Mining is having a moment. While industry players and their legal advisors may have felt maligned in the past, they are now seen as leaders in a critical transition.
“I like to say to people, especially around our firm and my friends outside of the mining industry, that, for once, the industry is not entirely wearing a black hat because of the role it’s playing in the energy transition,” says Michael Pickersgill at Torys LLP. “Suddenly, being part of the mining sector is actually being part of the solution instead of just being someone who pollutes, and that creates a bit of a tailwind, psychologically, for a lot of the participants in the industry, which is great.”
Pickersgill is referring to the explosive interest in critical minerals, an essential element in the shift away from internal combustion engines. Companies throughout the battery-electric supply chain have begun making mining or mining-related deals – often with financial backing or government partnerships.
And it is not just in critical minerals where mining is seen as a global leader. In ESG – environmental, social, and governance – mandatory reporting and fundamental shifts in business practices spotlight industries like mining that have grappled with these issues for years.
A push for more diverse representation on boards and the ground drives conversations – and action. “It’s just not about female representation. It is about all representation,” says Sharon Singh at Bennett Jones LLP. “The mining industry has always led in terms of employment and economic development opportunities. It’s one of the biggest employers of Indigenous people. But it’s focused more on the partnerships piece.”
Forging positive ties has historically been a “significant component” of mining enterprises’ success, says Ramandeep Grewal at Stikeman Elliott LLP. “This is kind of like two aspects of the ESG framework coming together – not saying that that’s necessarily new, but it’s definitely more of a focus. Increased representation is one way companies are advancing their relationships and their understanding, and thus addressing their impact on Indigenous communities.”
But the positive light that mining is seeing is not without storm clouds. Canada’s past leadership in global mining is no guarantee of future success.
While Canada has the resources, skilled professionals, universities and colleges, and the will of policymakers, lawyers who advise the mining sector say slow, disjointed regulatory processes threaten to crumble the country’s “critical mass.” Canada needs investment in human capital and infrastructure, streamlined assessments, coordination between governments, and public education to meet the critical-minerals strategy’s objectives.
“It's very complicated to build a mine,” says Ian Mitchell at Gowling WLG (Canada) LLP. “And just to be clear, it should be. I don’t think anyone is saying it shouldn’t. We want to make sure the environment is protected. We want to make sure that the First Nations are consulted. We want to make sure that everyone has taken the social and environmental impacts into effect.”
With a clean grid, access to minerals, proximity to the EU and the US markets, the global transition from fossil fuels, and the opportunity to partner with First Nations on projects, Canada can be a world leader in critical-mineral production, say lawyers. Canada’s mining industry is ready for its moment to shine.