Canada’s new focus on critical minerals is also good for the precious metals business, according to the country’s largest gold miner.
Alden Greenhouse, vice-president of strategic development with Agnico Eagle Mines, said national and provincial critical mineral strategies will help streamline the process for opening new mines.
“Whatever the metal you’re mining, an increased appreciation of the timeline and the work that goes into permitting any mine benefits the whole industry,” he said.
Some junior mining companies say they are left out from Ontario’s critical minerals strategy
Canada is sitting on a critical minerals mother lode. But is it ready for the new gold rush?
In 2022 Agnico Eagle merged with Kirkland Lake Gold. It now operates five mines in northern Ontario and Quebec.
The Detour Lake Mine, 300 kilometres northeast of Timmins, Ont. is Canada’s largest gold mine.
Greenhouse said it generally takes seven to 10 years to get a new mine into production, from the time a deposit is discovered to going through the permitting process and completing environmental impact studies.
“No one is suggesting that we short circuit the process or try to reduce its efficiency,” he said.
“But the challenge we face, you look at some of the demand curves that people are forecasting for this energy transition, we need to significantly increase the amount of minerals in general that we mine, and we can’t match that with some of these timelines.”
A politician stands at microphone and speaks, with others gathered behind him.
Ontario Minister of Mines George Pirie says the Building More Mines Act will speed up the process for mine development, especially for critical minerals. (Submitted by George Pirie )
In March, the Ontario government introduced the Building More Mines Act, which would amend the Mining Act, to make it easier for mining companies to recover minerals from mine tailings and would also make changes to mine closure planning.
“It shouldn’t take 15 years to open a mine. This process is too time consuming and costly, leading to project delays and lost opportunities for Ontario’s mineral exploration and mining sector,” Minister of Mines George Pirie said in a press release when the bill was introduced.
“We need to get building. That’s why our government is introducing changes to the Mining Act to help attract more investment and secure the critical minerals that support the made-in-Ontario supply chain for new technologies like batteries and electric vehicles.”
But some First Nations say the province didn’t consult with them when it drafted the bill. They are also concerned the amendments to the Mining Act will pave the way for weaker consultation standards going forward.
For companies like Agnico Eagle, more mines focused on critical minerals would also mean more competition for labour.
“A lot of young people are looking to get into some of these trades that we need and some of the mining skill sets,” Greenhouse said.
“So there’s a shortage of new workers coming into the market and then we’re facing increased competition from some of these critical minerals mines.”
A sign reads ‘Agnico Eagle: Macassa’ while another reads ‘Where your safety is worth more than gold’ with mining buildings in the background
Agnico Eagle says the Ontario government’s plan to speed up development of new critical mineral mines will also benefit companies mining for gold and other precious metals. (Erik White/CBC)
As governments look at ways to speed up mining development for critical minerals like nickel and lithium – which are key components of electric vehicle batteries – the price of gold has reached record highs.
As of Monday morning, gold was priced at more than $2,700 per ounce.
But Greenhouse said the jump in gold prices won’t have an immediate impact on Agnico Eagle’s business.
“We try not to react too much to any temporal shift in the price of gold,” he said.
“You can wake up tomorrow and find the price down $100 and when you’re producing 3 million ounces a year, $100 higher gold goes straight to your margin. But also, $100 lower gold also goes straight out of your margin.”
He said higher gold prices could mean the company will be able to spend more on exploration to find new deposits. If prices continue to rise, deposits that weren’t viable financially could become more worthwhile to mine.