While times are tough for Canada’s mining industry, there is hope for the future, according to Pierre Gratton, the president of the Mining Association of Canada, who was in Cranbrook on Tuesday to address a gathering of Kootenay Chamber of Commerce members.
“We are a cyclical industry and cycles are predictably unpredictable and that’s one of the key takeaways for today. But the second is that mining is here to stay,” said Gratton.
“Minerals and metals are the foundation of everything we enjoy in our daily lives and the world will continue to need them. And Canada can, and should be, an important place where these important minerals and metals are found and supplied for generations to come.”
Gratton referenced the economic importance of the Teck coal mines in the Elk Valley to the region and noted how low commodity prices have had a direct affect on the area. In 2011, coal was $330 per metric ton. Now, prices are $80 per metric ton.
“Global economic growth has been volatile,” Gratton said. “Every time the Bank of Canada, the IMF, the World Bank or any other illustrious groups make growth projections, three months later they use revised growth projections, and usually it’s a bit worse than what they were projecting originally.”
Much of the downturn in growth is coming out of China, which is consuming 50 per cent of the world’s demand for metals and minerals.
Gratton said the focus of China’s consumption is shifting, while growth rates are also declining in Brazil, Mexico, and other countries in Asia and Africa.
However, the one exception is India—which Gratton says is the next China, in terms of their demand for raw minerals and metals.
“With that growth rate, we’re going to see another big jump in demand for commodities and consequently, prices for commodities,” he said.
While Gratton admits that there is a significant downturn worldwide, there are opportunities to come out ahead as new markets are developed, investment is attracted and prices rebound.
The prevailing view is that the future looks bright for this sector,” Gratton continued. “The fundamentals that we talked an awful lot about in the super cycle of the last decade remain in place. China is not going anywhere; there are a billion people there, there’s another billion in India that are entering the middle class that want to consume the same products and have the same kind of lifestyle that we take for granted and to get there, they’re going to need a lot more minerals and metals.”
The lower Canadian dollar has provided a bit of a shield the industry, while low oil prices have had a dramatic effect in aiding companies in reducing their energy costs.
Canada remains an attractive place to invest for mining, as it continues to be the leading jurisdiction in the world for exploration.
Northern Canada is especially ripe for exploration, however, there is an infrastructure challenge in getting extracted minerals to markets.
“In the north, you don’t have a lot of the things you take for granted in the South. Like roads, ports, railways and connection to electricity, to the grid,” Gratton said. “If we’re going to continue to grow our industry northward, we’re going to start thinking about those types of strategic investments.”
On the topic of a low-carbon future, Gratton noted the mining industry will be integral to renewable energies.
It takes 140 tones of steel-making coal to build a wind turbine and 30,000 tones went into making the Canada Line, a rapid transit rail system in Vancouver. The average electric car contains 165 of copper wiring.
In mining operations, energy expenditures account for up to 30 per cent of a mine’s operating costs.
Some mines are experimenting with using Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) in their haul trucks, such as Fording River in the Elk Valley.
“Part of the challenge to switching to natural gas as a cleaner alternative is infrastructure and you have to be able to access that product,” Gratton said. “When we can do that, we can easily find ways for the industry to continue it’s work in reducing carbon emissions.”
Gratton also spoke about the mining industry’s relationship with First Nations, especially within the context of reconciliation. The Supreme Court recently handed down a decision which granted a disputed land title to an Aboriginal group in the Chilcotin region and Gratton insisted that no company wants to be in a position to move forward without the support of local and Aboriginal communities.
Gratton noted that dialogue is important and brought up the benefits of revenue-sharing agreements.
“…We believe revenue sharing can increase the participation of aboriginal peoples, businesses and governments in the mining industry and it can contribute to reconciliation,” Gratton said. “By enhancing and clarifying the benefits that mines bring to local communities, it could contribute to the econonmic disparities between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities.
“It’s also a powerful and symbolic recognition by governments that mining development is taking place on traditional aboriginal lands.”