Mining and forestry are key industries in British Columbia, but both sectors have taken a hit in recent times.
Given that, they’re hoping whoever forms Canada’s next government will offer some concrete help.
“Right now, we continue to be in a prolonged downturn,” said Mining Association of B.C. president and CEO Karina Briño.
“It’s difficult to raise capital for new projects, difficult to get attention to the opportunity in mining at this point. Commodity prices are not favourable, particularly in B.C., and coal has been down for a number of months. Copper prices are also very soft right now.
“The single most important thing for the industry right now is administrative fairness,” she said when asked how a new government could help. “And that really speaks to timeliness in the decisions, clarity around how decisions are being made, and adherence to existing legislation and regulations.”
Briño wouldn’t comment on which party offers the best policy, saying instead: “To be fair, there was general support and understanding (from all parties) about the importance of the mining industry and the importance of job creation and innovation and technology and all the advances the industry has made toward environmental stewardship and social responsibility in all of those things.”
The mining association is reminding candidates that 2014 was a difficult year for the industry, largely due to falling commodity prices and challenging capital markets.
A survey of B.C. mines found gross mining revenues of $8.2 billion in 2014, down from a high of $9.9 billion in 2011, largely due to pressure on the price of B.C.’s two largest revenue-generating commodities, steelmaking coal and copper.
The association said external pressures are expected to continue through 2015, but that B.C.’s mining sector is moving forward with approximately 30 projects worth an estimated $30 billion.
The Harper government announced this month that, if reelected, it would implement new measures to promote mineral exploration and create jobs, and that an enhanced 25-per-cent mineral exploration tax credit would be introduced for northern and remote projects.
The Liberals have announced they would invest $200 million a year to develop innovative and clean technologies in the forestry, mining, fisheries, energy and agricultural sectors, while putting another $100 million annually into producers that promote clean technology firms.
The NDP, for its part, has not announced anything new for the sector during the campaign, but leader Tom Mulcair said earlier this year that an Innovation Tax Credit is part of the NDP plan.
Meanwhile, in a forestry sector that saw a slowdown in China’s demand for B.C. lumber earlier this year along with U.S. shipments frozen out by harsh winter conditions, Council of Forest Industries spokesman Cam McAlpine said it’s essential that whoever forms government negotiate a renewed softwood lumber agreement with the U.S.
“That’s really the No. 1 issue on the federal level,” said McAlpine, adding that more financial support would be nice, along with a renewed push to open up new markets beyond the U.S. and China. “There’s other markets out there that we want to look into and any support the federal government can do to help the industry open up those markets on a government-to-government basis is going to be helpful.”
Mulcair said in September that the NDP would invest $105 million over 3 years to help the Canadian forestry sector retool for the future.
As well, he said, the NDP would implement an Innovation Tax Credit of $40 million annually to encourage forestry companies to invest in machinery and equipment for R&D to keep their companies competitive; bring in a small business tax cut from 11 to nine per cent over two years to help forestry businesses, including small-scale manufacturers, private woodlot owners and equipment firms; and increase funding for core municipal infrastructure by $1.5 billion annually, to allow forestry-based communities to invest in their local roads, bridges and municipal services.
The Conservatives, who did not respond to a request from The Vancouver Sun for more information on how it would help B.C.’s forestry sector, noted that the Canadian forest products industry generates revenues of $58 billion annually and is the largest exporter of forest products in the world, employing about 230,000 workers in 200 communities.
Despite that rosy picture, Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, said that since Stephen Harper became prime minister, the federal government has overseen the loss of 97,000 jobs in the Canadian forestry sector, devastating many communities, and advanced a trade agenda focused on the export of raw logs and other unprocessed resources.