Heather Bruce-Veitch remembers streets of empty houses in Labrador City being boarded up during slow times in the early '80s and '90s for the Iron Ore Company of Canada.
The company's director of external relations says one of the goals of a new regional task force is to avoid repeating those mistakes of the past while adjusting to the rapid mining expansion currently underway in western Labrador.
"The mining industry is cyclical, and we know that. So right now it's wonderful, but the reality is there will be a dip at some point," she said Friday. "The question is when? How long? How deep? We don't want to build for the peak and then when things slow down a little to have all these houses not being used.
The task force, said Bruce-Veitch, is the natural evolution of a community advisory panel led by IOC, formed in 2006.
"It was really bringing together leaders from various organizations in Lab West to look at what the priorities were and what we should be working on," she said. "Because at that point, to be honest with you, we were often just giving money (to community organizations), giving cheques, and that wasn't really effective. We needed to be a better job so it was kind of, OK, let's get together as a community, identify what the priorities are, and then look at how we jointly work on them, and then also for us it helped us to look at where we would like to put our money and our time in terms of partnering in the community."
Since 2006, though, there has been increasing pressure in the region, as rising commodity prices have sparked a major mining expansion, prompting the creation of more comprehensive group to study the long-term effects of rapid growth. The task force - led by Manon Beauchemin, IOC's vice-president of external relations and corporate affairs - also has industry representation from Alderon Iron Ore Corp. and Cliffs Natural Resources with an invitation extended to New Millennium Iron Corp.
On the government side, the task force has officials from the departments of Municipal Affairs and Natural Resources, from the Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs secretariat and the Labrador Affairs office, as well as the mayors of Labrador City and Wabush.
"The idea is really to look at, again, what are the priorities, given that we have growth? What are the cumulative effects?" said Bruce-Veitch. "Because it's one thing for us to go off and do a little piece of something and somebody else to go off, but obviously if we come together as a collective group we have a lot more opportunity both to influence, if it's in terms of changing something from a legislative or policy or something that influences government, or in terms of spending our dollars or using our time."
The priorities that have been identified so far are housing (and infrastructure in general), day care and health care, and Bruce-Veitch points to a planned community day care - in addition to the one the company is building on its own - as an example of the ways the government departments and businesses are working together to address the strain of rapid growth in Lab West. Increasing the amount of day-care options available would have the dual effect of possibly lowering monthly child care costs and freeing up potential workers for the companies operating in the area.
The task force met for the first time two weeks ago and expects to meet monthly.
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