AME president says uncertainty may drive industry out of British Columbia

In an exclusive Q&A with Resource Works, AME President and CEO Keerit Jutla calls for a more meaningful role for industry in crafting policies that affect mineral exploration projects in the province. 


The Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) has expressed concern over interim orders restricting mineral activities in the traditional territories of the Gitxaala and Ehattesaht nations during the modernization of the Mineral Tenure Act (MTA).

While supporting Indigenous rights and commitment to implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), AME also supports fair policies and greater industry involvement in the modernization process to ensure transparency, certainty, and efficiency.

They stress the importance of balancing Indigenous interests with industry needs for a competitive, stable environment conducive to mineral exploration and capital investment, calling for a modernized MTA that respects both Indigenous rights and promotes economic reconciliation.

In 2023, B.C.'s mining sector employed over 35,000 workers, contributed $7.3 billion to provincial GDP, and $1 billion in provincial government revenues. 

AME president Keerit Jutla spoke with Resource Works about the mineral exploration industry's concerns and his hopes for the industry's involvement in legislation that could have great consequences for the economy. 

Resource Works: People often discuss the importance of tax policies and regulations, but would you say stability is ultimately more important? 

Keerit JutlaAbsolutely. AME has always said that we seek key principles, values, and items for developing good policy and good legislation. A key item here is stability. 

Sometimes things in the marketplace can be unstable, and those things are outside of our control. But what is in our control is the stability and certainty of process by which stakeholders are meaningfully engaged in providing essential information conducive to the public interest considerations that is incumbent on the government of British Columbia, and that’s what is clearly uncertain right now.

We can't have a process in which stakeholders are engaged after the release of a poll or policy. We can't have situations where members of industry organizations are asked a week-and-a-half before a policy comes out under a nondisclosure agreement to then get briefed on what's going to come and then not be able to engage their own members, executives, or board until 24 or 48 hours before, that's not good for anybody. 

It continues to happen and it continues to put industry on the backfoot and then when we ask for clarity, it is spun really negatively by other entities and all we want to do is be part of the process. We represent our members, their livelihoods and their interests.

You mentioned that you would like to be at the table when it comes to crafting these new policies. Have you received any communication as to why you're not part of the working group?

No, we have not seen any correspondence as to why we're not part of the working group. We have expressed our understanding and appreciation that there are government-to-government processes. 

We totally understand that and respect those policies and legislative processes. We're just trying to understand where industry groups like ours fit into those processes. 

At a government-to-government table, the government that represents industry all these years, like AME and all British Columbians, has been the province of British Columbia. So the question then becomes; if the province of British Columbia is at a government-to-government table, do they have the information needed to ensure that they're representing all British Columbians’ interests, which includes industry and includes AME. 

For a discussion around mineral tenure and modernization which is directly associated with our membership, the question then becomes, do they have the information needed beforehand to have these types of conversations? And based on the engagement record, we don't know, and we can't say conclusively that answer is yes. 

This is really symptomatic of a really big issue, which is; are stakeholders being engaged in the meaningful way that they should be to ensure that there's value added input provided, and to ensure that we can develop and co-develop great solutions with all parties. 

We recently sent a letter out to the First Nations Leadership Council, expressing our desire to have more formal discussions and a relationship with them. We have expressed that to the government many times as well. 

We've continuously expressed the need for AME to have a much more meaningful role in these direct conversations. It may not necessarily be at the main table, but it shouldn't, by any means, be at the last table either.

What are the possible unintended consequences of not being at the table when they make these policies?

That's a really good question for the government, but the clear, unintended consequence that can occur by not being at the table is that it leads to policy that has uncertainty, and that does not have clarity for the individuals which it directly impacts. 

I think what we saw from the Land Act amendments and other policies that have come out is that when you push something through without the proper notice to stakeholders, and without the proper engagement beforehand, it leads to uncertainty.

That uncertainty shouldn't be then spun by any other stakeholder has anti-anything, the desire for clarity really matters.

We (AME) have over 5,000 members, it ranges from a company as big as Teck to a prospector, and they all have varied budgets. They all have varied capacities and if you don't design a process that has all of these different nuances in mind,  you're at risk of them implicitly killing off or choking out a major section of explorers using their best efforts and who are some of them are best-in-class, and who are already at the brink financially. We don't want to see that happen.

We have continuously been a champion for reconciliation, we endorse DRIPA, we've always told our members to engage early and engage often with Indigenous peoples, and build a relationship. Strong relationships are good for business. 

The unintended consequence now is that it's going to either put members out of business or potentially push them out of British Columbia, and that reason that might happen is not because they're anti-DRIPA or anti-reconciliation. It’s because right now, there is a lot of uncertainty in the regulatory regime.

Just to reiterate, it could impact our members' capital investment into the province, and impact the ability to effectively get mines going that are needed for BC and Canada's critical mineral strategy for economic reconciliation and for a low carbon future.

In your communications with First Nations, have they also expressed concerns about uncertainty in the economic climate?

In our correspondence and outreach to the First Nations Leadership Council, the key message and the key desire was just to build a better dialogue, and just to say "right now, we're not talking to each other and there's a game of phone tag occurring between us and the government".

What's happening is that uncertainty from government policy is now having the effect of creating friction between Indigenous peoples and industry, and that is a direct result of government policy uncertainty.

We can't provide meaningful input if we're not present in a much more proactive way. Now with respect to the economic climate of these items, we have a lot of Indigenous membership at AME. 

Just in mineral exploration, 21 percent of that went to Indigenous-owned or affiliated entities. The Nisga'a have a strong participation in AME, but not only on our board, but in the BC Regional Mining Alliance (BCRMA).

There absolutely are key elements here in AME in which include Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are striving to build in an economic reconciliation and stronger relationships.

We appreciated and supported the BC government's $24 million investment in critical minerals and the First Nations equity fund, but the key is that step one is just conveying clearly and continually to all parties that we (AME) are here.

We need to be a greater part of the conversation, and if we're not, we won't be able to provide you with the information or the ability to innovate and provide solutions that can avoid situations of instability and uncertainty.

We are all in this together. We want to work with the government in a more meaningful way, we want to work with Indigenous peoples, and the First Nations Leadership Council in a more meaningful way.

That is the desire, and that is the goal. I'm confident that if we all put our heads together, we can build great solutions. We can innovate, but that won't happen unless we have a more meaningful role.


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