Economic Revitalisation of Mining Affected Communities

MiningWatch Canada has recently received funding for a research project to examine ways and means to revitalize the economies of mining-dependent communities, and to make policy recommendations based on these findings.

More than 100 communities like Elliot Lake, Sudbury, Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Wawa, Trail, Murdochville and Lynn Lake, have grown up around mines and smelters, and became dependent on the industry for their income. Traditionally, Canada has not developed secondary and tertiary mineral industries in mining communities, and the profits have not stayed in the communities that produced the minerals (and the wealth).

Often, other resource-based economic activity such as farming, fishing and logging were damaged by the pollution from the mine and smelters, and these remote communities became depend on power grids, chain stores and imported goods and services to supply their needs.

Mining is dangerous and destructive work, which carries with it a high incidence of industrial disease and accidents — cancers, white hand, silicosis, accidents — which have never been adequately compensated by Workers Compensation nor dealt with by industry or government and which affects the capacity of these communities.

These communities are now facing serious economic hardship for a number of reasons:
1. The expansion of Canadian mining companies in the Third World creates over-production of materials making commodity prices volatile, and sets up a race to the bottom in working conditions, environmental regulation and government subsidy.
2. Technological advancement has cut the number of metal mining jobs in Canada to less than 30,000, from a 40-year high in 1974 of 70,000.
3. Ore bodies are almost depleted in most of the major metal mining regions of the country, and most new mines last less than 10 years.
4. There is little or no sustainable economic infrastructure in the regions.

To make matters more difficult, most of these communities are faced with lands and waters that have been polluted by the mines, and are now damaging their health.. Many of their residents are unwell or disabled, and the young people — looking for opportunities — leave. Because mining towns are northern and rural, they are invisible to the metropolis that uses the minerals they produce; and because their populations are small, they have little voting power. Efforts to revitalize these local economies are rarely — if ever — successful.

The analysis and resources identified by the project will be useful to other resource-dependent communities as well.