"You have to form a true partnership in order to be successful" - Interview with CEO of Seabridge Gold

In a series of stories marking Mining Week, Resource Works takes a look at what mining means for Metro Vancouver’s economy - particularly in the areas of job creation and innovation. 

This junior mining company has a very small corporate headquarters in Toronto. But it employs a wide array of Vancouver-based consultants to help develop its ‘KSM’ copper-gold property in northwest British Columbia, as well as local workers in the northwest region. Recently, Resource Works sat down with chairman and CEO Rudi Fronk to talk about KSM, and about the support Seabridge receives from companies operating in Metro Vancouver.

Q: Could you talk about the work that Vancouver engineering companies and others do for you?

A: I don’t think people realize how important mining is to B.C., or its importance to the local economy in Vancouver.  Seabridge Gold has less than 20 employees as a company. We have 16 different consulting firms working with KSM now, very experienced groups, most of which are based in Vancouver. This would include engineers, environmental consultants, lawyers, communications consultants and others —firms like Rescan Environmental Services, Klohn Crippen Berger, BGC Engineering, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, EBA Engineering, PR Associates, and many others.

To put a number on it, we’ve now spent about $90 million to date on these consulting firms with ties in Vancouver. That’s a lot of money that has gone through the Vancouver economy.

Q: The relationship between international prices of natural resources and the BC economy isn’t always recognized. Are commodity prices are important drivers for the BC economy?

A: No question about it. B.C. produces commodities including gold, copper and coal that the rest of the world wants. Higher commodity prices obviously help projects like KSM to move forward, and then as these projects become mines they provide high paying jobs. 

A lot of spending goes on in the region where the exploration takes place or the mine is developed. A lot of the benefits, payroll taxes, royalty payments or corporate taxes are also used within the province to service social infrastructure including health care and education. So metal prices, commodity prices, are very important in terms of driving BC’s economy.

Q: Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is more or less a mandatory activity for companies that are serious about gaining community support for resource projects.  What can you tell us about Seabridge’s approach to CSR?

A: KSM right now is scheduled to have a mine life in excess of 50 years. It’s going to be a multi-generational project. In order to be successful you really need to be welcome in the local communities in which you are going to operate. Even before we went to the government with our project description document we went into the local communities and introduced ourselves, explained who we were and what our plan was, going forward.

We have offices in Smithers and in Dease Lake. We hire as many local employees and contractors as we can, including local first nations companies. We support education, through a program with Northwest Community College. 

We also have gone through three iterations of pre-feasibility studies for our property, through the process with the regulators, and the B.C. Treaty Commission and First Nations. We’ve made a number of significant design changes, listening to some of their pushback and feedback on some of our designs, which have added significant capital to the project but which have sat well with them and shown our willingness to make changes to the project, to listen to their concerns.

Q: You’re working with First Nations who are very strong negotiators. Your ability to build a successful relationship with them suggests you’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to reach a point where they are expressing support for your project.

A: We recognize that they were here first, and that the land is a big part of their lives. You have to co-exist with them and you have to form a true partnership in order to be successful. That was our intent right from day one.

Q: What does BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line project mean to Seabridge and KSM?

A: Our project has a high draw on power — 150 megawatts at full draw. Being able to buy cheap power off the grid is very beneficial to us compared to other projects around the world which may have to build a large power plant to accommodate their power needs. In addition to mining companies, local communities will have the benefit of this new electricity supply.

Q: You’ve worked projects located all over the world. Why are you now focusing on B.C.?

A: I’ve been in the business more than 30 years and I’ve been involved in projects around the world. KSM is one of those exceptional projects that you hope to acquire in professional lifetime.

Our focus right now is on the environmental assessment. We have worked hard on that over the past seven years and we are now in the final throes and we expect approval of that sometime mid-year-ish.

I like North America. I’ve had mining projects expropriated in third world countries. That tends not to happen in Canada.

Scott Simpson works on communications projects with companies in the British Columbia natural resources sector. From 1981 to 2013 he was an award-winning reporter/columnist/editor at the Vancouver Sun, including a 10-year stint on the energy and mining beats. Other topics that interest Scott include innovation, technology, environment, transportation, government affairs, fisheries, and aboriginal relations.

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