Mining: Silver lining?

British Columbia’s forestry industry has been devastated by the high Canadian dollar, the decimated U.S. housing market and by the pesky mountain beetle. Yet, as the gloom and job losses deepen, an unlikely beneficiary has emerged. “We have a need for these workers,” says Byng Giraud, spokesperson for the Mining Association of British Columbia.

Although a major metal mine has not opened in B.C. since 1997, the commodities boom has fuelled a labour shortage. There will be about 15,000 job openings in B.C. mining in the next decade, and many of the skills needed in each industry are not that different, says Giraud. The driver of a logging truck, for example, could be adept at driving a large truck at a mine. Moreover, the shortage of mining labour may persist — and grow — if recent mining exploration efforts in beetle-infested regions of B.C. develop into full-fledged mining projects.

Geoscience BC, a not-for-profit based in Vancouver that works to attract resource investments to the province, has funded the Quest program, which surveys land for mineral potential in north and central B.C, which includes some areas devastated by the pine beetle infestation. The 2007 Quest survey resulted in exploration companies staking 850,000 hectares of land. The approval of a mining permit needed to turn an exploration project into a producing mine, however, can be a slow process, as it requires government approval. “One would hope there would be a faster approval process, but nothing so far. The political reality of job losses in the forestry industry hasn’t resulted in faster mine permit approvals,” says Giraud.