If there’s gold (or copper or zinc) in them thar hills, the Quebec government will bend over backward to help you mine it – and helpfully look the other way if environmental degradation, health problems or Native land claims threaten to get in the way.
That’s the cheerful message from the Fraser Institute, the right-wing think tank in Vancouver. In its “Annual Survey of Mining Companies,” released two weeks ago, the Fraser folks found that overall, mining corporations believe Quebec is the most mining-friendly jurisdiction in Canada, and is fourth best in the world (behind only the environmental wastelands of Chile, Nevada and Western Australia).
For the Fraser Institute, of course, that’s a good thing. They believe anything that gets in the way of raw greed and corporate self-interest is an economic crime. But it’s quite revealing in what it says about Quebec. The ramifications for people living – and dying – in northern communities such as Oujé-Bougoumou are clear.
As one mining executive told the Fraser Institute, “There is a favourable bias towards mining and exploration [in Quebec], Institutions work with industry to resolve problems, if any.”
Another gave helpful examples of what constitutes unfavourable mining policies: “Laws against cyanide in Montana and Oregon, [and] excessive environmental zeal/regulations in California, Wisconsin, and Colorado.” Mining executives don’t have to worry about poisoning the environment and food chain of remote regions in Quebec, where the use of lethal cyanide in mining practices is ignored by regulators. Not only that, but companies will get public subsidies while poisoning the land. According to yet another observation in the Fraser report, “Quebec [is favourable because of] mineral potential combined with aggressive government support: tax base, incentives, financing.”
The survey is based on several arbitrarily designed factors, including “uncertainty concerning the administration, interpretation, and enforcement of existing regulations, environmental regulations, regulatory duplication and inconsistencies, taxation, uncertainty concerning native land claims and protected areas, infrastructure, socioeconomic agreements, political stability, labour issues, and geological database.”
In the upside-down world of the Fraser Institute, a political jurisdiction scores higher if it has fewer – and preferably none at all – laws and regulations that might protect people, wildlife and the environment from the collateral damage of mining. Things that might appear desirable in a civilized, progressive society – fair taxes, good wages, strong environmental protections and extensive protected areas, and an effective process to settle Aboriginal land claims – scores as a negative in the Fraser mining survey. The irony of Quebec, notes the report, is that the province actually has rules to protect the environment, it simply chooses to ignore them, or helps companies manoeuvre around them. That’s why Quebec is so popular with mining executives.
For Crees in the heavily mined area around Oujé-Bougoumou, the report rings true. An Environment Ministry study of heavy metal contamination of lakes and waterways is still dragging on, years after high concentrations of toxins were found to be poisoning the local food chain – and many months after a health study of Ouje residents confirmed that poisons from mines are building up in people’s bodies. It’s a study that could have been completed long ago, results released and a clean-up strategy announced, but now it’s unclear if we will ever see the light at the end of the mine shaft. The government’s strategy is clear – delay, obfuscate, and delay some more, while the companies that got rich while leaving a deadly legacy in the north get off Scott-free.
The Fraser Institute quotes a perceptive mining executive, who helps explain why this may be so in the distinct society. “They seem to look at mining as being an integral part of their culture because a lot of communities were founded on it. They see mining as a realistic way to develop remote regions.”
That may seem reasonable, but looking the other way when those remote regions are poisoned and environmentally devastated – especially when the people living in those regions are First Nations – is a damning commentary on that culture.
As long as it’s up north, out of sight and out of mind, anything goes. As yet another miner says, “Quebec [is] pro-development. If you find something, you can develop it.”
You can find the report at www.fraserinstitute.ca