Mining to provide essential foundations for Nova Scotia's rural economy

It has been almost three-and-a-half years since the Ivany Commission issued its Now or Never report about building the province’s new economy. As part of assessing what has been done in response, I am writing to offer a case study of how the report’s recommendations have been implemented by the provincial government to help the province’s mining and quarrying industry grow and create jobs for Nova Scotians.

The commission said traditional rural industries like mining and quarrying “will provide the essential foundations for Nova Scotia's rural economy . . . The basic viability of many of our rural communities hinges on whether these sectors can create more and better jobs and generate more wealth.”

The commission also highlighted that the government could do more to support the mining industry by providing “a modern and responsive legislative framework to support and promote sustainable mineral resource management.” The government followed through on that recommendation by overhauling the province’s outdated Mineral Resources Act — the first comprehensive review of the act in a quarter-century. The resulting legislation, which was passed in 2016, struck the right balance between cutting red tape and supporting job creation while also holding the industry to the highest standards in public consultation and reclamation.

The government has made several other policy decisions that are also very important for the industry.

The pre-election budget proposed extending to our industry the same fuel tax rebate that other resource industries get. Provincial fuel tax is supposed to help pay for public roads and highways by charging the vehicle owners who use them. The government gives other resource industries a tax rebate for fuel used in vehicles that do not go on public roads, such as fishing boats, farm tractors and forestry harvesters. Our industry has been excluded from the rebate since the 1980s even though most of our vehicles stay on mine and quarry sites. We understand the government will again include this policy change in its upcoming budget, finally resolving this longstanding issue.

Despite the province’s fiscal challenges, the government has continued its mineral incentive program which supports prospecting and exploration. If we don’t do exploration today we won’t have new mines tomorrow, so the government’s ongoing support of this program is vital. The Liberals promised during the election campaign to build on the program’s success by establishing a mineral resources development bank to increase prospecting, mineral-related research and educational opportunities for young people.

While each of these policy decisions is important in and of itself, combined they suggest an important change in the provincial government’s attitude towards the industry. Instead of letting the Mineral Resources Act become evermore burdensome and obsolete, the government took the initiative to modernize it. Instead of continuing to treat our industry unfairly compared to other resource industries, the government is adding us to the fuel tax rebate program.

Instead of letting prospecting and exploration wither away during the economic downturn of recent years, the government is making strategic investments that will lead to more jobs and opportunity.

The government’s support has contributed to a banner year for mining in Nova Scotia. Three major new mines are expected to open in 2017, representing hundreds of new jobs for Nova Scotians and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in the province. The success of these projects, including the return of gold mining to Nova Scotia, is generating worldwide interest in our mineral potential. This becomes a virtuous circle in which opening a new mine leads to more exploration which leads to opening more mines.

The provincial government’s post-Ivany approach to our industry has focused on making smart, strategic investments and policy decisions, and we are seeing the benefits. We are opening new mines, creating new jobs, and generating additional tax and royalty revenues to pay for programs like health and education. That is the sort of economic renewal that Ivany envisioned.

* Written by Sean Kirby, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia.