UPDATE 1-PDAC-Finland ranked as top mining locale as Canada slips

Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:38pm GMT

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* Ranking based on survey of mining, exploration companies

* Nordic countries said to have stable mining policies

* Uncertainty over land claims hurts Canada rankings

TORONTO, Feb 28 (Reuters) - The Nordic countries of Finland and Sweden have topped an annual ranking of the world's best jurisdictions for miners to operate, beating out all of Canada's provinces for the first time in six years.

The uncertainty that comes with dealing with disputes over aboriginal land claims is a rising concern for miners looking to operate in Canada, said a report released on Thursday by the Fraser Institute, in explaining why Canadian jurisdictions fell short.

The report, based on a survey of 742 mining and exploration companies, looks at whether mining policies in 96 jurisdictions around the world encourage investment. The Canadian Atlantic province of New Brunswick, which placed first last year, fell to fourth.

"In the opinion of mining executives who guide investment decisions, things are changing in Canada's policy context that make it look less appealing," said Kenneth Green, the institute's senior director for energy and natural resources studies.

That said, Canadian jurisdictions still did well, relative to the rest of the world. Alberta placed third, and Yukon Territory also made the top 10.

Other top jurisdictions included the western U.S. states of Wyoming, Nevada and Utah, as well as the Republic of Ireland.

Indonesia ranked as the least attractive location for investment, according to the survey.

The Fraser Institute, a think tank that typically advocates lighter government regulation, releases its rankings each year on the eve of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention. This year's PDAC convention, the industry's largest gathering, kicks off on Sunday in Toronto.

TOP OF THE WORLD

Finland got points for its tax system, political stability, and labor supply, and because there is little of the uncertainty around disputed land claims seen in other jurisdictions.

"The Nordic countries seem to have very stable policy regimes," said Green. "They have ranked well for many, many years."

One respondent quoted anonymously in the report said Finland has "no unnecessary regulations and a government that supports mining and clears away obstructions."

Utah and Ireland got top billing for infrastructure, and Sweden was found to suffer from less redundant or inconsistent regulation than most jurisdictions.

DUTY TO CONSULT

The Supreme Court of Canada has said that governments must consult with aboriginal groups before taking any action that might affect their treaty rights, including "credible but unproven" land claims.

Exactly what that means is in dispute. On Monday, the government of the Canada's Yukon territory said it would ask the top court to hear a related case. But for now, in practice, land claims could emerge as a factor in nearly any new mining project.

The birth of "Idle No More," a new Canadian protest movement focused on aboriginal rights, could also rachet up pressure on miners looking to launch new projects.

Helped by social media, Idle No More has spread across the country and abroad, drawing comparisons to "Occupy Wall Street." It has staged protests in dozens of shopping malls across North America, and there have also been rallies, marches and highway and rail blockades.

Residents of the remote northern community of Attawapiskat, Ontario, unhappy with the terms of their 2005 deal with De Beers, a subsidiary of Anglo American PLC, have twice this year set up blockades on an ice road leading to the company's Victor diamond mine.

"Comments from miners suggest that while Canadian jurisdictions remain competitive globally, uncertainties with aboriginal consultation and disputed land claims are growing concerns for some," the Fraser Institute report said.