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For New Gold Inc. president and CEO Robert Gallagher, a measure of success for a mining company is what the community says after the mine has closed.
“It’s when the people in the communities around there say, ‘yes, the mine is gone but we are glad they were here for the time they were here,” Mr. Gallagher says.
To get that kind of reaction, he says New Gold strives to talk to people in the communities around its projects early—while it’s still in the development stage—and often, throughout the life of the mine, and long after it has been shut down.
For example, when New Gold started planning construction of its New Afton project near Kamloops, B.C. in 2006, it began consulting with local First Nations groups. Two years later, New Gold and the Kamloops Division of the Secwepemc Nation (represented by the Tk’emlups and Skeetchestn Indian Bands) signed what is now considered a groundbreaking Participation Agreement (PA).
The agreement covers training, employment and contracting opportunities, as well as measures for environmental monitoring and protection. There is also a unique feature where the First Nations share in a percentage of the mine’s net smelter revenue. In 2010, the First Nations also signed the Economic and Community Development Agreement, which allows it to share mineral tax revenues from the New Afton mine with the province of British Columbia. New Afton began production in the summer of 2012.
“I think when you look at aboriginal issues in Canada, particularly in British Columbia, companies sharing revenues from mines located on traditional territories of First Nations is something you are going to see more and more of,” Mr. Gallagher says.
It’s a community relationship model that New Gold is building on as it develops its Blackwater project, 60 kilometres southwest of Prince George, B.C.
While some have wondered how feasible it is to build a mine in B.C., given rising costs and the community resistance some projects have faced over the years, Mr. Gallagher believes the province is a competitive mining jurisdiction.
Still, Mr. Gallagher says that’s just the beginning of the process. The company must continuously demonstrate its plans to keep its commitments to economic, social and environmental sustainability, at all of its projects and operations.
“The New Gold vision for corporate social responsibility is constant with our primary value, which is doing the right thing,” he says. “We know mining has impacts, both temporary and long-term, we know most of those impacts if you mine properly are positive.”