TheFutureEconomy.ca: How is BC’s mining industry evolving in light of the challenges natural resource sectors are facing due to increased emphasis on sustainability?
Bryan Cox: The mining industry is such a foundational sector and a really unique natural resource industry that has been active in British Columbia since before it was even a province. In fact, one of the reasons BC is a province is because of mining and the gold rushes that occurred, which led the British Colonial Office to organize some semblance of government to deal with the large influx of people. So mining is an industry that has been in the BC land base for literally hundreds of years, and even thousands of years of you go back to First Nations and indigenous mining.
Mining is also an industry that is constantly changing and evolving as technology improves and as people gain more expertise. In the last several years a lot has changed in the industry, especially around technology. Mining is an industry that thrives off of innovation and technological advances to help improve processes and environmental outcomes. There is an amazing opportunity for mining in the future as we improve technologies and our knowledge of the land base.
“As we make this transition towards a lower carbon economy, we are going to need much more metals and minerals.”
There is increasing global interest in what is happening on the BC land base. What is important to point out about an industry like mining, especially here in British Columbia, is that we already have a robust regulatory process in place. From exploration through to the reclamation of our mine sites, regulation has been ongoing for decades. So a lot of what we are working on is to help to communicate the regulatory process we have: all the way from environmental assessments through to the really robust mine permitting we have in the province that involves multiple ministries, including input from communities and involvement from First Nations. With that added interest comes a responsibility from the industry to better communicate what we do and what our commitments are. A big part of what the mining industry is looking to do is connecting with our communities in ways that work for them to explain what we do.
Secondly, we are also focused on increasing awareness of the fact that mining is an important part of the solution in the transition to a lower carbon economy. It takes four times more copper to make an electric motor than it does a conventional motor and 100 tons of steelmaking coal is needed to make one wind turbine. So as we make this transition towards a lower carbon economy, we are going to need much more metals and minerals.
How do you assess the level of support BC’s mining industry enjoys from the general public and from local communities?
Our industry is one that touches every single corner of the province – and that is a big area. We are seeing the global phenomenon of rural versus urban, haves versus have-nots, and these divides exist in our society. This was evident in the recent provincial election with the stark contrast between urban and rural seats. When citizens in rural areas think of a mine site, they think of an operation and the jobs and prosperity that are generated for that local area – people who live in those areas are intimately aware of this. But what is less known is how many jobs are supported in cities like Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver by that same operation that might be near Princeton or up in the Cariboo district. The suppliers and jobs that we support are located all over the province and especially in the Lower Mainland. The mining industry is therefore really well positioned to communicate with British Columbians about how interconnected we all are.
How competitive is BC’s mining industry and who are the province’s main competitors?
British Columbia is extraordinarily well positioned: Vancouver has the biggest port in the country with the quickest access to Asian markets, we also have excellent geology, we are a technology and innovation hub, as well as a centre of mining expertise. There are hundreds of mining companies headquartered in British Columbia that may not operate or have projects in BC, but they are headquartered here because of the engineering or legal or environmental expertise they can access right here in Vancouver and British Columbia. So the province has all of this going for it and we must ensure that we have the right taxation structures, the right incentives and the right regulatory system in place. This way, when companies look to invest in BC, they know they can get a decision out of the regulatory process in a timely manner and that they can invest in this province confidently. So from that regard, we need to constantly be looking at what is happening in the rest of the world to ensure that we are as competitive as we can be.
“We must ensure that we have the right taxation structures, the right incentives and the right regulatory system in place.”
In terms of competition, although we mine other minerals and metals like gold and silver, British Columbia predominantly mines copper and steelmaking coal. If we look at those jurisdictions that do that as well, it is Chile for copper and Australia for steelmaking coal. So we need to think globally and consistently monitor what those jurisdictions are doing to ensure the competitiveness of their industries. We also need to look at where the global commodity markets are because we are price takers in this industry and prices are set internationally.
How much potential do you see in the development of innovative technologies for mining and other resource industries in BC and Canada?
It is now very important that governments, industry and communities partner to look for the solutions to the challenges we all share. We are already seeing the federal government spurring this with the innovation superclusters initiative and the provincial governments are going down that path as well. This is going to be absolutely essential to tackling major shared challenges. If we take emissions reduction as an example, British Columbia already has an extremely clean electricity generation grid; and that is where most jurisdictions find that they can reduce emissions by transferring away from coal-fired power generation to natural gas or another low-emission option. In BC, we need to find those other reductions that are going to require very innovative technologies to be implemented, and to do that, we need to ensure we have competitive industries where companies can invest in those technologies and be supported by government when doing so. So we have to achieve that perfect mix between company investment, government support and community support to continue to drive these innovations. This is a very exciting time for that right now and we are moving along a really great path.
“We have a real opportunity to make Canada a producer of choice for the metals and minerals we produce.”
When we look at innovation and technology in the natural resources sector, we need to ensure that we are linking the tech and resource industries together. I think for too long, technology has been viewed as sort of an industry onto itself when in fact it is a service industry to many different sectors. When looking at British Columbia, where we are trying to bring more tech jobs to Vancouver and other cities, those are jobs that are coming here from industries like mining. So the more we can link up our industries and think that the pie can grow for everybody and it is not a zero-sum game, and that supporting the technology industry does not need to be at the expense of the natural resource industry, the more we will realize that they are actually tied together and their successes are linked.
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How do you imagine the mining industry in BC, and by extension the Canadian mining sector, in 20 to 30 years from now?
This country is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, especially here in British Columbia, so we have the opportunity to continue to be what we have always been: a highly responsible producer of natural resources. We need to be proud of what we do in Canada and in BC. We have a real opportunity to make Canada, and British Columbia especially, a producer of choice for the metals and minerals we produce. We can do so because we have excellent indigenous relations. There are amazing things happening every day across BC when it comes to working with communities, with First Nations and sharing the prosperity that is available. Is there work to be done? Absolutely, but we have the opportunity to do that here.
“When we look at innovation and technology in the natural resources sector, we need to ensure that we are linking the tech and resource industries together.”
On the environmental side and on the regulatory side, BC has the opportunity to continue to have what we believe is the best regulatory jurisdiction in the country, if not the world. So I think it is really important that we celebrate what we already do but also look to see how we can continue to be that world leader. In doing so, we can encourage investment in BC by having certainty in our regulatory process, by maintaining the human capital expertise that we have in this province, and all the other advantages that we have.
I see the future of Canadian mining as being a sunrise industry, especially as we look to the transition to a lower carbon economy. We need these products and we need to ensure that we continue to source them responsibly. When you look at the geology of this province, we can really be a leader in that regard. The magic of projecting into the future is that from a technology point-of-view, who knows what we will be able to do from a processing and engineering standpoint in 20 or 30 years? What we have always done very well and what I think we will continue to excel at are the relationships and the human capital we have in BC. We are experts in mining, we are experts in passionate community involvement and I am really excited to see what is going to happen on the technology and innovation front, and where this industry can continue to grow in that regard.