Mining feels public love, and the market pressure

Monte Stewart
November 2, 2022

Public support for Canada’s mining sector is at an all-time high, but more government assistance is needed as the industry strives to help the country and rest of the world achieve a greener future and put more electric vehicles on the road, says Mining Association of Canada (MAC) president and CEO Pierre Gratton.

Citing Abacus Data research conducted for MAC, Gratton told a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon audience in September that 83 percent of Canadians support mining projects when there is an associated plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Meanwhile, 80 percent have positive feelings about Canadian mineral and metals producers, 84 per cent accept companies that produce materials used in green technologies, and 78 percent view mining companies positively.

A long term investment in the industry's public image

Slowly but surely, he told Research Money, the mining industry’s concerted effort to improve the way it operates has started to pay dividends — and Canadians are starting to pay attention.

“The industry is not the same as my grandfather’s industry,” he said in an interview.

The change in perception, he added, has come as the industry has spent the past 20 to 25 years improving its safety and environmental practices, and working with Indigenous communities. During his speech, he said the Abacus results show that people believe the sector is making a serious effort to reduce environmental impacts and build positive relationships with Indigenous peoples.

Upon learning that Canada is a world leader in managing the sector’s environmental and social risks, 88 percent of Canadians believe it would be a good idea for government to support companies that adhere to global sustainable mining standards, he told the audience. He noted that the 2022 federal budget allocated an unprecedented $3.8 billion to critical mineral development.

Gratton believes this federal support will enable Canada to become the world’s biggest investor in mining exploration projects in the next year or two. Nevertheless, Ottawa’s contribution to mining pales in comparison to the federal support that President Joe Biden’s administration has provided to the American sector.

“I think [the Government of] Canada is going to have to rethink [its investment.] And getting to $3.8 [billion], maybe we may look back on that as just a nominal investment in a bigger future,” Gratton said. “So we'll have to see. I think there may be more [federal money] to come.”

Waiting on approvals

But, he told the audience, Canada needs to do better when it comes to building a mine from the exploration stage through to operation. The MAC boss called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to help reduce permit waiting periods and accelerate overall mine approvals.

Gratton’s call for quicker approvals conflicts with American congress members’ perception that Canada approves mines much more quickly than the U.S. does.

In September, U.S. Senate energy and natural resources committee chair Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, insisted responsible permitting practices blow American timetables out of the water. And, a fellow committee member, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, said Canadians are approved in as little as two years.

MAC has refuted the American claims. At a Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada conference in June, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said critical-mineral development is urgently needed to help facilitate Canada’s energy transition to green sources.

Gratton noted that Wilkinson has suggested “five or six” times that an average Canadian approval time could be as long as 15 years. But Gratton told the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade crowd that Canada does not have 15 years in the context of the energy transition.

Auto-makers' demand just beginning

Just to support electric-vehicle battery development and support its current global nickel-market, he added, Canada must launch eight new nickel mines alone within the next 10 years.

Canada must achieve its goal to support the U.S. and European allies and, ultimately, for the world to be less dependent on Chinese and Russian critical minerals, he added.

“Russia is the third-largest producer of battery-grade nickel,” said Gratton. “I don't think we're going to be getting much from them going forward. If we are to continue to have a North American auto sector — so important to the Canadian economy — if we are to have a chance of fighting climate change, we have to deliver.”

Gratton called on Ottawa to follow through on a promise to provide focused mining project reviews, improve the impact-assessment process and ensure that impact benefit agreements (IBAs) are completed with Indigenous communities affected by mining projects.

He praised Cree reviews in Northern Quebec as being among the best. IBAs are also relatively common in B.C. But Gratton contended that governments are not sure how to deal with them. And while the federal Impact Assessment Act allows for co-management of projects, the federal government has only a draft policy tied to the law.

Gratton also called for more electricity infrastructure and accelerated use of hydrogen and small-modulator nuclear reactors to power mines and electric vehicles. Canada’s mining industry is under pressure to produce sufficient minerals “at breakneck speed” for a $5-billion EV-battery plant being built by automaker Stellantis in Windsor, Ont., with projects under development by Ford, GM, and other companies.

“It’s truly an incredible moment [for Canada’s mining industry]," concluded Gratton. "And it’s a frightening one."



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