In the beginning, by which I mean 2007, there was the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, also known as MANS, an appropriate acronym for an industry lobby group with a 17-member board of which 15 are men. It should be said, however, that MANS is not registered with the Nova Scotia Registry of Lobbyists, although its executive director Sean Kirby is.
MANS was incorporated and registered on the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies 12 years ago. In 2013 it defaulted on its annual payment, although this didn’t deter the provincial government from doling out dollars to MANS. Since the Department of Energy and Mines (DEM) established the Mineral Resources Development Fund (MRDF) in 2018, it has given MANS $211,700. (MANS only renewed its registration in October this year, coincidentally — or not — about a week after the Halifax Examiner pointed out that MANS seemed to have money for mining propaganda but not for the corporate registry.)
Each year MRDF gives out $1.5 million in grants for mineral exploration and research, and in the case of MANS, for mining promotion and PR.
With the help of some of that public money it received, MANS then went forth and multiplied, begetting something called the Minerals Research Association of Nova Scotia or MRANS.
According to the Registry of Joint Stocks, MRANS board members are all men. Some of them are also members of the MANS board, and four are members of the five-man Advisory Council of the Department of Energy and Mine’s MRDF, which is nominated by the minister.
Quite a cozy little club, that.
These are the men on the MRANS board:
- Alex Martell is a mining engineer with Nova Construction Co. Ltd / Pioneer Coal Ltd, and a director on the MANS board.
- W. Douglas Roy is a mining engineer with MineTech International Limited, and he shows up as MANS board director on the MANS website, but not on the Registry.
- Rick Horne shows up as president of MANS on the MANS website, but not on the Registry, and he is also a member of the MRDF Advisory Council.
- Jacob Hanley is chair of the Saint Mary’s University Department of Geology, and a member of the MRDF Advisory Council.
- John Wightman is managing director of the GOLDFIELDS Group of Companies (which may have a website, but I was unable to find it), a member of the MRDF Advisory Council, executive director of the Nova Scotia Prospectors Association (which on November 11, 2019 defaulted on its joint stocks registration), an advisor to Power Metals Corp., a founding member and vice president of MANS for eight years, and in 2010 he was named “Industrial Minerals Man of the Year” by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
- Michael Power is a professional geoscientist with Mercator Geological Services.
- George O’Reilly is a retired geologist from the Department of Natural Resources (the Geoscience and Mines Branch was part of DNR before moving to DEM in 2018), and he is also the “Minister’s Nominee” on the MRDF Advisory Council. (I wouldn’t have known that O’Reilly was active on Twitter had he not sent a couple of snarky Tweets about my writing, which led me to have a look at his feed. That shows he is also snarky about Greta Thunberg and “liberals and progressives” telling him what to think about climate change. He isn’t very nice about “friggin ugly” women either.)
The executive director of both MANS and MRANS is, no surprise, Sean Kirby, who apparently works out of his home on St. Margaret’s Bay Road in Ingramport.
What is MRANS and what’s it for?
On its website MRANS states that it was established to “help the province’s mining and quarrying industry grow and create jobs for Nova Scotians by conducting and facilitating minerals-related research in partnership with government, industry and universities.”
While it is separate from the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS), MANS seeded MRANS by covering costs associated with its establishment and donating staff time to manage the new organization.
MANS appears to have only two staff members: executive director Sean Kirby, and director of government relations and communications, Sarah Kirby. I emailed Sean Kirby for confirmation of this, but so far have received no reply.
According to the MRANS website, MANS and MRANS membership is one and the same.
MRANS’ board has adopted a policy that all MANS members are automatically members of MRANS at no charge. This ensures MRANS represents the mining industry and is accountable to it, in addition to being accountable to government for any government research grants MRANS receives.
On the subject of government grants, it looks as if, unbeknownst to them, the people of Nova Scotia bankrolled the birth of MRANS.
This is how it happened.
In 2018, the Mineral Resources Development Fund gave MANS $62,000 for something called the “Minerals Play Fairway – Needs Assessment of Airborne Geophysical Data.”
The MRANS website describes the Minerals Play Fairway as an “airborne geophysical survey program” that would “improve our geological understanding of Nova Scotia, to help find future mines and quarries.”
The industry term “play fairway,” which evokes images of a bunch of children frolicking on a stretch of green grass, makes me suspicious, coming as it does out of the mouths of people in the business of promoting extractive industries. So I did some googling to see what it really means. Apparently, “play fairway analysis” (not to be confused with “play fair” of “fair play”) is a kind of map used in mostly hydrocarbon exploration that shows regional geological trends — “fairways” — that merit more intensive exploration, because the “play” is likely to be successful.
The “Minerals Play Fairway,” says MRANS, is “modelled on the highly successful Nova Scotia oil and gas Play Fairway Analysis.”
And, surprise, surprise — MRANS says that, “Nova Scotia’s mining and quarrying industry is seeking $19.5 million in government funding” for its “Minerals Play Fairway.” In my email to Sean Kirby I also asked whether MRANS has already made a formal application for this money, and for details on the kinds of research grants it would be seeking. But as I mentioned earlier, I’ve not had a reply.
It looks as if MANS received public money in 2018 to do a needs assessment report on a “Minerals Play Fairway,” so that its offspring, MRANS, could ask for more money from government — a lot more money.
Which brings us to why MRANS was created. MANS being essentially a lobby organization that can’t be seen to be asking for too much public money (although it doesn’t do badly on that front), it seems to have looked for another way to try to get public money for industry. And so it created MRANS as a new receptacle for tax dollars.
Turns out that’s exactly what the oil and gas industry did in Nova Scotia to find offshore hydrocarbons.
According to the MRANS website:
Establishing MRANS is another example of how Minerals Play Fairway is modelled on the oil and gas Play Fairway Analysis. The oil and gas Play Fairway was government-funded but managed by the Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA). MRANS would play the equivalent role for the Minerals Play Fairway that OERA played for the oil and gas version.
MRANS would, for example, manage the funds [emphasis mine] granted by government, hire service providers to conduct the geophysical surveys and the processing of the data, ensure the results of the survey program are designed to maximize the potential to help attract investment from the global mining industry, assist in marketing the free data [emphasis mine] to the global industry and be accountable to the government for the results of the project.
Free data? Free to industry, maybe, but certainly not free for the people of Nova Scotia who would be paying millions for the geophysical survey program.
Why should the people of Nova Scotia foot the bills for geophysical surveys for the “global mining industry”? Surely the global mining industry can pay for its own damn surveys?
And why on earth would Nova Scotians entrust MRANS, not even one degree of separation away from the industry lobby group that created it, to “manage the funds” from government and “hire service providers” to do geophysical surveys?
By my count, the DEM Geoscience and Mines Branch has 38 staff positions. It has 17 geologists in its employ, four of them senior geologists, one specialized in industrial minerals, and if you include the higher-ups in the department currently working as managers, there are another three or four professional geologists in the branch. There are also two vacant geologist positions awaiting geologists to fill them. If there is too much work for existing staff, then maybe DEM should consider hiring more, or directly financing experts itself, rather than outsourcing this to MRANS?
Money for MRANS
It was just created, but MRANS has already received its first grant from the MRDF. This year MRANS received $66,000 for “Musquodoboit Valley Gypsum.”
MRANS then issued a Request for Proposals on November 13 announcing the grant, and soliciting “consultant geologists” interested in conducting research “to locate economically viable deep gypsum deposits in the Musquodoboit Valley,” with a deadline for submissions of December 2.
The MRANS request for proposals states that Nova Scotia has “world class” gypsum deposits, one of which one was discovered in Murchyville, Middle Musquodoboit, in the 1980s by the Department of Mines and Energy, which then put it out to tender, after which it was acquired by the German wallboard company, Knauf.
Gypsum is an important mineral in Nova Scotia; as recently as 2005 there were five gypsum quarries that directly employed nearly 500 people, and generated a lot of revenue in taxes. The financial crash of 2007 – 2008 led to a dramatic drop in housing starts in the US that was the major market for Nova Scotia gypsum, which is used in wallboard. That, along with the availability of a cheaper synthetic substitute and competition from Spanish gypsum, reduced the demand for Nova Scotia gypsum.
According to a 2018 DNR presentation, there is only one active gypsum quarry in Nova Scotia, in East Milford, which has been operating for 60 years. Owned by National Gypsum, a private company in the US, it is one of the largest gypsum quarries in the world. It employs 65 people and produces $400,000 in taxes.
But there are four dormant gypsum quarries in Nova Scotia — in Windsor, Little Narrows and Melford in Cape Breton, and Brierly Brook near Antigonish — which are on “care and maintenance” until it becomes economically viable for their owners to start operating them again. And the reserves at those sites could keep the quarries going for “many years into the future.” The presentation also notes that there are three gypsum deposits that could be developed — at Murchyville near Middle Musquodoboit, West Milford, and Bailey Brook Extension in Windsor, Hants County.*
The government’s “mineral occurrence database” has a detailed list of 172 gypsum occurrences — many of them known deposits — in the province.
So MRANS, essentially an arm of a lobby group, got public money to hire consultants for exploration work that may not even be needed, that government geologists could probably do, that the MRDF could give directly to prospectors or mining companies to do, or that mining companies could afford to do themselves.
The German manufacturing and drywall giant Knauf owns the gypsum reserves at Murchyville, Little Narrows, and Windsor. Its revenue in 2017 was about $8 billion and it employed 27,000 people, so it is certainly capable of paying for its own assessments of gypsum potential at those sites and elsewhere in the province.
I emailed DEM spokesperson Gary Andrea to ask why DEM gave this “major project grant” to MRANS, so closely related to MANS, for gypsum exploration, given that there are large and well-known gypsum deposits in the province. This is his reply:
… the funding will help identify unknown gypsum deposits in the Musquodoboit Valley.
The mining sector is important for our economy and creating jobs in rural areas. Support from the Mineral Resources Development Fund helps grow this sector by attracting companies and new investment to our province. The more this happens, the better able we are to pay for the programs and services that Nova Scotians want.
Mining is a globally competitive industry. In order to bring in new investment that will create jobs, we need to become as attractive as possible. That means doing some of the research and geoscience that makes our case, and sharing that information openly with industry. All data collected will be released publicly, once the project and final report are complete.
It’s sometimes hard to tell where DEM ends and the mining industry begins (You can read more on the tight relationship between MANS, government ministers, and some MLAs here.)
In the past two years, MRDF grants have gone to MANS, MANS board members, and also to members of the MRDF Advisory Council. 1
In 2019, MANS received $50,000 for the “Nova Scotia Gold Show” (which I wrote about here) and $36,500 for “Industry Education Conferences, Best Practices, Environmental Management.” In 2018, MANS received that $62,000 for “Minerals Play Fairway” assessment, plus $30,200 for “Industry Education Conference: Consultation and Safety,” and another $33,000 for “Time Lapse Reclamation Video” (presumably the video you can now watch on the MANS website, which means Nova Scotians paid for the PR meant to indoctrinate them.)
And for the second time in two months, MANS is using MRDF money to host an event limited to industry and government at the Alt Hotel. The first event, financed with $52,000 of public funds, was the Gold Show, which was not open to the media or the general public.
MANS describes the second event, to be held on November 25 at the Alt Hotel, as a conference on “environmental issues,” that is free for “everyone in the mining / quarrying industry and government.” The MANS education conference has an impressive list of experts from government and academia who will be doing presentations that MANS says “will be educational for all, not just environmental specialists.”
I emailed Sarah Kirby to ask if media could attend this publicly funded event.
You’re probably not going to believe this, but so far, I’ve not received a reply.
Cover photo: Touquoy gold mine at Moose River. Photo courtesy Raymond Plourde/ Environmental Action Centre
*As originally published, Bailey Brook Extension was stated to be in Pictou County.
- The MRDF Advisory Council terms of reference state that it has “no responsibilities nor authority to review funding applications nor make recommendations regarding grant applications nor grant recipients.” Thus, there is apparently no conflict of interest when its members are recipients of MRDF funds. In 2019, Rick Horne of “Scratch Exploration” (MANS president, MRANS board member, member of the MRDF Advisory Council) received $18,000 for “Ferry Lake” gold exploration. Also in 2019, Jacob Hanley (MRANS board member, MRDF Advisory Council) of Saint Mary’s University received a research grant of $32,700 for “Reducing Exploration Footprint in the Eastern Cobequid Highlands.” In 2018, Hanley received $47,500 for “Development of a Genetic Model and Exploration Criteria for a Epithermal-style Gold Mineralization in the Eastern Cobequid Highlands.” This means that public money is paying for research on gold exploration in and around Warwick Mountain and the French River watershed, which provides Tatamagouche with its drinking water. At the same time, the Colchester Municipal Council is working with Nova Scotia Environment to get protection for its watershed, in an effort to prevent gold exploration and mining in the area. (I wrote about the government plans to open up the Cobequids for gold exploration here.) A recipient of MRDF funds in 2018 was John Wightman (member of the MRDF Advisory Council) who received a total of $41,750 for mineral exploration. ↩