Last month, McGill announced the largest contribution to date made to Campaign McGill, after Osisko mining company, and donated $4.1-million worth of Osisko shares to McGill’s endowment. The donation will be funneled into the department of earth and planetary sciences where it will support two new tenure-track positions, fellowships for graduate students, scholarships for propitious undergraduates in the department, and the Dawson Filed Study Support Fund.
Robert Wares, Osisko’s chief operating officer, himself a McGill graduate from 1979, told the McGill Reporter last month that he wishes to give back to his industry by investing in earth sciences, where, he said, training is chronically underfunded. The announcement comes as the mining company proceeds with its plans to establish Quebec’s largest open-pit gold mine in the western Quebec community of Malartic. The billion-dollar gold mine, likely to commence next year, is one of four mining operations currently in the planning stages for the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region.
Many mining critics, including Randy Hart of Mining Watch Canada, believe the Malartic case signals a shift in the Quebec mining industry. “There is a growing trend toward open-pit mines with longer-term environmental liabilities,” he said.
Malartic’s economy was largely built on local mining operations throughout the past century, but its population peaked at 6,000 in the fifties when three nearby mines closed. Today the town’s residents, now less than 4,000, largely support the billion-dollar Osisko project, which will generate 800 new jobs for the region in its first four years of operation.
According to Ugo Lapoionte, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Better Mining in Quebec, the creation of new jobs could still come with strings attached. “A big company operating a big project in a small town with little economic or social ability to mobilize looks like a third world relationship in this way.”
There has also been local opposition to the project, according to Hart. “A lot of people have had to do some rethinking about their position based on the behaviour of the company,” he said.
Lapointe explained that resistance to the mine generally falls into one of two categories: criticism of the type of operation from an environmental perspective, or criticism of the company and its process of development in the region.
Upon proposal, the dimesions of the mine were 800 metres by 2 kilometres with a depth of 400 metres, according to Action Boreale Abitbi Temiscamingue. Lapointe said the mine would be roughly equivalent to Mont-Royal, while only producing enough gold to fill the volume of one or one and a half Smart cars. Action Boreale Abitbi Temiscamingue has estimated that the mine, operating 24 hours a day and seven days a week, will use 25 million litres of water, 11 tonnes of cyanide, and extract 120,000 tonnes of rock daily.
However, a meeting in Montreal last Monday saw the expansion of the original plan, with the length of the pit increasing from 2 kilometres to 2.5 kilometres. The expansion would create the need to relocate the highway Route 117, which travels through Malartic – costing an estimated $50 million of taxpayer dollars. Some in the Malartic community have expressed concern that the diversion of the highway would adversely affect business in the town.
While speculating on the land in Malartic, Osisko relocated 200 homes and five public institutions – a process that began before the province’s environmental impact assessment had been completed. Even after the relocation, the nearest Malartic home is only 100 metres from the mine site. Now that mine expansion plans are in the works, the impacts of the mine are likely to change. “As far as I know, they’re not planning to do any more assessments or public consultations,” stated Lapointe.
Osisko has also received criticism for its use of up to a dozen independent lobbyists to get the green light from the Quebec government, including paid members of the Parti Québecois and Parti Libéral Québec. Some members of the community and the Coalition for Better Mining in Quebec have speculated that this political engagement allowed for the company to ignore the necessary environmental assessments.
Although the company plans to begin digging in 2011, it has still not committed to either filling the pit after the 10-year operation is completed nor providing royalties to the town of Malartic to diversify the town’s economy after the company withdraws from the operation in 10 years. During initial public consultations, the company proposed donating up to $4 million dollars to a public fund over the 10-year operation. Their pure profit margin, however, will be in the ballpark of $850 million, and this was estimated when the price of gold was far lower than today’s rate.