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VIDEO: The North loses mining innovation to Toronto

A government funded $20-million mining innovation centre that will be built at the University of Toronto has key players in Sudbury's mining industry fuming.
CEMI President and CEO, Peter Kaiser, responds to the Innovation Centre funding announcement for the Canadian Mining Industry.

A government funded $20-million mining innovation centre that will be built at the University of Toronto has key players in Sudbury's mining industry fuming.

“It was almost like a covert operation,” said Richard DeStefano, executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA). “There was no discussion, no revelations, no informal potential partnerships with Laurentian (University) during this entire process, which probably took close to six months to finalize.”

“People are very upset.”

Peter Kaiser comments on mining centre funding 

The federal and provincial governments have each given $5.5 million for infrastructure funding to the Toronto mining innovation centre, which will be built at the University of Toronto's St. George Campus in the city's downtown core. Private donations of $9 million will bring the total cost of the project to $20 million.

The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) wasn't eligible for the infrastructure funding because no projects were ready to be built immediately, said Peter Kaiser, president and CEO.

“We were simply not ready for an infrastructure proposal at this stage.” 

But more than the project's funding announcement is the name of the centre: The Innovation Centre for the Canadian Mining Industry, so close to CEMI and its mandate. Kaiser understands what the name entails. It carries the industry's credibility, reputation and future funding prospects for research and development.

Rick Bartolucci comments on mining centre funding

Sudbury's centre  was established to hail some of the great works and accomplishments  coming out of the area, the province and the country.

The University of Toronto's new centre will be in the Lassonde Institute, a facility named after Pierre Lassonde, president of Newmont Mining Corporation, who is said to be the private sector contributor for the new mine centre. The institutes mandate appears to be the same as CEMI only now with new labs and technology, the same technology Sudbury already has.

Kaiser's job now, as he sees it, is to gather as many private sector mining companies and establish collaboration with other cluster projects in and outside the province for research and development. This way the federal government cannot deny the CEMI's worldwide impact.

“Federal government will then have to play a role because mining research is important to Canada. It is strategically important part of the future of Canada.”

Mining research was never on the federal government's agenda, Kaiser said.

To have such an announcement means, at least, the federal government is recognizing the industry's importance.

“Ontario has always been a great partner for us but the federal government has never been supportive,” Kaiser said.

“I wish the money would have come here, but it didn't and so now we need to be as aggressive as we can.”

But Canada is vast in its geography and relatively small in population and Chris Hodgson, president of Ontario Mining Association, said it may be better to have one centre of mining excellence for research and development and do it well.

“It just doesn't make sense to me (any other way).”

Andrew Dasys, vice president of Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO) also wishes the money came north.

“I think it's truly disappointing,” he said.

“I think that investment would have been far better served in Northern Ontario building on something that already exists, versus creating a diluted message to the international mining community."

DeStefano, Kaiser and Dasys all said they didn't know about the centre before it was announced May 26 in the media.

“Government doesn't report to me, but it would have been nice to know, that's for sure,” said Kaiser.

The new centre in Toronto is expected to create 200 jobs and house research space for 27 graduate students. It will feature a laboratory for visualization and data analysis, an interdisciplinary design studio for 100 undergraduates and graduates, a seminar room and green building features.
“What we've just lost is an important optic in the world markets that we are not the centre (of mining innovation) – that Toronto is still where everything happens,” said DeStefano. 

Corrections Minister and Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci doesn't begrudge University of Toronto for obtaining $11 million in funding from a federal infrastructure program to create a mining centre of excellence.

In fact, he says “there is room for two innovation centres in Canada.”

Bartolucci applauds the federal government for providing monies to the university, but urges the same treatment be bestowed on Sudbury's Centre of Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI).

The centre received $10 million from the provincial government when Bartolucci was Northern Development and Mines Minister and $5 million each from Xstrata Nickel and Vale Inco over the last few years trying to establish the mining centre of innovation in Sudbury.

“Because he would support $11 million funding in Toronto why shouldn't he support $10 million for CEMI,” he said of Industry Minister Tony Clement.

Stakeholders in the mining sector need to “unite quickly” and pull together.