By Ellsworth Dickson
AME (Association for Mineral Exploration) is the leading association for the mineral exploration and development sector in British Columbia. The organization represents BCâ€™s mineral exploration sector and promotes environmentally responsible mineral development with clear policies, events and tools to support its thousands of members.
AME is well-known for its popular annual Roundup in Vancouver where thousands of geoscientists as well as exploration and mining equipment manufacturers gather to update their skills and display their latest offerings.
Resource World magazine recently conducted an interview with Edie Thome, President and CEO of AME.
RESOURCE WORLD: How important is the mining sector to the British Columbia economy?
EDIE THOME: The mining industry is incredibly important for British Columbia and Canada. We are a resource-based economy and I think that the benefit of the mineral exploration and mining industry specifically is the regional spending that happens as we go through these exploration projects.
In 2017, we saw the first increase in exploration spending since 2012. That was an increase of 20% over 2016. That was $246 million spent across the province for supplies and services. So itâ€™s incredibly important for local economies and jobs.
This year, our survey results will be announced for 2018, likely at PDAC but weâ€™ll an early view at Roundup and we expect those numbers to go up. One of the mechanisms that BC explorers like are the tax incentives; the federal government announced recently a five-year security for flow-through credits. The BC government every year traditionally renews both the flow-through and the exploration tax credit. That usually gets announced at budget time. Weâ€™ve put forward some recommendations to the government and we hope that those will come to fruition in announcements in the near future. We think that with those incentives and the security of year over year confidence that those tax incentives will help stabilize exploration spending.
RW: How many people are directly and indirectly employed in BCâ€™s exploration and mining sector?
ET: BCâ€™s mining sector directly employs over 30,000 workers and thousands more through indirectly-related employment. In 2017, the sector contributed an estimated $9.9 billion to the BC economy while generating economic spin-offs in local communities throughout BC, including expenditures by suppliers and mine employees.
The mining sector is consistently a top exporter, bringing into the province â€˜first dollarâ€™ resources that drive a myriad of different activities â€“ from service sectors to innovation funding to local benefits.
RW: The Venture Exchange bottomed out on December 24 at 528 and is now on a modest rebound. Are you aware of how the stock market difficulties have affected BC junior explorers?Â ET: Well, certainly commodity prices and the market are affecting investment into the mining industry in general. The AME has formed together with the province of British Columbia as well as the Tahltan and Nisgaâ€™a governments last April to create a pilot program called the BC Regional Mining Alliance. Weâ€™ve got four member companies that are also working together in the alliance with us to go out and talk to the investment communities specifically about perceptions that they might have about investing in British Columbia. This is not to promote any individual company but just talking specifically about the confidence that finance communities should have in investing in British Columbia.
RW: Regarding the natural gas pipeline in northern BC, there appears to be uncertainty as to who speaks for Indigenous groups. Is it the hereditary chiefs or the elected chiefs and could this impact the mineral sector?
ET:Â Having respect for the various government systems of First Nations and Indigenous groups is critically important. We need to listen and respect those processes. As we work through who has the ability to provide consent or consensus it can be a challenge but itâ€™s a conversation we need to have together on a group by group basis. We need to be respectful of that space and the time required.
It is a conversation that weâ€™re prepared to have and want to engage in and be respectful about understanding that there are a variety of Indigenous government structures.
RW: When I talk to people who are not in the mining industry, they love their IPhone, big screen TV, computers, cars and so on but many seem rather unaware of the importance of minerals in their lives. Do you think that the public in general could be better informed with regards to the importance of BC minerals and resource development?
ET: Yes, absolutely. This is a direction thatâ€™s been given by our board and our Communications and Marketing Committee as we created our annual plan this year. We recognize that we need to be really focused and have deep conversations with the public at large on the value of mineral exploration and mining in British Columbia and in Canada.
The responsible structures that we have here should make us proud of the industry, so weâ€™re creating a program here called the Public Outreach and Education Program thatâ€™s in development right now. It will be a multi-year program of education and awareness.
There has been a number of groups talking about the value of informing the public but we still donâ€™t seem to be getting the connection of the impact on peopleâ€™s lives. I think whatâ€™s really important in that messaging is that everything that we do and use and the decisions we make have a consequence. Itâ€™s important to be informed and understand what we are prepared to trade off to have things that we want and need in our lives that are derived from minerals.
I think youâ€™ll start to see that implemented in the summer this year.
RW: Considering the many places around the world to explore for minerals, would you consider British Columbia an attractive region to explore?
ET: Absolutely!Â I think that Canada and British Columbia specifically, has great geology and geography that is prospective for minerals. We also have a centre of excellence here in BC where weâ€™ve got exceptionally talented people as well a great regulatory system and mining code. In ranking for exploration attractiveness, BC always ranks high.
RW: Some of my colleagues say that all the â€œlow hanging fruitâ€ has been picked with regards to mineral discoveries.Â What is AME currently doing to foster mineral exploration in British Columbia?
ET: I would argue as to the â€œlow hanging fruitâ€ having all been discovered already. Thereâ€™s a vast land base that both the BC Geological Survey and Geoscience BC and our members are working on. At Roundup come see the Core Shack and see what people have discovered and talk to the prospectors and geologists.
Thereâ€™s still a lot of work to be done in BC. Some of the things that AME is doing specifically to encourage exploration in British Columbia include being actively involved in the Mining Job Task Force which submitted its report to Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Michelle Mungall. With that group, which is a collaborative group of vast perspectives from NGOs to educators to labour to First Nations representatives to industry really coming together to say: â€œHow do we work together to address some of the opportunities that we have in the industry?â€ Iâ€™m hoping that report will be public shortly and I think youâ€™ll see some really great actions that could be done to help promote and further exploration in British Columbia.
We talked earlier about the tax incentives. AME has been working on that for over a year trying to expand and increase those tax incentives and make them more predictable year over year and the ability to use them into the future.
In addition, this year, weâ€™ve also done quite a bit of work with our regional exploration groups to try to leverage one another on the communication outreach side of things as well and just getting out into those local communities with the help of those regional groups which I think thatâ€™s been beneficial as well.
We also spend part of our time with the minsters responsible for some of the regulatory changes like the Environmental Assessment Act Revitalization and weâ€™re looking forward to some changes there. I think that when we get to implementing the act, it will be beneficial to the industry in reducing the time frame it takes to get through assessment.