The fruits of mining are all around us. Minerals and metals are the building blocks of the vehicles and public transit that get us places, of the products and goods that we rely on, of the buildings where we live and work, and of green technologies that help make the world a more sustainable place.
Just as we as individuals depend on mining to support our daily lives, Canada relies on the industry to keep the economy humming. In turn, the mining industry looks to government to ensure the right conditions are in place for the sector to thrive and continue delivering benefits to Canadians by way of jobs, business development and community investments.
Mining is one of Canada’s most important economic sectors and a major job creator. According to Natural Resources Canada, the industry contributed to Canada’s nominal gross domestic product to the tune of $63 billion in 2011 and employs some 330,000 people across the country in well-paid, highly-skilled jobs. What’s more, the Canadian mining industry also supports the second largest supplier sector in the world with 3,200 companies providing goods and services to the sector, extending mining’s economic reach even further.
Canada has a rich geology, is a leader in safety and sustainability, and has developed sought-after expertise over its long history of mining. But our leadership position cannot be taken for granted. The reality is Canada is only one of many attractive regions to mine or to list. Having worked in several major mining jurisdictions throughout my career, including Australia, Brazil, the United States and the United Kingdom, I can certainly attest to this fact.
We need to recognize that global mining investment is highly mobile and competition for it is fierce. Competition for mining investment is also only one part of the story. The Canadian mining industry is facing significant domestic and global pressures that impact our ability to compete.
Within Canada, for example, we are seeing critical human resource and infrastructure challenges. For a mining company looking at where to invest, these issues can prove to be powerful disincentives to mine in Canada. Today, miners are also facing a challenging global environment. Commodity prices are down from their recent record-setting highs, while cost pressures are ever-increasing.
Combating uncertainty with competitiveness
For Canada to continue attracting new mining investment, the sector must be as competitive as possible. What does a competitive industry look like? It means having access to key markets to capitalize on current and future demand, an efficient yet robust regulatory system to assess and permit new projects, critical infrastructure to build and operate mines, and a favourable taxation system to remain a low-cost, attractive place to invest.
A strong, sustainable mining industry also requires a strong, sustainable workforce. It is estimated that 140,000 new workers will be needed over the next decade to replace retirees and fill new positions. Mining has a lot to offer those looking for a rewarding career across a huge spectrum of jobs from mining and mineral-processing to finance to environmental management.
We need to shed tired misconceptions about working in the industry and create a more diverse workforce. An important way of doing so is to increase the participation of underrepresented groups, namely Aboriginal peoples and women. Fortunately, recent years have seen positive inroads in this area. The Mining Industry Human Resources Council’s 2012 Labour Force Survey found that female participation in mining grew by 60 percent from 1996 to 2012, and women now account for 16 percent of the workforce.
The mining industry is also, proportionally, the largest private sector employer of Aboriginal peoples in Canada and employment is poised to increase given mining’s proximity to hundreds of Aboriginal communities.
In terms of an industry outlook, I remain positive about the long-term growth prospects, which are being driven by the emerging markets as they industrialize for the foreseeable future.
We know that mining is cyclical in nature and will periodically experience dips in the commodity market, which is what we are experiencing now. In mining, we are accustomed to some uncertainty. One thing, however, is for certain. We need to make the most out of this period and, with the help of government, get the industry in shape to capitalize on future opportunities for the benefit of all Canadians.