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Imperial Metals Corp. chairman Pierre Lebel measures the success of agreements his company signs with local First Nations by the amount of dust they collect.
“The best agreement is the agreement that you negotiate, sign and put in a drawer and never look at again because you've created a partnership, you’ve created an environment of shared values,” Mr. Lebel says. “True partnerships are like that. Really good partners; they probably misplace the contract and couldn’t find it if they tried.”
Imperial has a number of these documents, known as an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) or Participation Agreement (PA), with First Nation communities in B.C. These include agreements with the Wet’suwet’en, Tahltan, Simpcw and T’exelcemc peoples. For example, in June 2012, Imperial’s Mount Polley mine signed a five-year PA with the Xat’sull First Nation. That agreement came a year after signing a similar Mount Polley agreement with the T’exelcemc First Nation.
The company is also exploring further agreements with other First Nations across the province where Imperial and its member companies have operations. For example, it’s currently negotiating a benefits agreement with the Tahltan Central Council for a partnership with the Tahltan people around the company’s Red Chris project, located 80 km Southeast of Dease lake, B.C. Red Chris received its mining permit in the spring of 2012 and is expected to begin production in 2014.
Each agreement is unique and includes provisions for First Nations education and training, employment and contracting opportunities, as well as communication around environmental responsibility.
“Communities are much more concerned about environment protection, monitoring, jobs, how contracts are met and, of course, benefit sharing is important as well,” Mr. Lebel says.
With these agreements in place, miners often secure their social license to operate, which in turn also benefits the communities through the creation of jobs. This too has economic and social spinoff benefits, he says. For instance, a parent can stay close to home to work, instead of pursuing work in other provinces. That means they can not only spend more time with family and friends, but also become active members of the community through volunteerism, such as coaching the local sports teams.
“There are various ways we can add value to the community,” Mr. Lebel says.
The benefits mining operations bring to communities can often serve as a model for other companies, and industries, Mr. Lebel says.
“We are all engaged in this process together and we all have to understand the impact on each and every one of us,” Mr. Lebel says.
“It’s not just the community that’s impacted by a project, it’s the entire province. We take these benefits for granted at the peril of not having them in the future.”
Mr. Lebel is reminded of his industry’s duty to provide community benefits by a comment a now-retired mill manager once made to him.
“He said, ‘Pierre, if we don’t come to work to get better, why the hell do we come to work anyway?”
I’ve never forgotten about that,” says Mr. Lebel. “I think about him once a week.”