“Supporter Spotlight” features Canadians with a passion for Canada’s Natural Resource sector. Our spotlight this month is Chris Hodgson, President of the Ontario Mining Association. Chris talks to us about the importance of mining for our communities, economy and environment.
Canada Action: Chris, thank you so much for taking the time today. Ontario is among the top 10 producers in the world for metals like nickel and platinum. The province is also the largest gold producer in Canada, second largest of copper and produces many other minerals like zinc, cobalt, silver, salt, gypsum, lime, and structural materials like sand, gravel and stone. Clearly, the economic benefit and community development that mining brings are huge. How important is the mining industry to not only Ontario’s economy but also to Canada’s economy as a whole?
Chris: It’s extremely important. We employ hundreds of thousands of people directly and indirectly. We support communities but we also support the provincial tax coffers and employment. From people who work at the head offices in Toronto all through the law firms and the brokerages that raise money, but most importantly, we contribute to the well-being of Ontarians and people around the world.
If you take a look at healthcare technology, that’s all made by minerals and we provide a lot of those in a carbon-free, or very little carbon environment, right here in Ontario. So these minerals are absolutely necessary if we’re going to have a modern world and Ontario produces them in abundance and we employ a lot of people with well-paying jobs.
We also have the largest Indigenous workforce of any private sector in Canada; about 11.2 per cent of our workforce are Aboriginal, and we have a very diverse background of workers. It makes for very strong communities.
Canada Action: Yes. I read that the mining industry creates 26,000 direct jobs and approximately another 46,000 indirect jobs in mineral processing and mining supply and services in Ontario. That number increases to 719,000 in Canada - Canada being the largest mining nation in the world - so definitely huge benefits for a lot of communities that really wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for mining.
Chris: Yes. We represent about a quarter to a third depending on what commodity you’re looking at.
Canada Action: There’s a saying that says that “If it’s not grown, it must be mined”. Mineral resources are the building blocks of everything from our kitchen sink to our laptops and phones, nanotechnology, wind turbines, hybrid cars, rechargeable batteries and beyond. Mining is especially important for renewables. Tell me about how mining is crucial for a greener future?
Chris: Well, this is the issue and this is why a lot of knowledgeable people, even environmentalists, are recognizing the need for a carbon-free supply chain of essential minerals. Minerals are essential in our daily lives not only for our hospital equipment but also for the digital economy. If you take a look at what’s happening in the world, there’s a lot of stress. China currently produces most of the critical minerals and they use that as a trade advantage against Japan and other countries. The United States recognized that and they formed a memorandum of understanding with their federal government to try to get local supply chains to these critical minerals to build not only all of the equipment you just mentioned, but everything in the digitized economy as well. So that’s the one thing that’s happened.
You’ve also had trade, economics and security intersecting. You know you can’t build an F-15 without these critical minerals. But on top of that, the world’s had a revolution and it’s led by Elon Musk. His point is that you have global electric vehicles and have car batteries that drive without the carbon emissions. You need to have the supply chain to make those batteries in a carbon-free environment. And Ontario is well-positioned for that.
We’re almost there now; we have our “target zero” which is zero harm for our workers, and we’re pretty close to that - and then we have zero carbon emissions, zero waste and increased productivity. On the carbon we’re very close, we have a grid that’s carbon-free. A lot of our mines are going electric and we think we can meet that goal.
Canada Action: You were the Minister of Natural Resources in 1995. During your tenure you launched the Lands for Life initiative, which saw the largest increase in parks and protected space in the history of the province. People often think that extracting minerals and the environment don’t go together. What are some of the misconceptions people have about mining?
Chris: Well, they sometimes miss the fact that mining is temporary land use and that modern mining probably employs more environmentalists than it does miners. So, we rather make sure that before we even start a mine that we have a closure plan that’s approved by both the science and the communities. It’s a temporary use that provides necessary materials, but it has to be done in an environmentally sustainable manner and I think our mining companies are great examples to the world on how it should be done and that’s why I’m proud to be a part of this industry! I think our members are great stewards of natural resources and natural environment. It’s a temporary mandate so it has to be done properly.
Canada Action: What needs to be done in order for these misconceptions to change?
Chris: Well, I think we’re doing it the proper way. First I think you need a transparent process. When you have the beginning of a mine you have to open a consultation. People from the local communities and everybody really, benefits and can see the science behind it. It just takes time. With the internet and with modern means of communication it’s probably easier now than it used to be in the past.
Canada Action: People have an image in their head of what mining is and how minerals are extracted and I think that we’ve progressed so much - we don’t mine like we did 50 years ago. Let’s talk a little about the This is mining initiative, which showcases the Sudbury re-greening project which began 43 years ago. It’s the perfect example of how we can learn from the past and turn things around.
Chris: Yes! So we decided that we would celebrate the 100 years of the association and we’ve had an outreach program with different themes highlighting the importance and the celebration of mining. You mentioned mining’s changed, but so has the world! In the past you only would’ve gotten your information from a few sources and if they were biased against mining, that would be the general impression that the public was left with.
Today there are so many different venues of information with the internet that I’m finding that I’m surprised at how many young people are discovering the benefits of mining and how appreciative they are of the materials that we produce and how we produce them. We run teacher tours every year on top of our This is Mining campaign and I’m always surprised at the letters that I receive from teachers saying that the students had an opportunity to learn about modern mining and they were impressed! People can discover the benefits and how mining takes place on their own now, whereas in the past you couldn’t.
Canada Action: Today mining in Canada is known around the world for its safety and environmental leadership as well as protection and energy efficiency. What does the future of mining look like?
Chris: Well we want to make it so it’s zero harm. We’ve had a 96% improvement in lost time injuries. We need to get it so it’s absolutely 100% safe when people come to work. We’re one of the safest sectors in the Ontario economy now but we want to be the best. Secondly, we want to supply the modern world with a supply chain that’s carbon-free. And third, we’d like to do it without pollution. With the engineers, the science and the dollars that we’re putting behind this we think it’s possible but we also have to be competitive. We want to increase productivity because the world is growing and the digital economy is growing and we need to make sure we are a large part of that.
Canada Action: Yes. And are there any new technologies we can look forward to?
Chris: I don’t think people realize how fast it’s happening with electrification of vehicles. And it’s not just around the fuel, it’s around the drivetrains. It just makes sense. A lot of our fleets are going electric and I think you’re going to see that happen with the public. For example, if you take a look in the 1900s at the turn of the century, that was a huge problem in New York City. They didn’t know what they were going to do with all the horse waste. Ten years later, you couldn’t see a horse in the city, it was all automobiles.
I think that you’re going to see that these transformations will happen rather quickly as soon as you get a tipping point. You’re seeing it in our industry but you’re also seeing it with the public. Everybody talks about the disruptions of these new technologies but they’re probably just seeing the convergence of a lot of technologies. If the storage of energy takes off at the same rate than it’s in progression now, that’s a game-changer. Renewables then become absolutely the cheapest form of energy and our mines make all the materials required for the solar panels, all the renewable turbines and connections of copper wires etc.
Canada Action: Yes - and a lot of people don’t know that.
Chris: But the good news is that through organizations like yours and the internet people can find out on their own. They have the opportunity now to find different sources of information which is very refreshing. You can get the information straight from the source.
Canada Action: What are the main challenges mining faces in the next 5 to 10 years?
Chris: I think we have to get the technology right to keep pushing and to have a carbon-free and pollution-free temporary use of the landscape, and make sure that’s absolutely one of the core fundamentals of our industry. I think that demand is going to be there because the world is changing and these disruptive industries are accelerating and they need more of our materials. So I don’t think the challenge is going to be on the demand side. I think it’s going to be on the supply side.
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?
Chris: Well, I think that we have a great opportunity to help the world by providing the materials that are essential for a healthy, clean economy. And if we don’t take advantage of this, we’re really denying the world of a great opportunity to become a better place to live.
Canada Action: Chris, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today.
Chris: Thank you!
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