For the past four decades, Mississauga, Ontario-based MSTA CANADA has provided marketing insight, promotion, education, advocacy, and networking opportunities for member companies involved in the mining industry.
“Our mandate is to connect you to opportunities to grow your business. We become an extension of your sales and marketing. We get you in front of people and provide you with [business] intelligence. We provide education to help hone your skills and make you better at what you do, and, of course, we’re always advocating on your behalf with our government and other governments and the industry as a whole,” states Managing Director Ryan McEachern.
MSTA CANADA’s 250 corporate members “represent the whole life cycle of the exploration and mining eco-system, right from exploration to development and design, to building [mining sites] and operating them, to refining and of course reclamation and closure, if that is required,” he continues.
Most member companies “are focused on what we call hard-rock mining. That’s your metals and diamonds, but there is crossover. Members do participate in coal mining and even work within the oil sands because the extractive process is similar to mining. Quite a few members cater to multiple sectors. They join because they want us to help them focus on the mining industry here and around the world.”
“Leveraging the Canada brand,” is a big part of what the association does, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, says McEachern. “Rather than go to a trade show by yourself, you are now connected and part of a delegation… instead of being isolated and hidden within the sea of other suppliers competing for business.”
MSTA CANADA traces its roots to a poolside strategy meeting conducted by members of a mining trade mission at a Peruvian hotel. This brainstorming session led to the founding of a group called Ontario Mining Equipment and Services for Export (OMESE) in 1981. The organization quickly expanded its geographical reach, becoming the Canadian Association of Mining Equipment and Services for Export (CAMESE) in 1989.
Among other activities, CAMESE hosted Canadian pavilions at mining industry shows that drew member companies together. This arrangement dramatically boosted the visibility of individual firms and allowed prospective clients to network with multiple companies in one location. In 2017, CAMESE changed its name to MSTA CANADA.
Since the early 1980s, mining has become increasingly technologically advanced—a fact reflected by changes to MSTA CANADA’s membership. “There are more technology-focused organizations coming into the fold. You see a lot of digital solutions coming in—drones and sensors, for example. [Our members’] needs are changing,” states McEachern.
Member companies can be listed in a MSTA CANADA publication called the Annual Compendium of Canadian Mining Suppliers. In years past, the association distributed paper copies of the compendium to mining companies and interested parties at trade shows. While not abandoning print, the association is increasingly offering promotional material of this kind in a digital format.
In the face of COVID, MSTA CANADA took on a new role, conveying pandemic-related information to its members to ensure the health of employees at member companies while maintaining the economic viability of the sector.
“When it first hit, there was a lot of uncertainty and questions. We were very active in trying to share as much information as possible. Our industry was quickly recognized as an essential service and rightly so. The industry has strong health and safety protocols, so it was easy to adopt new measures. As a whole, the industry fared quite well in terms of how it reacted, relative to other sectors, such as the service industry, which was hurt very hard,” McEachern says.
COVID shuttered trade shows and trade missions, prompting the association to beef up its online assets. The association has assorted social media profiles and has produced a stream of webinars and videocasts.
Webinars are focused on “providing opportunities for our members,” and raising awareness about innovation and industry trends, he says. MSTA CANADA hopes to “make sure [member companies are] going in the right direction and not moving towards obsolescence.”
McEachern hosts The Dig, a new MSTA CANADA videocast which can be viewed on the association’s YouTube channel. Launched after COVID began, the show features him chatting with industry guests about various mining topics.
While proud of the association’s virtual initiatives, McEachern is eagerly anticipating the return of in-person events. Trade show features such as business-to-business meetings, seminars, and presentations can be easily replicated online but the same cannot be said for all aspects of live events, he explains.
“Our experience was that what we called unstructured networking—talking to people on the trade show floor, evening events, bumping into each other—doesn’t work well in a virtual environment. Now as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and feel secure to start traveling again, people are really interested in wanting to do these things.”
COVID has not diminished MSTA CANADA’s advocacy role. The organization, in collaboration with other national mining and exploration associations, continues to convene with federal and provincial regulators to discuss issues and lobby for policies that will benefit the mining services and supply sector. Specific subjects of concern include taxes, export regulations, and innovation. In its advocacy work, the association stresses the importance of mining in the overall economy and the need for government support.
“How do you incentivize companies to adopt new technologies, services, and solutions? That’s been a bit of a push for us. There’s a real focus on innovation,” he says. “When we talk to the federal government, [we ask them] how are they helping our suppliers—the mining supply and service sector—as a whole? Is there support for innovation and [research and development]? How are we ensuring that we’re reducing the barriers to doing business and increasing the opportunities to build and grow business?”
MSTA CANADA meets with similar associations and mining representatives from other countries as well. McEachern says an excellent example is the association has “a great relationship” with Austmine, the self-described “leading not-for-profit industry association for the Australian mining, equipment, technology and services sector.”
“It’s about building bridges with other stakeholders. There are mining supplier associations developing in Africa that we’re looking to talk to. There are other organizations trying to support economic development between countries and companies. We’ll work with them in the context of the mining supply chain perspective. We’ll even talk to governments as well, within an international standpoint,” he adds.
In recent years, the rise of green energy has been an ongoing topic of discussion among the press, politicians, and public. Whether it is derived from solar, wind, water, or bio-fuel sources, green power is often presented as a cleaner, less harmful alternative to traditional power sources which, along with mining, are viewed as polluting and contributing to climate change.
McEachern bristles at such criticism and says mining is leading the charge in reducing climate change. “How do we address climate change? Mining is clearly a big part of that, because it starts with us… all the [green] solutions require raw materials to make it happen,” he notes.
To him, the climate debate needs to be reframed. If you ask an environmentalist whether they support traditional mining, chances are they will say no. Flip the question around, however, and suddenly traditional mining and green energy do not seem so mutually exclusive.
“If you ask people, do you think our country can contribute the metals and minerals to help us reduce carbon and get off fossil fuels and help climate change, they would say yes. So, it’s how the question is asked,” he says. “If we mine in a responsible manner and develop the minerals and metals critical to achieving a reduction, then who can argue with that?”
He points to low-emission lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles as an example of how mining helps green energy grow. Such batteries require lithium, nickel, and cobalt derived through mining. Responsible mining, meanwhile, entails minimizing waste, energy use and a company’s environmental footprint.
McEachern is excited by such developments and expresses optimism about the future of the industry. As MSTA CANADA marks a major anniversary, he offers an upbeat forecast and urges Ottawa to continue to recognize the economic importance of mining.
He would like to see the federal government increase its support for the industry over the next few years and see it as a key part of the value chain for addressing climate change; here, Canada can play a major role. “This is a nation-building opportunity. If we get this right, it will benefit all sectors and specifically, allow the mining supply and services sector to better achieve its goals to grow globally.”