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Stockholders are not the only stakeholders (08/06)

As I write this column the plan for Inco to buy Falconbridge and bring synergy to Nickel mining in Sudbury is in ruins.

As I write this column the plan for Inco to buy Falconbridge and bring synergy to Nickel mining in Sudbury is in ruins.

 If you read Northern Ontario Business you are no doubt the type of individual who has been following this corporate passion play closely, so I’ll spare you the blow by blow account.

Suffice to say this appears to be one of the most colossal corporate strategic mistakes in the history of Canadian business. Not only does it look like Inco Ltd. has failed to buy, it appears to have failed to sell. This is hard to do.

When Inco realized it didn’t have the financial muscle to buy Falconbridge it sold itself to Phelps Dodge to do the job for it. They couldn’t or wouldn’t. Now it looks like Inco is back on the auction block.

Scott Hand, meet Gerald Levin who is doing community work somewhere in California.

I keep thinking this must be a trick. Maybe it is.

Someone is going to put the Sudbury synergies in place. They have to. The prices these companies are going for are too rich, and someone’s banker will make them do what they will not do for themselves.

At issue, however, is the larger question. As this game of mining monopoly has raged back and forth the only interest not at the table is the public interest.  If you have any doubt who the mining companies quite properly represent, go to the Globe and Mail and track down the opening statement of the Swiss firm  Xstrata’s financial statements. These guys are the apparent lottery winners of Falconbridge. Here is what it says.

“ We will grow and manage a diversified portfolio of metals and mining businesses with the single aim of delivering industry leading returns to our shareholders”

Unequivocal and deliberate, and if you are a shareholder you know where your company stands.

But who will represent the rest us?

The loss of these two major mining companies is a disaster for the country and hugely deleterious for Northern Ontario. If you have the patience, go to , which will speak for Sudbury.  You will find columns by myself, James Grassby, Greg Baiden and José Blanco on the subject, which ran in our sister paper in Sudbury Northern Life.

It’s not as if the public interest can’t be expressed.

The minerals are owned by the province. The federal government has the right to deny mergers of this size (involving foreign ownership) if there is no “net benefit” to Canada. No one has found any net benefits in any of this for Canada.


The City of Greater Sudbury has all sorts of leverage with Inco if it chooses to become creative. Some people are talking about a class action law suit.

So far, the only action is that the mayor of Sudbury has put together a working group of Sudbury citizens to advise him on policy alternatives. This is a good start.

The problem, however, is with the provincial and federal governments.

They have had nothing to say. It could be they are waiting for the final twist of events to take place. If history is any guide, however, they will do nothing.

The history of resource management in Canada is terrible. We have destroyed fisheries, we have mismanaged forestry policy, and we have precious little to show for the mineral wealth extracted from this country.

This debacle is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for the three levels of government to work together and to demand benefits for the re-ordering of the mining industry.

Any agreement with the ultimate buyer of these assets must include promise of performance on:

•the environment
•the development and maintenance of smelter capacity
•a trust fund, in lieu of resource taxes for education
•specific support for the Northeastern Ontario Mining cluster
•tax relief for mining municipalities that are forced to overtax property owners to make ends meet

All this is appropriate for the owners of a commodity that is exploding in value. Stockholders are not the only stakeholders.

Michael Atkins is president of Northern Ontario Business. He can be reached