Grads looking to political and mining company leaders for opportunities
William Boor is the Senior Vice President, Strategy & Business Development, Cliffs Natural Resources
The following is excerpted from a keynote address by Cliffs VP William Boor at the Ontario Mining Forum in Thunder Bay on June 20.
I think we have come to a time that will prove to be really critical in the history of the Ring of Fire development. …
I stand here talking tonight as a face of “industry” … (and) I know what comes with that. As “industry” I am expected to be self-interested for my company’s shareholders only, interested in keeping as much as possible, and by inference, giving as little as possible.…
But I’m asking you to hear me as a person – a person who believes that development, and particularly mining development, creates the possibility for everyone to succeed together. I believe that my position within industry is a wonderful place to change people’s lives.
In my prior role within Cliffs, we began looking at the ferrochrome industry about five or six years ago. Of course, we are in a company, (so) it starts with the numbers, it starts with the business concept, it has to make sense, it has to have return potential – all the things that you expect. But through this project I, and many people from my team, have been invited into some of the communities. We’ve had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time there. It’s been a wonderful experience for me and very eye-opening.
I recently spent time in Fort Hope and Chief Papah took me to meet two women who are running a Suboxone program to help people who are addicted to Oxycontin. These women are running a wonderful program and are working hard to improve their communitiy. …
Over the past two years more than 150 people in that community have volunteered to go into that program. That’s a community of 1,400 or so. I have heard the statistics before going there of addiction sometimes exceeding 50 per cent of adults. …
I couldn’t help but think about the question of ‘What’s needed for these people to be successful in their battle against addiction? What’s different when they return to their lives after the program?’ Maybe I’ve got it wrong. These are my perceptions and my questions, but what changes in their world that provides hope for a brighter future as an alternative to the addiction that they got into in the first place?
I am saying as a human being, that original business concept –which is still important to make this work – it changes and takes on a different level of purpose when you meet these people and believe as I do that economic opportunity plays a critical part in answering those questions. …
We have been at this for a while. There has been a lot of discussion and positioning, there has
been a lot of agreeing and disagreeing, relationship building and negotiation. But now we are at
a time when the people involved need to set a course that will either move the Ring of Fire idea
forward to make it a reality or it will fade away.
I hear from time to time that the chromite has been in the ground for a long time and it isn’t going anywhere. People will say “If it doesn’t happen now, it’s fine … it’ll happen later.” I take exception to that statement.
That’s very close to saying that it’s OK that there is a lack of opportunity in those communities. It’s very close to saying that it’s OK that unemployment exceeds 90 per cent in some cases, and more than 50 per cent of the adults have an addiction. It’s very close to saying that it’s OK for teenage suicide to be almost routine.
Suggesting that it isn’t important when opportunity is brought to and seized by those communities is, in my opinion, simply unacceptable. … They have shared with me the isolation and, in my words, the lack of hope.
Meaningful moment in Webequie
A little over a month ago I was in Webequie First Nation. Cliffs was involved in a training program that was led by Oshki. … Fourteen Webequie members ranging in age from 19 to 50 graduated from a mining program.
I stood in the Webequie community centre that day and watched these people enter the community centre in their graduation gowns. They were people who had taken the initiative to step forward to be trained for good jobs. They committed themselves to four months of training, most outside of their community – a great commitment – including spending a week at our camp in the Ring of Fire area.…
It struck me as those graduates walked into that room that after the years I’ve dedicated to this project, these were the first faces I was able to look at of real people who wanted the opportunities, stepped forward, and dedicated the time and energy in the hope that a better life can be provided with development.
I don’t know if I can aptly communicate how meaningful a moment that was for me. We talk about the numbers, we talk about jobs (but) these are the real faces. And what it brings home is a stark reminder of what this is all about.
Most importantly, they are ready and looking to us, as leaders, to give them the opportunities. It’s in the hands of the leaders of government, those communities, and the companies involved in the Ring of Fire. …
When I recently checked, none of those
graduates has found employment in mining. So they’re continuing to wait for us.
The beauty of a well-executed, environmentally responsible development of this magnitude is that truly everyone can succeed together. In fact, it is only by succeeding together that any of us can be successful. We all know that. …
Very simplistically, but very importantly, it’s time to stop thinking about this development as a negotiation. … Whether you are working for government in a regulatory capacity, or on the agreements to provide infrastructure and economic solutions, whether you are a First Nations leader or advisor, and certainly I say this to myself and others on the Cliffs team – it is time to stop thinking of this as a negotiation.
We owe it to the graduates I saw a few weeks ago and the people voluntarily participating in Suboxone programs to break their addictions. We owe it to the literally thousands of people in northern Ontario whose families stand to have a better life through the jobs and business opportunities the Ring of Fire can potentially provide. We owe it to the elders I have spoken to who understand that if their communities are to survive and thrive, if their cultures are to be preserved, they need solutions that will keep future generations healthy and in those communities.
Our jobs are not to negotiate as if one wins at the expense of the other. Our jobs are to find solutions as partners in the exciting development of a new mining district and to do it in a way that shows the path for future investments.
Well-executed development can change lives for the better and this is the opportunity I see to make a difference in the Ring of Fire.