Saskatchewan attracts mining investment while land-claims disputes damage Ontario and B.C.

  • National Newswatch

The mining industry contributes mightily to Canada's economic prosperity, adding $54 billion to Canada's GDP and employing roughly 383,000 Canadians at an average annual salary of more than $110,000 in 2013.But Canada has a serious problem with land-use certainty that may threaten future investment in the sector. Across the country, uncertainty surrounding disputed land claims remains a significant barrier to investment in the development of natural resources, particularly investment in the mining sector.For example, every year the Fraser Institute surveys miners around the world to determine what makes a jurisdiction attractive—or unattractive—to investment. According to the most recent survey, in eight out of 12 Canadian provinces and territories in 2014, uncertainty over disputed land claims was the top barrier to investment.The situation is worst in Ontario and British Columbia.For the past four years, an increasing share of survey respondents in Ontario, including 66 per cent of miners in 2014, said that disputed land claims deter investment. Of Ontario's respondents, nearly 40 per cent said that land claims uncertainty was either a) a strong deterrent or b) a reason to not invest at all. There are currently 50 active land claims in Ontario being negotiated, with the largest claim covering more than 36,000 square kilometres of land in eastern Ontario.The survey results for B.C. are even more dramatic. In 2014, 50 per cent of survey respondents indicated that uncertainty created by disputed land claims was either a strong deterrent to investment or a reason to simply not invest—up from 32 per cent in 2013. And the lack of treaties, combined with recent court rulings such as the Tsilhqot'in decision, have only increased uncertainty in the province.However, not all provinces in Canada are plagued with uncertainty and decreased investor confidence. In fact, Saskatchewan was ranked the most attractive jurisdiction for mining investment in Canada in 2014, and second in the world out of 122 jurisdictions worldwide. Only four per cent of survey respondents cite disputed land claims as a strong deterrent to investment in Saskatchewan.So what sets Saskatchewan apart from other provinces?Unlike B.C., Saskatchewan is covered by historic treaties. And the provincial and federal governments, along with First Nations in the province, have signed Treaty Land Entitlement agreements, which allow First Nations to purchase crown or private land anywhere in Saskatchewan, to convert to reserve land, providing land certainty not currently found in B.C. or Ontario. According to Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner George Lafond, “the implementation of the Treaty Land Entitlement framework agreement over the past 20 years has brought governments, industry and First Nations closer together. This positive collaboration has resulted in over a million acres of new reserve lands and economic and social benefits for all citizens of Saskatchewan.”Furthermore, Saskatchewan has taken ownership of the consultation process; the provincial government makes it very clear that it, not project proponents, is “responsible and ultimately accountable for managing and implementing the duty to consult.” Saskatchewan is also home to innovative mining partnerships between First Nations and resources companies. For example, Muskowekwan First Nation and Encanto are undertaking a joint venture to develop the first on-reserve potash mine in Canada that will generate 2.8 million tons of potash annually and create approximately 1,000 jobs.Through its  consistent high ranking in the annual Fraser Institute Mining Survey, Saskatchewan has demonstrated that sound regulatory processes, combined with a commitment to address land certainty, helps attract mining investment.If Ontario and B.C. want to increase mining investment in their provinces, perhaps they can learn a thing or two from the land of living skies.Ravina Bains is the Associate Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Policy Studies and Taylor Jackson is a policy analyst in the Center for Natural Resources at the Fraser Institute.