Think-tank says regulatory uncertainty puts N.S. behind other Atlantic provinces in survey

Nova Scotia needs to dig a little deeper and provide incentives to help the province’s mining sector thrive, says the executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia.

“That is one of the absolutely critical keys,” said Michelle Landreville in an interview Thursday. “We’re one of the only provinces that doesn’t have a mineral incentives program.”

Landreville was responding to the results of the Fraser Institute’s annual survey of mining companies, which ranks the world’s most attractive jurisdictions for mining exploration and development.

Nova Scotia finished 16th out of the 72 jurisdictions ranked, well behind Quebec, which finished first for the third year in a row, and New Brunswick, which placed second, ahead of Finland in third.

Landreville attributed the strong showing of Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, which finished eighth, to provincial incentives like tax credits those provinces offer to mineral exploration companies.

“Quebec has a strong mineral incentives program,” she said. “So does Newfoundland and New Brunswick.”

Landreville said Nova Scotia’s mineral resources are “better and more diverse” than those found in New Brunswick, but incentives lure mineral investment elsewhere.

“There’s no question it hurts us, particularly on the exploration side,” she said, adding that she wasn’t sure why Nova Scotia doesn’t offer similar incentives for the industry, which employs 6,300 people and contributed $500 million to the provincial economy.

Mike MacDonald, executive director of mineral resources with the provincial Natural Resources Department, said the government phased out a pros-pector assistance program that included some funding several years ago.

“We’re obviously aware of these programs (in Quebec and New Brunswick),” he said, adding that they may be addressed soon as part of recommendations under the province’s natural resources strategy initiative.

Fraser Institute vice-president Fred McMahon, who co-ordinated the survey, said Nova Scotia, which ranked 15th in the world last year, suffers from a lack of regulatory clarity compared to jurisdictions like Quebec.

“Nova Scotia typically scores poorly in policy areas that concern regulatory uncertainty,” he said in an interview from Toronto on Thursday. “It’s simply unnecessary.”

McMahon, a former policy analyst with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said Nova Scotia’s mining regulations aren’t more onerous than in other jurisdictions, but there is uncertainty about their administration, interpretation and enforcement.

“Nobody gains from regulatory uncertainty,” he said.

Landreville said a recent influx of mining companies into Nova Scotia indicates the regulatory climate has improved.

“It’s a lot easier for people to know what they’re getting into,” she said, adding that the industry isn’t against regulations, including those that protect the environment.

“They want to make sure it’s clear, and that’s starting to come,” she said.

Ontario and British Columbia fell significantly in this year’s survey to 22nd and 38th place, respectively.

Alberta finished fourth, Saskatchewan sixth, Manitoba ninth, the Yukon 11th, Nunavut 43rd and the Northwest Territories 50th in the survey, which represents the opinions of 670 mining executives and managers.

The results were more optimistic than last year’s, with almost twice as many miners saying they plan to increase investment this year.

A vast majority, 83 per cent, said mining prices will rise, with 20 per cent expecting substantial increases.