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The Diavik diamond mine in the Northwest Territories.

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The Canadian government is readying a campaign to promote this country's mining sector abroad, an effort that will draw on Ottawa's power and global network of diplomatic missions to help companies expand their exploration and extraction activity around the world.

It's the latest step in the Harper Conservatives' efforts to redirect foreign affairs, international development and trade spending so it's more targeted to core economic interests. In recent years, Ottawa has jointly funded development projects in Africa and South America with large mining corporations.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast will launch cross-country consultations Wednesday to get feedback as he draws up an agenda on what support it should offer to Canadian mining firms. The effort is billed as helping the extractive sector, which also includes oil and gas companies, but is almost wholly focused on mining.

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The timing is no coincidence. The Harper government, which is warming up its campaign machine for an expected 2015 election, is looking for ways to contrast itself with opposition party leaders Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair. The Conservatives will face tough criticism over files such as the Senate expenses scandal when the Commons returns in October and the Tories are hoping to weather the storm by stressing their efforts to bolster the economy.

Assistance could include pouring more effort into signing investor protection deals with foreign countries to create a more stable investment climate abroad or pushing consulates and embassies to promote Canadian mining projects and produce more comprehensive and frequent updates on market conditions abroad. Canada has more than 260 diplomatic and consular offices in about 150 countries.

"As our government continues to focus on the real priorities of Canadian workers and families – jobs, growth and long-term prosperity – ensuring key sectors of our economy succeed is essential to those efforts," Mr. Fast says in a statement that will accompany the mining sector announcement Wednesday.

Canadian mining companies generate billions of dollars of revenue abroad and this activity in turn helps support thousands of well-paying jobs across this country in both cities and rural Canada. Fully two-thirds of Canadian companies' mining operations are outside of Canada.

Canada's mining sector, which has had to contend with softer commodity prices and skittish investors this year, is nevertheless a competitive advantage for Canada. Canada is one of the largest mining nations in the world, operating in more than 100 countries. Mining companies headquartered in this country accounted for nearly 37 per cent of budgeted global exploration spending in 2012, according to Ottawa.

When federal officials talk about the need to improve the investment climate for mining companies abroad, they mention the case of First Quantum Minerals Ltd. Its operations in the Congo were nationalized, or seized, by the African country's government several years ago. It later sold its mines and settled its legal claims in the country.

The Harper government, through what it calls a global commerce strategy, has been narrowing its diplomatic resources to focus on more select, but key, markets that include Canadian mining. Canada is among the top-five producers of potash, uranium, nickel, platinum, aluminum, diamonds and steel-making coal. "We don't want to waste money on putting our trade offices and commissioners on to files that won't yield results," one official said.

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"It's about getting the right mix of policies and services in place to capitalize on the opportunities from increased demand around the world in a sector where Canada has a leg up on everyone else."

The future for mining appears strong. For instance, the world is expected to consume more than three times as much aluminum and more than twice as much copper by 2025 than it did at the start of the millennium.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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