Sure, the mayor’s junket to China was in bad taste. But, on the other hand, refusing to do business with governments occupying unceded land would disqualify dealings with most states on earth, including Canada.
That, however, doesn’t mean his trip was worth celebrating. It was hard not to cringe when Miller announced with pride that Jinchuan Group Ltd., a mining and minerals company owned by the Chinese government, will be setting up a North American office in Toronto.
In a statement from China, Miller crowed that the announcement is a further sign that Toronto is emerging as the “world leader in mining finance.”
It’s also a sign of Toronto’s split municipal personality. On the one hand, economic development staff court international mining companies for months. On the other, we’re told that this is to be the greenest city in North America.
But all the hybrid buses, lake-water-cooled condos and living roofs in the world cannot balance a scale loaded down with the immense waste and destruction of the mining industry. All that glitters is not green.
“Any mine is really a waste management business,” says Joan Kuyek of Mining Watch Canada. “For a couple of grams of copper, there’s a tonne of tailings and maybe 2 or 3 tonnes of waste rock.”
Those tailings tend to be especially toxic, and because mining is about separating specific minerals from ore compounds, extracting otherwise benign minerals like cobalt – which Jinchuan mines, along with copper and platinum – can release radioactivity.
Jinchuan itself is a minor player internationally, though among its concerns is a one-third stake in Tiomin Resources Inc., whose deal with the Kenyan government led to the razing of farmers’ homes to make way for the Kwale titanium mine. (Jinchuan also has controlling interests in Albidon Ltd., Fox Resources and Coronation Minerals, and owns outright the formerly Calgary-based Tyler Resources.)
Kuyek doesn’t think the title of mining finance HQ is something to brag about. She cites mining companies’ numerous human rights crimes and abuse of weak regulations in failed states. Many countries see increased corruption and conflict after the arrival of mining companies – especially those flying Canadian flags (or at least filing Canadian returns).
And speaking of occupied peoples, you may have heard of Robert Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and current Queen’s University lecturer. He’s currently serving six months in jail for his refusal to stop protesting Frontenac Ventures’ attempts to mine uranium on land claimed by the Algonquin around Sharbot Lake, Ontario.
Then there are the six members of the council of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, serving similar sentences for opposition to Platinex’s exploratory drilling.
The gilded industry in which Toronto claims leadership is one of the greatest antagonizers in relations between First Nations and the government of Ontario, and the pressure the mining lobby exerts raises doubts about the government’s ability to deal in good faith.
The lands in question weren’t ceded (just as Tibet isn’t ceded), but even where there are treaties, they have often been trumped by “mineral rights.” As it stands, mineral-staking trumps all other land uses and agreements. Of the 44 million hectares of boreal land in Ontario, 1 million are already spoken for by mining interests.
On the municipal front, perhaps such issues could flesh out Toronto’s Green Economic Development Strategy, which currently restricts its definition of “environmental issues” to those we can directly see or feel within the city: air quality, urban sprawl, climate change and garbage.
The strategy document is peppered with words like “develop” and “grow.” The implication is that there’s always room for more, but it makes no effort, even when speaking about “consumptive lifestyles,” to consider what sorts of ties we might like to see decrease.
But even outside of eco concerns, it’s not clear if, economically speaking, we really want to hitch our wagon to the fickle mining beast.
“The city is a leader mostly for junior companies,” says Kuyek. “It’s all based on trading shares and speculative bubbles. I don’t think it’s a way to build an economy. Poor people play bingo; rich people play the stock market.”