Canada and B.C.'s mineral and economic potential and the global shift to decarbonization - an opportunity being missed?

May 7, 2021
Guest Authors
This edition of our Environment and Energy Bulletin is guest-authored by Michael McPhie, M.Sc., QEP. Michael is a specialist in the environmental, regulatory, social and financial aspects of the mining and minerals sector and has held senior executive and board positions with several Canadian mining companies and with the Government of Canada over his career. Michael is also the author of a soon to be released book on the “future of the mining and minerals industry in the age of global electrification, environmental sustainability and Indigenous Rights.”


B.C. and Canada have a rare generational opportunity in mining, minerals, and the upstream market with an expected global market value of $2.4 trillion in 2025.

Today, Canada has about 200 mines, producing over 60 different minerals creating a total of 719,000 jobs (as of 2019), split almost evenly between direct and indirect jobs. Indigenous people are employed in about 16,500 of those direct jobs. Many of these raw materials are essential for a transition to a lower greenhouse gas future.

Domestic mineral exports account for 19% of Canada's total merchandise exports, with much of that going through ports on the west coast in Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Needless to say, the mineral exploration and mining industry represents an important economic force in Canada and British Columbia.

The positive attributes that could launch us into a leadership position include: pioneering collaborative work with Indigenous Nations (e.g., UNDRIP legislation) and communities and being out front on measures and practices related to environmental, social and governance issues; exchange rate; certain tax policies; strong research and academic expertise in mining and minerals; an integrated service and supply sector that supports the industry both in Canada and around the world; a strong regulatory and legal system; a rich mineral endowment and a highly developed industry.

There are also sizeable challenges:

  • Canada and B.C. are small players in the overall global mining space. This does not need to be the case but seizing an opportunity, even a generational one, is, unfortunately, not always a Canadian attribute.
  • Lack of defined and substantive strategies for supporting and facilitating good projects to a production decision in a timely manner, or how to diversify our value-added economy to take advantage of these opportunities.
  • Despite innovation there is limited support for scale up and intellectual property rights protection. Innovation is coming from outside Canada.
  • We have all the raw materials, talent and experience and now need to find the will to be bold.

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