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Sam Farris
President & General Manager, Operations - K+S Potash Canada

Canadian Mining: A variety of underutilized mineral resources

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Takeaways

  1. Canada’s mining industry and natural mineral endowment positions the country favourably to provide global markets with the minerals and metals needed to enable emerging industries contributing to a zero carbon emission future.
  2. Although Canada is currently ranked as the third most attractive mining region in the world, to improve its competitiveness it must focus on environmental regulations, regulatory duplication and other issues.
  3. Successful engagement of Canada’s Indigenous populations must focus on building relationships directly with local Indigenous communities, recruiting Indigenous employees, and targeted procurement opportunities.

Action

To improve Canada’s regulatory environment the government must provide clarity on when and how the federal impact assessment will be utilized; consistently apply federal and provincial jurisdictional authorities; and balance environmental regulations with responsible resource development.


How would you describe Canada’s richness in mineral resources and the opportunities that exist for the development of resource-rich mining projects in Canada?

Canada is a vast country, with a huge land mass and a relatively small population. By virtue of the size and terrain of Canada there is a bounty of natural resources that can be admired, sustainably developed, and utilized for a wide array of opportunities.

“Canada is a significant producer of copper, nickel, and cobalt, and has access to lithium and graphite deposits that are crucial in the production of solar cells, high-density batteries and wind turbines.”

In relation to mining, there are a variety of underutilized mineral resources throughout Canada. A vast majority of products that we use daily, and that we need to combat climate change, come from metals and minerals that we mine in Canada. For example, Canada is a significant producer of copper, nickel, and cobalt, and has access to lithium and graphite deposits that are crucial in the production of solar cells, high-density batteries and wind turbines. 

When you look at the Canada-United States Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, there is clear opportunity for further mining development in Canada. For example, Canada currently provides the US with 13 of the 35 critical minerals identified in the Joint Action Plan, and there is significant opportunity to grow those figures. Potash has been identified as one of these critical minerals. 

“When you look at the Canada-United States Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, there is clear opportunity for further mining development in Canada.”

Fertilizer Canada has indicated that the world will need to increase food production by 70% to meet the demand of our growing population. With global population anticipated to reach 9.8 billion people in 2050 and no increase in arable land, mined products like potash will be a critical factor for ensuring that the there is sufficient food supply available to feed the world. We see potash, which helps crops more efficiently utilize water and nutrients, as a key player in both feeding a growing population and helping to combat the effects of climate change.

“The Canadian mining industry can also act as an enabler for emerging industries that could potentially be the key to having a net zero carbon emission future.”

The Canadian mining industry can also act as an enabler for emerging industries that could potentially be the key to having a net zero carbon emission future.Canada’s production of copper, nickel and cobalt, and our access to lithium and graphite deposits, are crucial in the production of solar cells, high-density batteries, and wind turbines. These products combined with the vast potential of small modular reactors, powered by the uranium industry, could be the solution to a net zero future. In order to be a world leader in rare earth elements and critical metals and minerals, Canada will need to set the stage for responsible resource development in the future.


What do you identify as Canada’s strengths and competitive advantagesin mining, and areas we must improve upon to increase our competitiveness?

Canada has a long list of strengths and competitive advantages in mining. Looking at the mining sector as whole, ore bodies in Canada are some of the richest and purest in the world. And looking at potash in particular, Canada has traditionally held a clear competitive advantage over competing potash producing countriessuch as Russia and Belarus; and as individuals and consumers become more cognizant of climate change concerns, Canada and Saskatchewan have the opportunity to promote Canadian potash as the lowest carbon emitting production in the world – by a significant margin. The carbon emissions intensity of Canadian potash is roughly one third of the emissions intensity of the global average, and nearly half of the next lowest jurisdiction.

“Canada ranks as the third most attractive mining region in the  world.”

We can already see the trend within the resource sector to move towards more environmentally conscious business practices. This shift is not only the right thing to do for our industry and our communities, but it is also in the best interests of mining organizations to improve upon their own bottom lines. So this focus on sustainability is crucial for the future of the Canadian mining sector. The industry is heavily focused on continual improvement efforts to improve the efficiency of our resource extraction. The industry is regulated under federal and provincial carbon tax regimes, which further incent a greater reduction of carbon emissions. However, the main challenge in this area is that the regulation must be in sufficient alignment with the progress of technology to ensure that regulated improvements are also technically and practically feasible.

“Looking at the mining sector as whole, ore bodies in Canada are some of the richest and purest in the world. And looking at potash in particular, Canada has traditionally held a clear competitive advantage over competing potash producing countries.”

Although many of these advantages exist and add to the Canadian mining industry’s global competitiveness, the current investment climate in Canada appears to be shifting away from Canada as the most competitive market. The Fraser Institute recently released its annual survey of mining companies to determine the most attractive regions for mining investments, and while Canada ranks as the third most attractive mining region in the world, no Canadian jurisdictions ranked in the top 10 in terms of investment attractiveness, compared to four in the previous year’s report. Likewise, the Policy Perception Index demonstrated a significant year-over-year decline in most Canadian jurisdictions, primarily citing environmental regulatory uncertainty, regulatory duplication, and taxation policy.

“The carbon emissions intensity of Canadian potash is roughly one third of the emissions intensity of the global average, and nearly half of the next lowest jurisdiction.”

There also seems to be general uncertainty around how Canada will implement climate policy moving forward. There is currently a divisive discourse around responsible resource development that puts positive economic impacts and concerns regarding environmental impacts in opposition to each other. These concerns could be helped through public education and understanding of how Canadian resource development can help to improve climate initiatives, create jobs, generate tax revenue, result in community investments, and stimulate the overall local economy for the areas where mining projects take place.

This is important since foreign direct investment (FDI) is critical to further resource development in Canada, as most mining companies are global organizations with operations around the world. If Canada cannot be competitive with other jurisdictions, major organizations could potentially choose to make significant FDIs in more competitive jurisdictions – and this would mean Canada and its communities would lose out on the advantages FDI brings.

“Concerns could be helped through public education and understanding of how Canadian resource development can help to improve climate initiatives, create jobs, generate tax revenue, result in community investments, and stimulate the overall local economy for the areas where mining projects take place.”

For example, The K+S Group’s CAD $4.1 billion investment to build K+S Potash Canada’s Bethune mine injected significant value into the province through increasing its tax base, opportunities for local businesses who supplied goods and services, both during the project building phase and into production, and has ultimately created more than 400 direct, high-paying permanent jobs. Through this investment, we have also been able to provide more than $7 million in community investment opportunities to more than 500 organizations within Saskatchewan and the Port Moody, BC, area. We also partner with organizations that that create opportunities that help our young people develop important life skills to help them grow mentally, physically and emotionally. So the value of FDI for Canada is clear, as is the importance of improving our competitiveness in attracting it. 


How would you describe Canada’s regulatory environment when it comes to receiving project approval and operating mining projects?

The Province of Saskatchewan currently maintains regulatory oversight of the Saskatchewan potash industry, providing a robust, effective, and continually improved environmental assessment program and life cycle regulation of the sector. The potash industry has a strong history of mining in an environmentally responsible manner, which outlines a positive path forward on all future capital projects of the potash industry.

The regulatory regime in Canada is a bit more complex due to federal and provincial jurisdictions. The Impact Assessment Act seems to have added some level of uncertainty for future developments, but until the first projects are fully assessed through this new federal system, we can’t say for sure if it will provide greater clarity on future projects, or when and how the powers to designate projects that normally fall within provincial jurisdiction will be exercised.

“The regulatory regime in Canada is a bit more complex due to federal and provincial jurisdictions.”

I think that Canada’s regulatory environment could be improved by providing further clarity and certainty on when and how the federal impact assessment will be utilized; through the consistent application of federal and provincial jurisdictional authorities; and through a focus on continual improvement of the current regulations that finds a balance between rigorous environmental protection with secure and responsible resource development that can support the economy. 

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How would you characterize Canada’s mining innovation ecosystem, and the availability and quality of mining talent and labour?

I would characterize Canada’s mining innovation ecosystem as under-appreciated. Mining organizations throughout the world, including Canada, are doing great work to drive the development of mining technology through continual improvement programs focused on working more safely, effectively and efficiently. 

“I would characterize Canada’s mining innovation ecosystem as under-appreciated.”

One example out of Saskatchewan is how the mining industry has worked with the provincial government to jointly fund the International Minerals Innovation Institute (IMII), which is committed to developing and implementing innovative education, training, research, and development partnerships for supporting a world-class minerals industry. The IMII has sponsored 15 industry-driven projects, valued at nearly $15 million, primarily focused on safety, the environment, and improving employment participation for women and Indigenous people within the sector.

“We have had great success in recruiting local talent for our organization.”

Looking at talent, we have had great success in recruiting local talent for our organization.We employ more than 400 employees who are located at our Bethune mine, our headquarters in Saskatoon, and our logistics office in Port Moody, British Columbia.


Foreign investors looking at Canada’s natural resource sector could see Indigenous relations as difficult to navigate. What has been your experience in this respect, and what would be your advice?

We have made a specific point to continually engage and build relationships with local Indigenous communities. These relationships are paramount to the success of our current mine operations, and they were critical during the development of our Bethune mine. The Bethune mine is situated on Treaty 4 land and our head office in Saskatoon is on Treaty 6 land, which are traditional territories of the Cree, Salteaux, Dakota, Lakota and Nakoda, and the homeland on the Métis people.

“We have made a specific point to continually engage and build relationships with local Indigenous communities. These relationships are paramount to the success of our current mine operations, and they were critical during the development of our Bethune mine.”

As we moved from the Legacy Project Phase into the operation of the Bethune mine, we recognized the importance to continually improve upon our engagement of local Indigenous communities, which is why KSPC has recently undertaken an overhaul of our Indigenous Relations policy. 

The original policy was primarily focused on capital spend and ensuring Indigenous participation in opportunities that arise from our major construction project, and now we are focused on longer-term engagement with direct relationships throughout our mine’s operation. To build our new policy, we engaged local Indigenous community leaders to help us develop a policy that fits with both KSPC’s and the Indigenous community’s values and targets. 

“We will focus on building and maintaining relationships and partnerships directly with local Indigenous people and communities, recruiting Indigenous employees, and targeted procurement opportunities to assist with building Indigenous business capacity.”

We will focus on building and maintaining relationships and partnerships directly with local Indigenous people and communities, recruiting Indigenous employees, and targeted procurement opportunities to assist with building Indigenous business capacity.Following this same path would be my advice to other foreign investors looking at establishing strong and rewarding relationships with Canada’s Indigenous communities.

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The Investment Attraction Series is Supported by

Sam Farris
President & General Manager, Operations - K+S Potash Canada

Sam Farris was born and raised in Saskatchewan and has been working for the K+S Group since August 2011, most recently in the role of Senior Vice President and General Manager of the company’s Bethune mine. He continues to serve as the mine’s General Manager, as well as his role as President. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Science in Thermal Science, both from the University of Saskatchewan.


K+S Potash Canada is part of the K+S Group, a German-based company that has been mining and processing potash and salt for over 125 years. The company owns and operates the Bethune solution potash mine near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. An investment of $4.1 billion, Bethune is the first greenfield potash mine in the Province of Saskatchewan in more than 40 years. With this facility, K+S can more easily reach the markets in Asia, as well as North and South America.