Nova Scotia government mulls mining industry's $20M request

Nova Scotia's mining industry is hoping the provincial budget, coming at the end of the month, will include $20 million to fund its proposal to conduct a detailed geophysical survey of the province.

Industry group says search for mineral deposits would be boon for rural communities

Workers set charges as they prepare a blast at Atlantic Gold Corp.'s Touquoy open pit gold mine in Moose River Gold Mines, N.S., in June 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's mining industry is hoping for good news in the budget Finance Minister Karen Casey plans to introduce on March 26.  

The Mining Industry Association of Nova Scotia and its members have been lobbying the McNeil government in favour of a $20-million proposal to survey and map the province in the hopes of finding mineral-rich deposits.

The results of that aerial work would then be shared, in an effort to entice mining companies to explore further and possibly open new mines.

Sean Kirby, the mining association's executive director, said the project was modeled on similar work undertaken by the Nova Scotia government to promote offshore oil and gas exploration.

"The government invested $15 million in surveys related to the offshore oil and gas sector and that resulted in over $2 billion in investment in the province's economy and the province's offshore industry," said Kirby.

Sean Kirby is executive director of the Mining Industry Association of Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Mining Industry Association of Nova Scotia)

Kirby sees potential onshore.

"When a big mining project gets going in Nova Scotia we create hundreds of jobs for people both direct and indirect," he said. "That generates a lot of tax revenues for the province and helps make a big difference, especially in the rural areas of the province because that's where most of the jobs in our industry are located."

The province is already providing money to mining companies to do prospecting, research, exploration and marketing, through the Mineral Resources Development Fund. In 2018, the fund disbursed $820,000.

Between 2012 and 2017, the Mineral Incentive Program, the predecessor fund, contributed almost $2.5 million towards similar work, but Kirby called the current provincial data available to the industry outdated and technologically inferior to what is needed.

"This is actually a night and day difference from what has been done previously," he said.

Testing of drilling samples at Atlantic Gold Corp.'s Moose River Consolidated Project facility in Moose River Gold Mines, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

What the mining association calls its Minerals Play Fairway project would involve an initial survey using three airplanes that would take about eight months to complete, at a cost of about $9.4 million.

Phase 2 would build on that work and take approximately four months to do, involving airplanes and helicopters. That part of the data collection would cost $10 million.

Once collected and processed, the data would then be used to market the province's mineral potential to mining companies around the world.

"It's about attracting more investment to the province, creating more jobs," said Kirby. "So at the end of the day our provincial and municipal governments have the resources they need in order to give us the services that Nova Scotians all want."

Ray Plourde with Ecology Action Centre is opposed to the Mining Industry Association of Nova Scotia proposal. (Submitted by Ecology Action Centre)

Derek Mombourquette, the minister of energy and mines, said his department has been speaking to the industry about its plan, but he is tightlipped about whether it would be considered in the upcoming budget.

"I can understand the rationale for why they would want to see something like this, similar to what we did in the offshore," he said in an interview. "We're going to continue to have those conversations.

"There's been no decision made at this point."

Ray Plourde, the wilderness co-ordinator for the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, is dead set against government funding this kind of survey work.

"That's the job of industry, it's not the job of taxpayers," he said.

"It is not the responsibility of Nova Scotia taxpayers, in a province that can't afford to pay its doctors, its teachers and its nurses, and keep its basic services running at an adequate level to give millions of dollars to the mining industry to develop mines that the public may or may not even want."