It’s funny how one person’s bad news can be another’s small cause for celebration. I had to smile when I read recently that one of my favourite targets – the international mining industry – is down on Quebec as a place to do business.
After three years topping the Fraser Institute’s annual mining survey as the friendliest jurisdiction in the world for mining companies, Quebec has ignominiously tumbled to third place in this year’s survey.
Why? Because the Quebec government had the gall to ask for what the Fraser Institute itself calls “moderate” increases in mining taxes. Mind you, Quebecers will still be paying many more times the revenues we receive from mining for free infrastructure and environmental restoration. Not even counting the value of the mineral riches they gain, these public subsidies to the mining industry vastly dwarf the fees we ask of them.
Before the increase, mining corporations paid about $181 million in royalties on billions of mineral resources they dug out of public lands. Even the business-friendly government of Jean Charest felt compelled to ask for a slightly higher price on the riches being given away and promptly shipped out of province.
No matter. According to the study’s author, McGill University-educated economist Fred McMahon, any change is bad.
“Though Canada’s overall performance in the survey remains strong, Quebec has done an about-face in recent months, damaging its reputation for stable mining policy,” McMahon observed. “The government would be well advised to refrain from thickening regulations and increasing royalties.”
And don’t forget that the Fraser Institute, which is a taxpayer-supported “charity” that happens to only lobby for the interests of corporations, wasn’t interested in the opinions of the “public.” Mind you, the public actually ends up paying for the Fraser Institute’s corporate donations because they all receive tax rebates for their charitable altruism.
No, the Fraser Institute’s mining survey only consults mining corporations, not the people who actually own the resource and inherit the environmental hangover after their mineral wealth has been confiscated.
Thus the rather laughable quote in this year’s survey from one unnamed miner, who opined that, “With the new changes to the Mining Act, Quebec is fast declining as a place to do business. The government has no clear policy and is guided by the flow of public opinion rather than common sense.”
Imagine that: a democratic government that actually considers public opinion in its policy-making process. Scandal!
And few would consider it common sense to invite strangers into their house to help themselves to anything of value in exchange for a penny, or less, on every dollar of the property’s actual worth. Then be stuck with the bill to fix the place after it had been thoroughly smashed up and soiled with all kinds of poisons.
I grant that it may look like common sense to the lucky person doing the plundering, especially if extensive experience has led them to consider this form of looting as an entitlement. And that’s the problem. Miners view public property as their entitlement.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the looters here, despite the rhetoric. We’re still third, after all, behind only Finland and Nevada, but ahead of every Third World banana republic. And there is no sign yet that the mining companies jostling to exploit a crazy quilt of claims across Eeyou Istchee are getting discouraged by this bewildering lack of common sense by the government of Quebec.
Not when, for instance, Quebec is prepared to spend $700 million building a highway to the Otish Mountains region north of Mistissini to open up a region rich in diamonds and uranium, among others. That’s far more than all the revenues that mining brings in each year remember.
These handouts are considered minor for an industry accustomed to extreme levels of government support.
But the debate over mining in Quebec may just be heating up as the government has announced it will begin allowing development of so-called “shale gas” deposits across the province. While natural gas isn’t a mineral, the issues are the same. And the natural gas industry across North America has consistently proven itself to be a catastrophic polluter that ignores public safety in its race for windfall profits.
Wherever the industry is established, groundwater contamination has almost inevitably followed. The shale gas is mined through a process called hydraulic fracturing, which pumps a mix of water, chemicals and sand far underground to force the gas to the surface. The consequences are unpredictable, to say the least.
What we can count on, however, is for industry mouthpieces like the Fraser Institute to batter the government into submission if it doesn’t bend over far enough to please the corporations drooling over untapped riches beneath our soil. We all know who will be stuck with the bill.