpaved Dempster Highway between Dawson City and Inuvik.

“The concentration of effort in Canada has been in the south where you have infrastructure,” he said.

For instance, the single greatest discovery in Canadian mining history is the nickel belt in Sudbury, the world’s biggest deposit. This multi-billion dollar development would never have been found nor discovered if the  Canadian Pacific Railway had been routed differently. The railway passed through the area in remote northern Ontario.

“There have been other remote mines built, such as the Polaris lead-zinc mine above the Arctic Circle but these were viable because they were on water so transportation was available,” he said. “But there is no access in Nunuvit or the interior of Canada which is virtually unexplored: northern Ontario, northern Quebec, northern B.C., Labrador, northern Manitoba and northern Saskatchewan.”

Canada, like other countries, companies and individuals, must exploit its natural competitive advantages in order to retain living standards. This nation is the second largest piece of real estate in the world which represents a mining, oil and agricultural advantage.

Canada will never be a manufacturing powerhouse, a Silicon Valley North, another New York financial capital or a biotech giant. And governments respond with stimulus packages to keep Canadians employed, they should also invest heavily in strategic economic development.

Mining is a high-tech industry that will never be replaced and should be harnessed for the good of the country and the world.

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