VANCOUVER — The Association for Mineral Exploration’s (AME) Roundup conference in Vancouver serves as a bellwether for the mining industry as the first major technical event of the new year.
The most recent iteration featured the typical discussions on metal prices and markets, but it also marked the maiden mining voyage for B.C.’s newly elected, left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and Green Party coalition government.
The NDP-led minority government’s stance on mining in the province remains untested.
Premier John Horgan has been rhetorically supportive of the business, and held over pro-mining initiatives from the previous long-standing Liberal government, including its flow-through share tax framework and exploration credits; funding for Geoscience BC; and provincial sales tax breaks for electricity used at mine sites.
Meanwhile, B.C.’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall is working with industry groups — including the AME — on the BC Mining Jobs Task Force.
Conversely, the NDP has taken a relatively combative stance on the oil industry in its approach to the Kinder Morgan (TSX: KML; NYSE: KMI) Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion.
It has also committed to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which adds uncertainty to a permitting process that has been regularly criticized for inefficiency and redundancy.
“We had been operating under a stable government that had been in place for quite some time,” commented AME president and Edie Thome during an interview following the Roundup conference. “Now we have new ministers transitioning into leadership from the opposition. It looks like commodities might be firming up in 2018, so we’re very interested to see how the new government plans to integrate all of these mandates it’s outlined.”
Director of mineral development for the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Gordon Clarke, revealed during the conference that mining in the province generated $9.8 billion in economic value in 2017.
The biggest earner for B.C. was metallurgical coal, which accounted for 61% of that total. The province is also Canada’s largest producer of copper, which generated $2.25 billion.
“We need to look at addressing some of the regulatory issues and making B.C. a top destination for investment capital,” Thome continued. “There are a number of initiatives that show up in multiple ministry mandate letters under the umbrella of the [UN Declaration]. There’s industry concern about stacking these things and effectively getting more bureaucratic versus getting any value out of it. We’ve made the deputy ministers aware of that.”
The need for regulatory certainty is especially pressing for AME’s members, which includes more than 6,000 people employed in the mineral exploration industry. AME reported $247 million in exploration spending in B.C. last year. The figure is higher than the $205 million spent in 2016, but well below the nearly $700 million spent in 2011–2012.
“When you look at the hard factors, like having a mining code and anti-corruption, B.C. is clearly near the top,” Thome said. “But when we start talking about the timing on regulatory permitting, social license, and indigenous inclusion it becomes much harder. So we need to tackle these issues and ease any concerns financial investors might have in that regard.”
The national regulatory landscape hasn’t provided much more clarity due to a pending review of Canadian environmental assessment processes from the Liberal-led federal government. Kim Rudd, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Natural Resources Canada, was also in attendance at Roundup, but provided little details on potential changes outside of a retread of the “one project, one assessment” slogan previously leveraged by the Harper government in 2012.
Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna introduced a bill in early February to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, and amend the Navigation Protection Act.
“There are a number of overlapping issues between the federal and provincial governments, and we’ll certainly be engaging in that process,” Thome said. “We’ve said very clearly that we need federal and provincial mandates to dovetail together and they can’t be in conflict, or it just creates even more bureaucracy.”