Intergovernmental plan aims to retain Canada’s leadership in mining
In August 2017, the federal, provincial and territorial mining ministers called for a Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan (CMMP). Expected to launch in 2019, the CMMP aims to enhance Canada’s competitiveness in the global mining industry and increase opportunities domestically and internationally.
In March 2018, the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Mineral Industry released Mining Ideas for the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan: A Discussion Paper. Throughout 2018, governments will consult with industry stakeholders, Indigenous partners, and the public. The paper notes that Canada’s position in the global mining industry is declining and government action is necessary to maintain its leadership role. Since the Whitehorse Mining Initiative was signed in 1994, Canada has enjoyed success as a global leader in mining both for its socially responsible and sustainable practices and for its ability to attract investment.
In recent years, Canada’s share in global exploration spending has decreased and the number of mining projects and investment in the mining sector has declined. The industry faces numerous challenges, including: a complex, uncertain and changing regulatory environment; uncertain land access; increasing costs to get products to market; a lack of infrastructure in mineral-rich areas; fragmented research and innovation; and increased investment by competitor countries.
Expected elements of the CMMP
In the paper’s own words, the CMMP’s “aim is to encourage synergies and support existing provincial and territorial priorities, while bringing together resources from across Canada to address systemic challenges and take advantage of opportunities.” To continue growing Canada’s mining industry, the CMMP must “reflect today’s reality,” including issues such as climate change, Indigenous participation, sustainable development, and social acceptance.
The Discussion Paper identifies six potential focus areas on which the various levels of government seek feedback:
- Unlocking Canada’s resource potential by fostering mineral exploration and encouraging the development of infrastructure to address challenges to remote communities;
- Fostering innovation, including the research, development and adoption of clean technologies and artificial intelligence;
- Providing regulatory certainty and transparency and improving harmonization between regulators at all levels;
- Realizing community benefits, including socio-economic
- Advancing the participation of Indigenous peoples, which will help build trust, provide opportunities, and advance reconciliation; and
- Capitalizing on Canadian leadership in a global market, including attracting investment in projects, infrastructure and innovation.
Getting the CMMP right
Strengthening the Canadian mining “brand” as a leader in best mining, technology, social and environmental practices is essential to attract capital investment that has many global options. Developing a coherent federal/provincial plan has great value since most of the current regulatory challenges stem from a conflicting government policy and regulation.
Among the biggest challenges are:
- CMMP champion. Co-ordinating the diverse interests of the participating governments requires a strong leader to champion the plan. Who will assume that role?
- Regulatory certainty. The environmental review of projects must have a clear and efficient process and timeline. The regulatory burden during operation until decommissioning must also be clear. The current trend towards increasing regulation and taxes will constrain investment and innovation.
- Reconciliation of Indigenous peoples’ interests. Government must lead reconciliation through broad policy including fiscal measures, and not shift the burden to project developers to reconcile interests project-by-project.
- Public perception. Government can help increase mining literacy by communicating the value of mining in our economy and everyday life.
- Infrastructure support. Mining relies on infrastructure to support the flow of goods and people.
- Innovation and research support. Government can support the move to best practice, technology innovation and research both in industry and in academic institutions.
Canada has a strong foundation to lead sustainable and responsible mining, but it must work hard to strengthen its brand. The CMMP is only one of many steps on the path. The steps to enact the plan will matter more.
DAVID BURSEY is partner and co-head of Aboriginal Law at Bennett Jones; SIMON FOXCROFT is partner; and SHARON G.K. SINGH and CHARLOTTE TEAL are associates.