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‘Generational’ opportunity for B.C. hangs in balance: mining industry leader

Mining Association of British Columbia’s Michael Goehring calls for shorter permitting times
B.C. must have a “competitive fiscal and regulatory policy framework” to take full advantage of mining critical minerals used in the production of green technologies. (Illustration courtesy Mining Association of B.C.)

A “generational opportunity” to build wealth for all parts of B.C. and meet its climate change goals through the mining of critical minerals “hangs in the balance,” according to an industry leader.

The provincial government is currently developing a strategy to mine critical minerals such as copper and nickel among others needed for green technologies like batteries for zero-emission vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines.

The federal government considers 31 minerals to be critical with 16 and found or produced in British Columbia.

Michael Goehring, president and chief executive officer of the Mining Association of British Columbia, said that strategy is going to determine whether B.C. is able to be a “leading global supplier of responsibly produced critical minerals or not.”

He made that comment against that backdrop of a study, which the association had commissioned assessing the economic impact of 14 proposed critical mineral mines and two proposed extensions of existing mines. According to the study, each of the 16 mines would generate $24.8 billion during their respective average life span of just over 24.

According to the study, the mines would generate $9.6 billion in taxes for all levels of government and 80 per cent of the economic benefits would stay in British Columbia with all corners of B.C. including northern and rural regions set to benefit.

Geography has given what Goehring called a “comparative advantage” and critical minerals offer British Columbians a “generational opportunity.”

But if B.C. is to realize this opportunity, the province must have a “competitive fiscal and regulatory policy framework” to attract the investment that is necessary to grow and sustain the sector, Goehring said.

“Currently, B.C. and Canada has a reputation as a high-cost jurisdiction, where it’s difficult to get projects done,” he said. “Currently, B.C. lags behind other Canadian jurisdictions like Ontario and Quebec, where they have launched and funded strategies to attract investment in their critical mineral sectors.”

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The provincial government plans to release the strategy later this year after seeking feedback from various actors including BCMA and B.C. currently lacks the necessary fiscal and regulatory policies to take full advantage of critical mineral mining.

One key issue is the permitting time for new mines.

“Canada’s (Minister of Energy and Natural Resources) Jonathan Wilkinson himself has said on numerous occasions that we can’t take up to 16 years permit to new mines,” Goehring said. “The time it takes to permit new mines is a barrier to new investment in British Columbia and across Canada.”

The issue of critical minerals also has a geo-political dimension. Authoritarian regimes in Europe, Asia and Africa currently dominate supplies and several of Canada’s immediate and more distant allies such as the United States and individual member states of the European Union are looking to Canada among other places as alternative source countries.

Western governments have realized that they are vulnerable to regimes with questionable records on human rights and the environment, Goehring said. Canada generally and B.C. specifically can in turn position themselves as source of responsibly mined minerals, he added.

“In recent years, the Government of British Columbia has taken numerous steps to improve regulatory regime for mining in B.C. and British Columbians can be assured that mining takes place in a responsible way in our province,” he said.

When asked what Goehring would tell voices who consider mining a dirty industry unbefitting a post-modern economy, he said that the mining of critical minerals is “essential” for B.C.’s and the global energy transition.

“For the environment, critical minerals are foundational to clean-energy solutions like solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles,” he said. “Without critical minerals, you won’t have those technologies and you won’t have decarbonization. We will not hit our global climate targets without critical minerals.”

Critical minerals also offer a pathway for genuine partnerships with First Nations and advancing economic reconciliation, he added.

Josie Osborne, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, said in a statement that government is currently BCMA’s study. “We’re proud that B.C. is well positioned to provide the minerals we need to power the energy transition and agree that there are exciting opportunities to grow the critical minerals sector across B.C.,” Osborne said in pointing to the importance of critical minerals.

She added that government is determined to continue to support the competitiveness of the critical minerals sector, adding that she led a mining delegation to Europe’s largest mining investment conference in November to promote investment.

“It was positive to hear from many attendees that British Columbia is considered a strong, stable investment for critical minerals development,” she said. “We’re working right now with First Nations, industry and stakeholders on our B.C. critical minerals strategy – you’re going to continue to see action from us to grow the sector and enhance its competitiveness.”


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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