“Supporter Spotlight” features Canadians with a passion for Canada’s Natural Resource sector. Our spotlight this month is Jacob McKinnon, President and COO of Juno Corp an exploration mining company in Northern Ontario. Jacob talks to us about the importance of mining for our communities, economy and environment.
Canada Action: Jacob, thank you so much for taking the time today. You are President and COO of Juno Corp, a Northern Ontario mining company. How did you get into mining?
Jacob: That’s a great question! I've been working in the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario since 2003. Funny enough, all three of my roommates in University were taking geology and I thought what a complete waste of time and how that could never lead to anything in life (he laughs). I was in business in school and I moved out west. When I came back I was 20 years old and not really doing a heck of a lot so I actually started working in my dad’s office, who at the time was the president of MacDonald Mines. So I guess it all happened almost by accident and it evolved into what it is now.
Canada Action: Juno Corp is an exploration company located in Ontario’s Ring of Fire which is one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in over a century. Located in Ontario’s Far North, the Ring of Fire was discovered in 2008 and deposits represent the most significant chromite discovery made in North America, and possibly one of the largest chromite discoveries in the world. Current estimates suggest a multi-generational potential of chromite production, as well as significant production of nickel, copper and platinum. The chromium extracted from chromite is used in many things, but most people know it as the “stainless” in stainless steel. About 70% of the world’s chromium reserves are in South Africa and Zimbabwe. What does this discovery mean for Ontario and for Canada? If we mine it, what does that mean in terms of decreasing the dependency we have on chromium import from other countries?
Jacob: When I look at the company that has that asset, what has the best chance of being turned into an actual minable deposit is what they refer to as the Eagle's Nest. It is really hands-down probably one of the best if not the best nickel deposit in Canada. But there are several infrastructure challenges in that area that you're dealing with.
People don't have a true sense of how vast the north is and the amount of footprint this takes up. The engineering team has developed a deposit with much of the infrastructure actually being underground for the nickel component of it. For the chromium, it’s a bit of a different situation because the actual sheer volume of what you have to be moving for it to be able to get it to a smelter, requires probably a rail network road system as well. And you’re probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of three-quarters of a billion to a billion dollars to rebuild the infrastructure required to turn this into a feasible development. So the discussion of roads being built has been ongoing for the last probably 10 -12 years.
So it's an area that is very remote which has its own set of challenges but at the same time is an area that is underexplored and provides a lot of great opportunities.
Canada Action: It’s been said that the Ring of Fire could bring about a hundred years of mining activity that will spin off jobs and economic activity for generations. How important is this discovery for the local and national economy?
Jacob: It's huge! There are some figures that are out that show what it could represent to Canada's GDP. Some are calling it the next oil sands! I think that the problem right now is that it's a very expensive place to operate in; it’s in an area where raising funds is very difficult and continues to be very difficult. A lot of people are wanting to invest money into areas where the infrastructure required to build out isn't as expensive. We’re a private company that is privately funded. We know that it's an expensive place to operate but the risks relative to the rewards are worth it, the opportunities of what it could mean... A lot of what you see in the Press about First Nations communities and the amount of impact it can have on the communities as well as the statistics you provide on your website - those are great statistics - show that there aren’t a lot of other economic opportunities for these communities. These opportunities could probably lead to the employment of every and any able-bodied person that wanted to work in any of these neighbouring communities for generations.
Canada Action: When talks of mining began in the Ring of Fire, initial conversations with the local Indigenous communities were strenuous. But on Feb 24th a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Chief Cornelius Wabasse of the Webequie First Nation and Juno Corp. In regards to the Memorandum, Chief Wabasse said that it was an “economic milestone for our First Nation members. We are a community that believes in self-determination and pursuing collaborative alliances with the right government and business partners. First Nations communities will have a better quality of life, business and lifestyle opportunities with the agreement, which has been a long time in the making” and puts First Nations first”. There was recently a dispute in Fairy Creek, BC where activists do not want extraction on the land but many in the indigenous community do. What are some of the misconceptions people have about indigenous communities and mining - or extraction of natural resources in general?
Jacob: If you look at the evolution of what's been happening in the ring of fire you start to see that unfortunately it goes back to situations where mining companies have gone and promised the world and said they're going to do all these things and then the follow-up wasn't there. The area was red hot up until 2009-2010 and then it really fizzled off. There was recently a great press release from the Chiefs of the Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations basically saying that it's in the environmental assessment process and that they would really like for people to get behind what we’re doing here and that they appreciate everyone’s concerns with any environmental issues that might arise, but they are waiting for the assessment.
I think it’s one of the first times in Ontario if not Canada that it is solely a First Nation-led initiative. They’ve already been selecting the engineering companies, etc. and any build-up that happens will be happening through those communities. So I think a big part of it is education. Really it’s the education of what these projects can do and what they can bring relative to what people read about it. And there's a lot of really positive examples of that and other projects throughout the country that have really led to the development of really turning some of these communities around.
You know that there's a lot of social-economic problems in some of these communities. It’s not going to be a quick fix, but the opportunity for jobs and employment, and the hope it brings to some of the youths... Some of these communities have a 90% unemployment rate. It’s one of those things where it’s great to be able to say to some of the younger people that there's an opportunity for you to remain in the community and that you don't have to be leaving the community, you don't have to be going to these more urban centres looking for employment.
I always try to look at both sides of the story and I try to look at how that can have an impact for both the First Nations communities as well as the mining company. It's a team effort. And then we have to be looking at it from the standpoint of how can we achieve what we're trying to do while at the same time being good corporate citizens as well as good environmental stewards.
Canada Action: I mentioned previously that most of the earth’s Chromium deposits are located in southern Africa. We know that environmental standards and human rights aren’t as stringent in other parts of the world as they are in Canada. We are known around the world for our safety and environmental leadership as well as for energy efficiency. Modern mining techniques mean mines can move from development to closure with fewer environmental impacts. In which ways is mining in Canada better for the planet as a whole? What does the future of mining look like from an environmental standpoint?
Jacob: I think we’re seeing a movement towards critical minerals and being carbon-neutral. And we’re moving these projects ahead and financiers and people that are going to be looking to take these projects on are looking for how and what kind of corporate citizens we would be in this situation. How is this going to have an impact on the environment and on the local communities as well. Can you be carbon neutral? Can you be solar battery powered? I’m not well versed in this front but I do read about it and you have these new technologies that have automated machinery that runs off battery and solar power. We're just really making these places a much healthier, safer and cleaner place to be working at.
Canada Action: What are some of the challenges mining faces in the next 5-10 years?
Jacob: If you look at current consumption, the main challenge is going to be the supply shortages and being able to keep up with the demand. Nickel for example, there are a lot of deposits around the world. The supply is there but it's not being produced and extracted in an environmental or positive corporate stewardship way. So it's just about being able to keep up with the supply of where these new technologies are going and also being a good corporate citizen.
Canada Action: Why do you think all Canadians should care about Canadian natural resource development? Is there any kind of message that you want to tell Canadians reading this?
Jacob: Natural resources touch you on a daily basis. You can't go through your life, even if you live off the grid, without being impacted by natural resources. The impact that it has on almost every Canadian, on a daily basis, and the opportunities the resource sector presents to modernize technologies and build communities… Look at for example the Starling programs through Tesla. It’s bringing quality internet to a lot of areas where they didn’t have quality internet. So it's modernizing the community and society as a whole and trying to basically solve a lot of challenges that touch people on a daily basis.
Canada Action: Jacob it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today.
Jacob: Thank you!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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