Quebec drops in mining investment ranking amid concerns over political stability

For the past decade, Quebec was considered one of the best places in the world for mining investment. Not so much anymore.

In the Fraser Institute’s latest annual rankings of mining jurisdictions, Quebec dropped out of the top 10, landing in 11th place. The province finished in first place from 2007 to 2010, and was fifth in 2012.

The drop was not a shock. Throughout last year’s election campaign, Premier Pauline Marois threatened the mining industry with higher royalties, a 30% super-profits tax and changes to Plan Nord, the province’s $80-billion northern development strategy. And her threats came shortly after former premier Jean Charest himself raised mining taxes.

No substantial changes have been announced by the Parti Québécois government so far, though they are being reviewed. The ongoing threat of them has been enough to rattle some mining executives.

“The respondents felt that political stability had deteriorated and that uncertainty about the enforcement of existing regulations had become more uncertain and negative,” survey director Kenneth Green said in an interview.

“When you look at those two considerations, it would seem both the elections and the ongoing controversies about mining and energy production in Quebec could have been responsible [for the decline].”

Canadian provinces performed relatively well in the survey. Alberta and New Brunswick ranked third and fourth, while Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Yukon all ranked in the top 20.

The prospect of regime change, regulatory change, or having lands yanked back from resource development, those are critical areas that miners seem to hone in on

The top two spots belonged to a pair of Scandinavian countries: Finland and Sweden. While those jurisdictions have relatively high tax rates and tough regulations, they also offer strong political stability and infrastructure. Their top rankings prove that mining companies value stability very highly.

“It’s a particularly important factor in the mining industry because of the long lead times for investment,” Mr. Green said. “When you have the prospect of regime change, regulatory change, or having lands yanked back from resource development, those are critical areas that miners seem to hone in on.”

There were no surprises among the bottom five countries in the rankings: Indonesia, Vietnam, Venezuela, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kyrgyzstan.

Indonesia’s year was highlighted by the highly irregular seizure of a project controlled by Toronto-listed miner Intrepid Mines Ltd. And Kyrgyzstan was constantly in the news after politicians made some outrageous allegations of misconduct against Centerra Gold Inc.

“It’s not a big puzzle as to why they’re down there,” Mr. Green said.

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