Cameco relief fund receives hundreds of applications

Two miners walking through the Cigar Lake mines, one of the only operational facilities Cameco still runs. (Courtesy Cameco)

Uranium giant Cameco has announced a $1 Million COVID-19 Relief Fund for Saskatoon and Northern Saskatchewan.

“We’ve been watching the world, the Country, the province, and the north,” said Tim Gitzel, Cameco CEO. “And just seeing the hurt, I know there’s a lot of hurt these days. I don’t think there’s anyone unaffected by COVID-19 and so we as a company got together and said, “what can we do to help out, how can we make a difference?” And we came up with this idea to put a fund together, a Cameco COVID Relief Fund. A million dollars that we hope will help the agencies and organizations that are hurting right now.”

This fund is available in grants up to $50,000 for charities, not for profits, town offices, and First Nation Band offices that have been impacted by COVID-19. Funds must be used to help with the challenges of COVID-19 and can be directed to ongoing program support, targeted COVID-19 community response or specialized programs. Funds cannot be used for primarily staff salaries.

Those who have applied must have included a detailed budget and those who are chosen for a grant will initially receive 75 per cent and the other 25 per cent will be released once reporting is received. The monies will not be sent to an individual person, and if a community applied, funds must be made payable to the town office or band office.

The application deadline has passed, and Cameco has received hundreds of applicants, but there is only so much to go around, and it has not been stated when, or if, the successful applicants will be officially named.

Although the Price of uranium has been down and some mine sites are no longer in operation, Cameco has still decided to give this community relief fund.

“We haven’t been through an easy period in the last number of years in the uranium space, it’s been tough,” Gitzel says.  “Yet, we never lose that desire to give back to the communities to help them out, we’re all in this together. We say that, but we actually mean it. We have employees from the north, we use all the northern contractors. The charities and agencies are important to us, they help the people in the north.”

Funds from the grants must only be used to help with challenges faced by COVID-19 and not for salaries as there is already a wage subsidy program that the Government of Canada is offering.

An official adjudication committee has been put together for this community relief fund to decide who will get the grants and they hope to get the funds out within a week of the deadline.

Although the relief fund is for Saskatoon and Northern Saskatchewan, there will be an emphasis on the north so that the north will not be looked over as they often are.

“Our mining operations are based in the north and we have over 50 per cent of our employees come from northern communities,” Gitzel says on the emphasis on the north.

“So, we have, our heart’s big for the north. We obviously look favourably on the north, I think north sometimes gets overlooked for the federal programs or other government programs that are coming out there, so if there’s a void there, we hope to be able to fill it. And I say again, we won’t be able to fill the entire void, but we just wanted to do what we could in this difficult time, and we will do that.”

The decision for who receives a grant will be needs-based and how that relates to Covid-19, as well as what the budget looks like.

“I can tell you they’ll be very fair, and they’ll be very flexible in the decision making,” said Gitzel.

Gitzel said that Cameco will not be looking for any help from the government although uranium hasn’t been as strong as it once was, they’re still not doing as bad as the oil companies who are dealing with COVID-19 and international trade wars.

“We’ve tried to be very judicious and prudent in our decision making, so we’re in good shape,” said Gitzel.

“We’re looking for the uranium market to improve going forward. We’re seeing some signs from that, hopefully over the next while, it’ll improve. So, we’re not looking for anything from the government right now and what we have we wanted to share with the north and with some of the charities and organizations that re really hurting worse than us, so that’s what was behind our announcement.”