Mr. Ghislain Fournier (Manicouagan, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, my speech today is in response to the motion moved on September 24 by the hon. member for Bras d'Or, requesting that a crown corporation be established to develop the Donkin mine in the Cape Breton region of Nova Scotia.
I want to express my strongest opposition to this request, which, in my opinion, is totally groundless, especially for all Quebeckers, who are not concerned in any way by this so-called mine.
In fact, with all due respect to some hon. members, I would like to make an important correction. Donkin is not a mine per se, but rather vein, or lead, indicating development could take place on that site during some time.
Establishing a crown corporation is unacceptable mainly because mines are a provincial jurisdiction and the federal government has no jurisdiction whatsoever in the matter. Natural resources, including mines, forests and energy, belong to the provinces.
I think it shows a lack of respect for the taxpayers to mix the internal affairs of a province with the public funds of another province. If that is what the renewal of the federation or the constitution is all about, this is not very convincing to me. And if the federal government brings up Quebec's special status one more time, I will have to wonder what its word is worth. One cannot talk about respect for Quebec the same way as for any other province, mixing all the provincial cards together. It should be up to a province's government to manage regional matters like mines.
Let us now look at the particular issue of Donkin. To this day, absolutely no one has been able to prove that this coal mining project could be a profitable venture. Only one private firm seems to be interested in finding out what the situation is and in conducting a study at a cost of $400,000, 75 % of which would be paid by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. However, the study would only determine the reserve's potential and would not clearly establish whether it is possible to develop the Donkin coal mine without sinking more public funds into it.
In its 1996-97 estimates, the Cape Breton Development Corporation, which is accountable to the federal government and which is currently developing the Phalen and Prince mines in Nova Scotia, anticipated losses of $35 million.
The development of a coal mine in Donkin could cost at least $100 million to $125 million. The federal government has already invested $80 million, and it also holds the lease for that reserve. As for the Nova Scotia government, it owns the resource and would therefore collect royalties should the mine be exploited.
How could a government justify spending between $100 million and $125 million on a project that offers absolutely no guarantee of success?
In my riding of Manicouagan, as in several other regions, there are major potential mining opportunities. Since last year, when a geologist from the Quebec government discovered the Lac Vollant indicator, close to Sept-Îles, there has truly been a “Lac Vollant rush”. Some people are going so far as to say that it could be the richest deposit every discovered.
Never has the federal government gotten involved in or contributed to the exploration and long term development of such a large and promising deposit. And yet, ask the hundreds of prospectors who rushed right out and staked their claims and they will tell you that they think this is an exceptional opportunity to discover minerals and then sell them to promoters who want to mine them. The federal government never took any action.
A mining opportunity the federal government should have gotten involved in was the Natashquan mineralized sands. Tiomin Ressource, the company that wants to mine these sands, suspended operations because of a breakdown in communications with the native community. The company arrived at the site a year ago, but has not yet reached agreement with the native community. What the federal government should have done, through the Department of Indian Affairs, was to appoint a conciliator at the very least. If this had not resolved the problem, mediation would have had to be the next resort.
Why did the federal government do nothing to help work out an agreement in Natashquan, and thus prevent the loss of several millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs? We are not asking for a crown corporation, just for the federal government to assume its responsibilities. We cannot afford to lose investments like these in the tens of millions of dollars. No riding can afford to lose millions of dollars in economic spinoffs from the private sector.
It is time for the federal government to get to work and resolve the disputes that are hindering development of our regions, rather than devote its energy to creating government organizations with no real and attainable financial objectives.
I would like to mention an interesting episode in this connection. During the last election campaign this past May, my Liberal opponent made a promise on behalf of the Liberal Party to settle this matter. According to him, the Liberal government would be in a position to settle it for once and for all. Campaign promise made—end of story, nothing more heard of it.
I have been speaking of my riding for the past few minutes, but I am sure that a number of my colleagues here recognize the same realities in their regions. That is what happens when an overly centralized government is at the helm and the regions do not get their fair share.
As we are already aware, like a number of other fields of activity, mining must come under provincial jurisdiction. Take the example of the Société québecoise d'exploration minière. As you now, this is a government corporation which administers mining titles, such as the famous 800 square kilometres staked out by a Quebec government geologist last year near Lac Vollant.
In such a context, the Government of Quebec administers titles within its territory, using the funds of its own taxpayers if required. However in the case of the Donkin mine, I am wondering how our friends in the other provinces will react when they learn that the federal government has invested between $100 and $125 million to develop a Nova Scotia mine with an uncertain future, not to mention the cost of setting up a fat Crown corporation.
It does not make any sense whatsoever to create a crown corporation to develop a mine such as the Donkin mine. In politics, you cannot afford to take a gamble when $100 to $125 million are at stake. This is inadmissible. If developing this so-called mine was a sure bet, many private corporations would already have approached the Cape Breton Development Corporation. But it is not the case.
The government does not have the right to invest public funds in a more than hazardous venture which comes under provincial jurisdiction anyway.
This is the reason why the federal government should not set up a crown corporation to do exploration or to develop the Donkin “gold mine”. For these obvious reasons, I urge the Liberal government not to create a corporation to develop mines.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Donkin Mine