Exploration and mining can and should be at the forefront of B.C.'s post-COVID economic recovery plan

As a society, we should want these operations in BC where we have some of the highest environmental, social and governance standards of anywhere in the world. Kendra Johnson explains.

Mineral exploration in B.C. employed some 12,000 people in 2020 and raised a near-record $358 million for exploration and development work.

Much of that money went "in the ground," providing jobs and economic benefits all over B.C. However, with a few changes, mineral exploration and mining could have a larger positive impact on B.C.’s economy.

In short: Mineral exploration and mining can and should be at the forefront of the post-COVID-19 B.C. economic recovery plan. There is already increased demand for "critical minerals" and "green metals," and that demand will continue to grow.

What we need now is a big push forward on advanced-stage projects that are in the permitting process.

These are projects that check all the boxes. They have management teams with proven track records — who know how to build mines. They have strong support from and partnerships with local First Nations, and they have found ways to responsibly address the environmental impacts.

As a society, we should want these operations in B.C. where we have some of the highest environmental, social and governance standards of anywhere in the world.

At our Remote Roundup conference, Premier Horgan referred to the Artemis Blackwater gold project and the Barkerville gold project, both in central B.C., and Ascot Resources'  Premier gold project in the northwest (Golden Triangle) of B.C. And we could add the expansion of Newcrest’s Red Chris copper, gold and silver mine, also in the Golden Triangle.

We need these projects permitted. The investment needs to get into the ground. The result? Millions of dollars and jobs injected into B.C., dollars injected into B.C. companies, dollars injected into First Nations communities, dollars injected into rural and remote communities.

Of these dollars, 97 percent will be spent within the province, employing people not just in exploration and prospecting but in labs, legal, accounting and engineering firms, and in various local service and supply companies, in all regions. That spending will benefit the economies of 215 local communities throughout B.C.

But the permitting process in B.C. is too slow. It needs to be modernized to enhance our competitive advantage compared to other jurisdictions across the country and around the world. It is vital that our mineral exploration sector, in B.C. and across the country, remains globally competitive and strong.

The B.C. Task Force for Real Jobs, Real Recovery made some recommendations that included reviewing tax incentives such as the federal Mining Exploration Tax Credit, with a focus on helping to develop Canada’s North and benefiting Northern Indigenous communities.

The federal tax credit system at 15 percent and the provincial tax credit at 20 percent support "grassroots" mineral exploration expenditures used to explore and find mineral resources. An increase of five to 10 percent to each would help.

So would increased funding for geoscience research and the B.C. Geological Survey. It is significantly underfunded compared to the other provincial geological surveys across the country.

Finding metals and minerals, especially those critical to our green future, is essential for B.C. They include copper (B.C. is a key supplier), lithium (used in batteries) and rare-earth minerals such as niobium and tantalum.

Everyone talks of a future of electric vehicles. But it takes four times more copper to produce an electric vehicle compared with a gasoline or diesel vehicle. Copper also has antimicrobial properties that limit the life span of the COVID-19 virus to three hours.

Copper is one of B.C.’s most important critical minerals. We need to see investment made into mineral exploration and mining to be able to unlock our sustainable projects. These projects are important for B.C.’s economic future and the sustainability of local communities.

All these issues were on the agenda as the Association for Mineral Exploration held its annual Roundup conference as a virtual event last week (Jan. 18-22.) The theme for Roundup was "Leading through Change," and while B.C. is already a centre of excellence for mineral exploration, with a little more change, we will secure our strength and competitiveness in the world’s mining markets.

Kendra Johnston is president and chief executive officer of the Association for Mineral Exploration and is a professional geologist. Her op-ed was originally published in The Province.

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