MIRARCO CEO pushes for Ontario mining brand
Ontario mining cluster more than the sum of its parts
Vic Pakalnis, president and CEO of MIRARCO Mining Innovation in Sudbury, is urging the provincial Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to take the lead in the development of an Ontario mining brand.
“We have a very good reputation in the rest of the world,” said Pakalnis. “Our mining expertise in Ontario and Canada is really valued,” but much more needs to be done to build on the industry’s strengths.
Pakalnis hopes to influence the Ministry’s pending refresh of the Ontario Mineral Development Strategy, which is scheduled for release early next year. The submission, endorsed by Laurentian University and the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, focuses on branding, public education and awareness, research and development, the Ring of Fire and reaching out to Ontario’s First Nations.
The idea is to bring together mining companies, suppliers, manufacturers, research organizations and educational institutions, including Queen’s University in Kingston and the University of Toronto, to buy into a mining brand that portrays Ontario’s mining industry as safe, sustainable, productive and innovative.
Promoting an Ontario mining brand will help suppliers survive bad times and thrive when the industry turns around, he insists.
Ups and downs
“And it will turn around. I’ve lived through five of these downturns. I’m a mining engineer. My father is a mining engineer. My brother is a mining engineer. I was born in Northern Quebec and raised in Northern Ontario. Every time we go through a low, everybody panics and there’s this idea that we’re a sunset industry, but it’s not true.”
Pakalnis envisages a mining brand that all segments of the industry can get behind and promote.
“I just came back from a mining show in Australia,” he noted. “I was trying to get some business for the kinds of services we provide, but I wasn’t only selling MIRARCO. I was also selling the Ontario brand. I was selling Sudbury, the Sudbury Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) and Ontario. If every one of us in this mix does the same, we’ll all be better off.
“It’s like what (President John F.) Kennedy said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ Each one of us in the Ontario mining cluster should ask: ‘What can I do to contribute to this’ because this network – this cluster – is more than the sum of its parts.”
Pakalnis is urging the government to revive the Ontario Mining Industry Cluster Council, which served as a forum for mining companies, suppliers, research organizations and educational institutions several years ago to share ideas, advocate, advise and act to strengthen the industry.
A commitment to increased mining industry R&D is a must for Ontario and Canada, said Pakalnis.
“I think it was the Canadian Chamber of Commerce that cited in a recent report that Australia spends more than $4.2 billon a year on mining research and that we spend barely $800 million here in Canada. Australia is a smaller country. If we’re not at the innovative edge, if we’re not coming up with new technology, we start failing in other areas.”
Pakalnis laments the failure to move forward with the development of the Ring of Fire, a mineral-rich area in the province’s Far North.
“We lost a lot of momentum with the exit of Cliffs Resources and, until we get another major to come in, it’s going to affect how outside investors see us. Ontario fell quite dramatically in the Fraser Institute ratings and it’s because of Cliffs’ failure.
It’s going to be tough to find another Cliffs, especially in the current market environment, said Pakalnis.
“Noront Resources is a wonderful company, but they’re too small to develop the Ring of Fire riches.”
During the current lull, the province should make every effort to bring the First Nations onside, he urged.
“They have to benefit from all the wealth that’s up there. If we have a couple years before commodity prices start to increase, let’s work on the social side. Let’s work on making sure there is some infrastructure to help the people up there – better schools, better community centres. For some reason I can’t figure out there’s still a clean water problem up there. It’s awful that it hasn’t been resolved, so let’s resolve these things. Let’s make sure the ground is set for the First Nations to benefit economically, socially and environmentally from the development of those mineral resources.”
It’s not a great time because of the where commodity prices are, but we should also be doing some door knocking to find a major mining company with the means to develop the chromite resources in the Ring of Fire, said Pakalnis.
“Cliffs was ready to give the province an $800 million road. They were going to build it at their expense and donate it to the province. Joseph Carrabba (the former president and CEO of Cliffs) told me that. At this point, I don’t think we’re going to find a company to build a road at their own expense, so government has to look at an incremental approach to building some sort of infrastructure.”
Finally, Pakalnis is urging the province to initiate a public awareness campaign to educate Ontarians about the importance of the mining industry.
“People don’t realize that mining is fundamental to the economy of this country. Even now when mining is in a downturn, it still accounts for 25 per cent of our exports. We need mining. We’re the top sector employer of First Nations in Canada. People should be aware of how important mining is to this country, to our economy and to social development.
“Taxi drivers in Sydney know how important mining is to Australia. Elections are fought on mining issues. Did you hear mining mentioned in our recent election? None of the parties talked about a strategy for mining.
“We have to make sure that the public sees mining as an honourable profession. Minerals are necessary to ensure your cell phone works. We need minerals for building skyscrapers. If we didn’t have minerals, we wouldn’t have civilization. We have to make sure the public is more aware of that.”
Tagged Greater Sudbury, Joseph Carrabba, Laurentian University, Mining, Mining Supply and Service Association, Ministry of Northern Development, MIRARCO, MIRARCO-Mining Innovation, Noront Resources, Vic Pakalnis