Nova Scotia should seize ‘tremendous opportunity’ for mining

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Appeared in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, June 15, 2022
Nova Scotia should seize ‘tremendous opportunity’ for mining

Nova Scotia’s mining industry produces a wide variety of products for both Canadians and foreigners including salt, gypsum and aggregate. And accounts for more than one thousand jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity. Unfortunately, recent evidence shows that investors are souring on Nova Scotia’s mining industry—and policy choices by government is partly to blame.

A recent survey tracked the perceptions of mining investors worldwide, compiling an index of investment attractiveness based on both mineral potential and policy factors. In total, 84 jurisdictions in total were ranked, with Nova Scotia coming in at 71st overall, trailing both New Brunswick (36th) and Newfoundland and Labrador (21st). Canada’s top-ranked jurisdiction according to industry investors was Saskatchewan, which ranked second globally.

While Nova Scotia does not have the same degree of mineral potential as other jurisdictions such as Newfoundland and Labrador or Saskatchewan, the industry still represents an important part of the provincial economy with the potential for expansion in the future. According to Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources, there’s “tremendous opportunity” in gold, rare earth elements, rare metals, base metals and other deposits given that demand is high.

Why is Nova Scotia so far behind? In part, government policy. According to the survey, Nova Scotia ranked 39th of 84 jurisdictions (and the second-worst performing province after Manitoba) on policy factors.

Specifically, 75 per cent of survey respondents said uncertainty around protected areas (i.e. which areas will be off-limits for mining exploration and production) was a deterrent to investment compared to only 42 per cent for Newfoundland and Labrador and 41 per cent for New Brunswick. Respondents also pointed to uncertainty around disputed land claims and environmental regulations.

This negative perception of Nova Scotia is not surprising given that the province’s share of protected land has increased in recent years, and is now second-highest in the country. And worryingly, Nova Scotia’s policy perception among mining investors has steadily declined over the years from 11th in 2018 to 39th in 2021 (the most recent year of available data). No Canadian province has experienced such a dramatic decline during this period, underscoring the need for government to change course on policy. Again, this negative and declining perception of Nova Scotia among investors threatens existing jobs and investment, and the industry’s ability to further expand.

Given the “tremendous opportunity” in mining, touted by its own Department of Natural Resources, the Houston government should address the issues surrounding protected areas and disputed land claims and ensure that government policy protects the environment while also promoting investment and growth. Nova Scotia’s mining industry holds great potential to attract much-needed jobs, investment and economic activity, but government policy reform is required.