“As the new president and CEO of AME BC, my role is to help the industry navigate the challenges of turbulent times,” wrote Gavin Dirom in his first column in this magazine in spring of 2009.
At the time, the world was reeling from the global financial crisis of 2008, commodity prices had plunged and exploration budgets were cinched tight. Little did he know just how turbulent the next eight years would be! But, with a calm and pragmatic approach to the obstacles in the association’s path, he led AME through one of the deepest, darkest downturns in recent times, and out the other side.
Dirom joined AME in November 2008 after several years as vice-president, environment, health and safety, at the Mining Association of British Columbia. As president and CEO of AME, he led the association through celebrations and controversies, and jokingly claims he has “enough stories to fill a book.” He has overseen nine Roundup conferences, including the largest on record at 8,320 attendees in 2012, and recognized the 100th anniversary of the association with a gala celebration and publication of Chuck Davis’s Into the Mountains: Celebrating 100 Years of Mineral Exploration Advocacy, 1912-2012.
“We enjoy the successes, and collectively work through the challenging times,” he explained in an interview just weeks before leaving his office. “That’s been part of my approach – to make sure we’re connecting, and listening carefully and respectfully.” His core philosophy has always been to ensure that every AME member – especially those outside the Lower Mainland – believes they have a meaningful voice and feels engaged and able to shape the association.
Early on, Dirom played a key role in the Lucky Jem-Eldorado story. Access to an area of impressive mineral potential in the South Chilcotin Mountains of B.C. had been restricted by the creation of the Spruce Lake Protected Area in 2001. High-level discussions held at Roundup in 2009 and 2010 and ongoing engagement with a wide range of stakeholders and members resulted in an adjustment to the boundary of the protected area, and, in 2010, opened up 15,000 hectares of land for mineral exploration and development.
“This was a rare and positive example of more land becoming available to explore once all the different groups better understood what was important to them, through respectful dialogue and persistence,” says Dirom.
Dirom is particularly proud of the association’s dedication to building and supporting mutually respectful relationships with First Nations throughout the province, too. This approach has resulted in a number of successful initiatives, including securing funding for the BC Aboriginal Mine Training Association in 2009.
“It involved a lot of lobbying and advocacy work as an association, with the federal and provincial government, to get it into place,” he recalls. “It’s a credit to the staff and the committees at the time, who pushed to create a persuasive case that ultimately resulted in more than a thousand people learning new skills and finding good jobs in the industry.”
Guiding the staff and volunteer committees to advocate for issues important to the exploration industry is the priority for the leader of AME. Dirom recalls with pride the hard work of the ad hoc Permitting Fees Committee that successfully lobbied the B.C. government to exempt all prospecting and exploration activities from any Mines Act permit fees.
“It was at the discussion paper stage and moving quickly toward becoming a law,” he says. “We were able to stop it and buy some time to reflect. We then engaged government, and relatively quickly succeeded in having explorers and prospectors exempted from permit fees.”
Energizing exploration in the north of the province has also been a key issue during Dirom’s reign. As part of a coalition, he invested considerable time facilitating strategic discussions, listening to concerns, managing expectations and building support for the Northwest Transmission Line and Site C projects.
“The transmission line is important infrastructure that was built in the northwest to the benefit of so many communities and projects,” he says. “I’m just glad I was connected to it and played a role in getting it done, and now it’s energizing Red Chris Mine.”
There are some lighter moments that Dirom will take away, too. One of his fondest memories involves his daughter, Heather, throwing a pie in his face while Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett encouraged her during Teck’s Celebrity Pie Throw to raise money for BC Children’s Hospital. Watching the industry come together for events like that holds a special place in his heart.
“If you’re acting on the core values and principles of the folks you represent, then you can’t go too far wrong,” he says, advising his replacement to “listen, plan, then engage,” particularly on the more controversial issues.
The outlook for the mineral exploration industry in B.C. is certainly looking brighter today. Never one to take all the credit, Dirom is pleased with the key role the association has played during the extended downturn to help make B.C. an attractive mineral exploration and development destination, recognized worldwide.
“With signs of positive conditions returning – such as people reinvesting and exploring more grassroots-level projects in the province – it’s rewarding to know that in a small way, we helped shape that climate of opportunity.”