BRITISH COLUMBIA

Mining ministers encourage resource development despite commodity price slump

01/27/2015 07:15 EST | Updated 03/29/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - A prolonged slump in global commodity prices hasn't fazed provincial and territorial mining ministers from forging ahead with natural resource development.

British Columbia's Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said he expected mineral prices to rebound in the near future.

"We've been down now three to four years, and these cycles typically last a maximum of five," Bennett said Tuesday in an interview at Roundup 2015, an annual mineral exploration conference that brings together prospectors, scientists, investors and suppliers.

David Ramsay, the Northwest Territories minister in charge of mining, also attended the conference after recently returning from a trade mission to China and Japan.

He said resource development is paramount to growing the economy in Canada's north.

"We're a very well-endowed territory when it comes to mineral wealth," he said. "The resources are there and … it's important for us to get out and encourage investment."

The Northwest Territories has an additional incentive to invest in resource expansion after signing a devolution agreement with the federal government in 2014.

It was 10 years in the making and put the northern region in control of public land, water and resources.

Beyond lucrative resource revenues, Ramsay said increased development and more investment ties with Asia could help attract new immigrants to fill anticipated jobs.

Recent figures from Natural Resources Canada reveal that 2014 private-sector spending on mineral exploration in the Northwest jumped 32 per cent compared to the previous year, to $148 million, and centred around the region's diamond industry.

The spike took place during a period of dropping investment across Canada's north, which had a 22 per cent dip over the same period, from $436 million to $339 million.

Both Ramsay and Bennett spoke about the challenges that junior mining outfits and prospectors are facing in raising capital for mineral exploration.

Spending on mineral exploration in B.C. was down to $338 million last year, half the level in 2012.

"We're still light years beyond what it used to be in B.C.," said Bennett, referring to the $25 million that was spent in 2001.

"We've been around 22 per cent of total Canadian exploration investment here in B.C. over the last three, four years," he said, adding B.C. continued to outperform its provincial counterparts.

"We're punching above our weight."

On Monday, Premier Christy Clark announced the province would open a permitting office for mining, but NDP Leader John Horgan said it was too little, too late and a distraction from a report expected this week into the Mt. Polley mine disaster.

Last August, a tailings dam broke at a gold and copper mine in the province's Interior, releasing effluent into the surrounding water system and prompting a temporary water ban for hundreds of area residents.

Bennett said after the incident that he would consider resigning as the mining minister if the ministry was negligent in causing the accident.

"We'll see how that goes," he said Monday.

— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter