When it comes to the importance and value of mining in Ontario, prospects for the future are brighter than ever. It’s a good time for the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), established in 1920, to celebrate its centenary of service.
“As we reflect back on 100 years of mining in Ontario, it’s clear that the industry has never stood still,” says OMA President Chris Hodgson.
The OMA was created to represent the province’s mining industry, and today is one of the Canada’s longest-serving trade organizations. Boasting an impressive history of communicating with governments and communities to build agreement on vital mining and social issues, the association celebrates with great optimism.
“It was always about the future. The minerals we pulled from the ground made new technologies and innovation possible. In turn, adaptability to innovation allowed mining to flourish and drive the Ontario economy forward. Open minds have meant open mines,” he says.
OMA has been continuously working to educate Ontario residents about its long-time leadership of responsible mining and its current role in making modern life, innovation, and a green economy possible.
Driven by data
To achieve this, the OMA’s Communications and Outreach Committee took a data-driven approach in developing a communications strategy focused on the “millennial plus” demographic – one that was inclusive of future employees, voters, policy makers, investors and consumers.
“The themes we selected directly correspond to knowledge gaps and topics that this demographic is curious about – as is evident in the data,” says Hodgson. “To ensure we are successful in reaching our audience, the campaign has been focused on sharing authentic stories in direct, emotional, and highly visual ways.”
This is not a typical anniversary campaign, he says, as the OMA has not been preoccupied with celebrating historical achievements. Instead, it continues to encourage people to think outside the box, facilitating engagement, dialogue and mutual discovery.
“Our aim is to surprise and motivate people to form opinions about our industry based on curiosity and engagement,” says Hodgson. “We see it as a way to inspire the next 100 years.”
Building the workforce
OMA launched the #ThisIsMining campaign to shine a light on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the industry, realizing that people are the greatest asset and core of their ongoing success. As mining companies in Ontario value different perspectives, skill sets, leadership styles and approaches, there is growing momentum to elevate diversity and inclusion from merely being a topic of discussion to being part of the actual business plan.
“It makes sense given how the mining process itself is changing and the way that innovation and digital technologies are influencing the way we work,” says Hodgson.
“The industry needs a fresh and diverse pool of talent, and we can offer careers that open up opportunities for personal growth and exciting lifestyles,” he says. “This is something that we talked about during the campaign in terms of adventure – sharing the personal stories of men and women working in the industry, including Indigenous Canadians and new Canadians.”
Guided by science
In respect to science, technology, engineering and math, the industry continues to push the boundaries of what it can accomplish with technology, while learning from science. Disruptive technologies are changing the way everyone lives, communicates, and does business. This in turn changes the way OMA members mine. In addition to undergoing a technological and sustainability transformation, the industry is helping to reshape the future in fundamental ways.
“We produce the essential and irreplaceable components of daily life that fuel modern technology and its advancements,” says Hodgson. “This important role was re-confirmed during the COVID-19 pandemic when Canada, and many countries around the world deemed mining an essential business, critical to maintaining global supply chains.”
Although mining has been described as the “backbone of Ontario’s economy,” many may not be aware of the vital role mining plays in our daily lives. Though the number fluctuates with various commodity price changes, mining in Ontario produces revenues of around $10 billion per year. When taking into account indirect and induced benefits, the value of mineral production grows considerably.
Ultimately, Ontario’s mineral production, including indirect and induced impacts, provides for more than $12 billion in Canadian GDP and creates 78,800 jobs.
“The impact of mining goes beyond mineral extraction and processing,” says Hodgson. “Mining is linked to many other industries and sectors in the economy, including transportation, construction, equipment manufacturing, environmental management, geological services, education and research, among others.”
Everything from life-saving medical devices to planet-saving green technologies depends on metals produced in Ontario, Hodgson explains. The mining sector has exceptional potential to further contribute to the economic and social development of the province, given that the world needs responsibly sourced resources.
“Demand will only grow as we transition to an increasingly urban, high-tech, low carbon and green future,” he says.
This is Mining – today
As part of OMA’s campaign, This Is Mining: The Podcast was produced in partnership with Amber Mac, an entrepreneur, bestselling author, blogger, keynote speaker, and podcast/TV/radio host.
The podcast’s first season was devoted to exploring stories of human transformation connected to Ontario’s mining industry. Guests included Glenn Nolan, an accomplished mining executive and former Chief of the Missanabie Cree First Nation located in Northeastern Ontario. Nolan spoke about economic hope and the path to reconciliation.
Alicia Woods, the founder of a company making workwear designed for women, and Nicole Lynds, a transgender woman working as a miner, addressed the topic of entrepreneurial hope and the logic of diversity.
The second season explored STEM-related themes and how mining is the technology of today that is tackling the most pressing challenges facing this generation.
Guests included Dr. Joshua Marshall, engineering professor in field/mobile robotics and other future things at Queen’s University. Don Duval, startup guy, angel investor, engineering prof, MaRS Fellow, TED talker, and CEO of NORCAT, discussed how the technology transformation in mining is helping it win the battle for talent and opening the wallets of VC investors.
Kati McCartney, environmentalist and founding president of FROSKR, a firm using technology to build confidence in taking climate action, described how the mining industry will contribute net positive environmental impacts, contributing to this generation’s greatest challenge – climate change.
The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s minister of natural resources, also talked about leveraging resources, mining and innovation ecosystems, and global leadership to position Canada as the supplier of choice of critical minerals for global markets.
A bonus episode explored the issue of climate and environmental action through the story of Sudbury’s re-greening. Guests were Dr. John Gunn, biologist and director of the Vale Living with Lakes Centre at Laurentian University, and Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk, environmental microbiologist and former NOHFC industrial research chair in biomining, bioremediation, and science communication at Laurentian University.
Sophia Mathur, climate activist and Fridays for the Future (Sudbury) organizer, also took the podium. Sophia is regarded as the “Canadian Greta Thunburg,” and was the first young person outside of Europe to organize climate strikes, with activism that has reached global scale.
Making ‘green’ a reality
The issues of climate change and “going green” are huge – and controversial – issues around the world, and mining is sometimes negatively viewed in relation to these concerns. To combat this, Ontario mining is at the forefront of providing the world with the sustainably sourced minerals and metals needed to make “going green” a reality, and to solve the most pressing environmental problems.
“Ontario mines its rich mineral resources responsibly, ethically and safely,” says Hodgson. “We have a world-class safety record, clean processes and low carbon emissions when compared to other industries and jurisdictions. Miners in Ontario continually strive to set, meet and exceed the highest standards of excellence, balancing their economic, environmental and social responsibilities.”
OMA’s vision is to make Ontario mining the cleanest, most productive, technologically advanced and socially responsible in the world, Hodgson adds. To that end, in 2017 OMA members launched the Target Zero+ campaign – an innovation strategy that balances short- and long-term goals, harnesses inputs from a variety of stakeholders and aims to deliver a step change in the way we mine.
“When it comes to driving enhanced productivity, we’re not just focused on individual mines, but working to encourage the opening of new, next-generation mines in the province,” says Hodgson.
Environmental comeback story
Sudbury in particular is a city that has benefited from changes in the mining industry, offering a story of hope that, through collective action, we can make change happen. The City of Sudbury has a history of environmental devastation wrought by mining companies of a different age, but 50 years ago, the people, governments and mining companies in Sudbury recognized that it wasn’t beyond repair.
Nearly 12 million trees have since been planted, more than 3,400 hectares of land have been revitalized and residents swim and fish in the 330 lakes inside the city’s boundaries. Today, Sudbury has some of the cleanest air in all of Ontario.
“It’s considered by some to be the greatest ‘environmental comeback’ story of modern times, and community volunteers on the ground say their work holds lessons on how to break the current cycle of climate conflict often pitting industry against the environment,” says Hodgson.
As the Sudbury story shows, understanding mining’s potential to lead sustainable, economic and social progress in the 21st century requires the collaboration of mining companies, government, and society, a message shared through the #ThisIsMining campaign.
Health and safety
The ongoing pandemic has affected mining, of course, as it has all industries. As an industry providing critical materials, mining was deemed essential by the province throughout this crisis.
With regard to the mining industry’s reaction to COVID-19, its deeply ingrained health and safety culture proved to be a great asset. Companies were able to quickly adapt their robust health and safety protocols to help prevent transmission of the virus. OMA members were among the first to use rapid antigen tests as part of screening, and are now working with public health units to assist in the distribution of vaccines. Many of the member companies stepped up to help with pandemic relief efforts in their communities, donating urgently-needed personal protective equipment in the early stages of the pandemic, and supporting the most vulnerable through generous donations.
“We’re very proud of the swiftness and breadth of community support that they offered and continue to provide,” says Hodgson.
Ontario miners’ safety record is also something OMA is very proud of, with the wellbeing of its people always the number one priority, and members continuing to make strides in their safety performance. Over the past 30 years, the industry improved lost time injury frequency by 96 percent, making Ontario one of the safest mining jurisdictions in the world and making mining one of the safest industries in Ontario.
“We’ll get to our goal of zero harm by continuing to collaborate with governments and other partners,” says Hodgson. “So actually, it is not just the safety record we’re proud of, but also the collaborative approach we’ve taken to building a world-class safety culture. Collaboration and inclusion are the secrets of our success.”
Put on your sunglasses
The next 10 years are looking bright for the OMA.
“Ontario is blessed with commodities that are currently in demand, and the market has been doing well, but in order to keep our industry thriving, we have to be competitive in the global arena,” says Hodgson. “Ontario mining offers high wages and there are high costs associated with operating here. This makes it necessary for us to continually make gains on efficiency and productivity. We want everybody to benefit from mining, but in order for those benefits to flow, we need to have less red tape, and more predictability and long-term certainty in energy prices.”
Additionally, technological innovation, new research, better engineering and training, as well as advances in equipment, mechanization, digital analytics, artificial intelligence and robotics will also mean progress toward achieving zero harm objectives, greater environmental sustainability and production efficiency.
“OMA remains the hub for information sharing and promotion of best practices,” says Hodgson. “We need to keep the momentum going so that Ontario becomes the number-one mining jurisdiction for capital, not only invested in operating mines, but also in juniors, because a robust mining cycle relies on vibrant mineral exploration that leads to discoveries which can be turned into new mines.”