Address at the Faculty of Mines of the National University of Antioquia
Medellin, Colombia, Friday, December 5, 2014
I am pleased to be here at this impressive university, which I understand has played an important role in Colombia’s history, and to visit the Faculty of Mines in particular.
This is my first visit to Colombia, and I am privileged to be joined by a talented delegation of Canadians, many of whom are leading education and innovation activities related to the extractive sector.
As you know, the oil and gas and mining sectors are of considerable importance to Canada, just as they are here in Colombia.
I myself was born in Sudbury, Ontario, a well-known Canadian mining community that is nicknamed “the Nickel City” after its world-renowned ore deposits.
Mining was central to Sudbury’s existence throughout the 20th century, and remains a vital part of the city’s economy and livelihood to this day. The same can be said of many Canadian communities, and indeed of our country as a whole. For example, I recently visited a large and innovative iron-ore mine complex located in Fermont, Quebec, which employs approximately 1,500 Canadians—a significant number in a predominantly rural region.
Such resource projects are vital to Canada’s economy and to the well-being of so many individuals and households. Canadians have learned some hard and valuable lessons when it comes to mining, but the one I want to emphasize today is the importance of sustainable development.
What is sustainable development? Numerous definitions exist, but the most frequently cited is that offered by the World Commission on Environment and Development, the 1987 Brundtland Commission, in what is commonly known as the Brundtland Report.
I am sure that each of you, as students and stewards of Colombia’s natural resources, are familiar with this report, which defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In theory, sustainable development is straightforward enough, but in practice, it is a considerable challenge.
But it is a challenge we all must meet, and one that Canadians are committed to meeting both at home and abroad.
All of which raises the question: how do we meet the needs of both present and future generations?
The answer, I believe, lies in an approach to resource development that is grounded in a spirit of partnership and co-operation between all who are affected by and involved in a given project.
Sustainable development is all about achieving equilibrium.
The needs of the local community, the region and the country as a whole must be carefully weighed and balanced. And the matter is not that of a teeter-totter where a rise on one side implies a fall on the other. It is more like a synchronized gear box, where each part meshes together in order to propel the whole.
The needs of a prosperous economy must be balanced with those of a healthy environment.
The needs of industry, government and civil society—each of these must be priorities.
The needs of people in the present day must be balanced with those of future generations—of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Where these needs fall out of balance, development is unsustainable. In today’s complex, connected and changing world, it is neither responsible nor sustainable to privilege the needs of one over the other.
This is not just a matter of doing the right thing, but also the bright thing.
As governor general of Canada, I have dedicated my mandate to building a smarter, more caring nation and a fairer, more just world, and what is sustainable development but really just another way of saying “smart and caring”?
I believe that Canada has achieved the success it has as a society because of Canadians’ commitment to balancing competing interests for the sake of prosperity, fairness and sustainability.
The sustainability imperative has given rise to a code of conduct among resource companies known as Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR.
When it comes to operating abroad, Canada expects Canadian companies to practise CSR—that is, to respect laws and international standards, to operate transparently and in consultation with host governments and local communities, and to develop and implement best practices.
Just last month, in fact, Canada announced that it would be deepening its commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility abroad. The commitment includes strengthened support for CSR initiatives among Canadian companies and local communities, as well as penalties for firms that fail to follow best practices. This sends out a powerful message: Canada expects its companies to do business in a way that is both considerate and fair to local communities and host countries.
Canada also strives to be a world leader in green mining initiatives aimed at minimizing the environmental footprint of mining, implementing innovative waste management practices, improving mine closure and rehabilitation technologies, and creating ecosystem risk management systems.
Canada and Canadian companies are also involved in a number of innovative CSR initiatives here in Colombia. These include activities designed to strengthen security and human rights, support artisanal mining, improve education and infrastructure, and strengthen culture and community engagement.
All of these activities are ultimately directed towards the goal of sustainable development. Together, Canadians and Colombians have made great strides, but much remains to be done.
Canada is helping Colombian students develop skills, access higher paying jobs, and become more competitive in a globalized world.
And when it comes to mining and other resource development, the opportunities for both of our countries are considerable.
I am convinced that Canada and Colombia can be leaders in the Americas and worldwide when it comes to sustainable resource development.
We can achieve balance, and we must, for the sake of present and future generations of Colombians and Canadians.
As students of mining and natural resources, you will play a central role in this effort. I wish you the very best with your important work.