The May Twenty Four: Insights into Canada’s major mining provinces

Mining is a major cornerstone of Canada’s economy contributing C$125 billion to national GDP and responsible for 22% of the country’s total domestic exports.

Canada’s resources sector directly and indirectly employs 665,000. It is also proportionally the largest private sector employer of indigenous peoples in the country and a crucial customer of indigenous-owned businesses.

Minerals and metals are produced in every province and territory but four account for more than 75% of the total value of production – Ontario, Québec, British Columbia, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador.

Starting today (20 May 2024 Australia time) – coinciding with the Victoria Day federal holiday – Mining.com.au is publishing the inaugural feature series The May Twenty Four which explores each of the four major mining regions.

Like Australia, Canada is a mining nation. As the second largest country in the world in terms of area, it’s also well-endowed with metals and critical minerals essential for the global energy transition.

The Fraser Institute on 17 May 2024 released the 2023 survey of mining and exploration companies and the top jurisdictions in the world for investment based on the Investment Attractiveness Index.

The Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies was sent to about 2,045 explorations, development, and other mining-related companies around the world. The survey was conducted from August 2023 to January 2024 and lists the most attractive regions for mining and exploration.

Canada has the most jurisdictions with five in this year’s top 10. The remaining five are in the US with three and Australia, which has two.

The top jurisdiction based on the Investment Attractiveness Index is Utah, which moved up from 17th place in 2022. Nevada, which topped the ranking in 2023, ranked second. Saskatchewan continues to be on the podium, ranking third again this year. 

Rounding out the top 10 are Western Australia, Québec, Manitoba, Arizona, Northern Territory, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario. 

The companies that participated in the survey reported exploration spending of US$4.2 billion in 2022 and US$4.1 billion in 2023.

Canada’s government says the country is primed to capitalise on the rising global demand for critical minerals and materials that will power the clean energy transition.

As a key global producer of copper, nickel, and cobalt Canada also hosts advanced mineral projects for rare earth elements, lithium, graphite, and vanadium.

The government plans to leverage its strong environmental, social, and good governance credentials, and mining prowess to create competitive supply chains for critical minerals and value-added products, processes, and technologies.

The North American country is more than just critical minerals – although its government is seeking to reign supreme on that front. In fact, it is the world’s largest potash producer, accounting for 38% of total supply in 2022 when worldwide production reached 64.6 million tonnes.

So it’s no surprise that 46% of global potash comes from the country.

Based in the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan, Nutrien (TSX:NTR) is the largest potash company. It’s grown from the 2018 merger between Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan and Agrium to become an agricultural behemoth valued at US$36 billion.

Indeed the country prides itself on its critical minerals credentials although this has some ways to go when compared to the immense pride Canada takes with its hockey heritage. Yet as hockey represents its resilience, determination, and work ethic, having become a symbol of the country’s spirit so too is the resources sector in a quest to hold the crown as global critical minerals leader.

The World Bank forecasts there will be a 500% increase in demand for minerals crucial for clean technology and vital to transitioning towards decarbonisation. Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) foresees electric vehicles and battery storage to drive half of the mineral demand growth from clean energy technologies by 2040.

The average EV battery contains about 185kg of minerals – including lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, graphite, copper, iron, and aluminium – all produced in Canada which still has extensive untapped reserves.

Since 2020, automotive and battery manufacturers have invested more than C$31 billion to transition to EV production and establish a battery supply chain in-country. Three EV factories have chosen Canada as their preferred location due to the close proximity, access to these minerals, and a reliable clean energy grid.

According to Natural Resources Canada, to meet the demand from four battery factories about 15 new mines are required, creating 40,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs in the upstream and midstream markets.

Canada also remains a significant global producer of platinum group metals – it ranks third in palladium production and fourth in platinum production. Most PGM mines are concentrated in Ontario, Québec, and Manitoba.

Best case Ontario

Tomorrow (21 May 2024) one of those regions, Ontario, will be the first featured in The May Twenty Four five-part series.

According to the Ontario Mining Association, there are currently 37 active mining operations in the province. These mines cover a diverse set of metals and minerals and about 10 produce critical minerals, including cobalt, copper, indium, nickel, platinum group elements, selenium, tellurium, and zinc.

In 2021 alone, Ontario’s mining sector produced C$11.1 billion worth of minerals, which accounted for 20% of Canada’s total production value.

Exploration expenditure in Ontario was on track to remain stable in 2023, with the latest British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey showing slight increase from $1.087 billion in 2022 to $1.101 billion in 2023.

Clean Air Metals (TSX-V:AIR) CEO Jim Gallagher tells Mining.com.au that Northern Ontario in particular remains one of the best regions in the world to explore for and develop platinum group element assets due its rich endowment and being a mining friendly jurisdiction.

Gallagher says Canada has long been an avid supporter of the resources sector and continues to be a low sovereign risk destination for mining and investment in general.

“Canada and its provinces have developed a comprehensive critical minerals supply chain program. This includes what is called ‘super flow-through shares’ which is a significant tax incentive for high-net-worth individuals to invest in junior exploration companies,” Clean Air’s CEO tells this news service from Ontario.

Newly introduced in this month’s federal budget are also additional funds available to help aboriginal communities directly invest in and become owners in resource development projects.”

Clean Air Metals is advancing the Thunder Bay North Critical Minerals Project, which has a suite of platinum, palladium, copper, and nickel. The project hosts an indicated mineral resource of 13.8 million tonnes containing 1.2 million ounces of 2PGE (Pt+Pd). It also contains 56,800 tonnes of copper and 33,800 tonnes of nickel.

With upwards of 30 critical mineral projects in Ontario at advanced stages, the exploration intensity in the region is on par with Québec and is significantly higher than that of the US and Australia.

Major mining province? Québec!

The Québec Mining Association (QMA) is optimistic about the future of mineral development following the Minister of Natural Resources and Forests Maïté Blanchette Vézina releasing her action Plan for 2023-2025.

This update to the Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals (CSM) reaffirms the government’s goal of developing the sector. Industry stakeholders say it will allow the region to play a leading role on the world stage as a critical minerals producer.

On 22 May in part three, this news service details why Québec is one of The May Twenty Four given its subsoil is a rich source of the critical and strategic minerals required for the global energy transition.

Data shows Québec was on track to increase its exploration expenditure by 11% from $914 million in 2022 to $1.014 billion in 2023.

According to QMA, with manganese, aluminium, apatite, germanium, high-grade silica, and high-grade iron being also in demand, the province enjoys an advantage for producing low-carbon steel using high-grade iron ore from the Labrador Trough.

This unique ore contributes to the production of green steel, a critical material essential for the production of the equipment needed for the energy transition such as wind generators, hydroelectric dams, solar panels, EVs, and geothermal facilities.

Q2 Metals (TSX.V:QTWO) is one emerging player in the region. In February, the company entered into the exclusive right and option to acquire 100% interest in three groups of mineral claims, collectively known as the Cisco Property, located in the southern portion of Eeyou Istchee James Bay. 

President and CEO Alicia Milne says adding the Cisco Property with a new discovery and district-scale exploration potential to its current portfolio is a “game-changer” for Q2 Metals. 

“With the notable spodumene intercepts from the work done to date, we believe the property has considerable potential,” she says.

Another Canadian junior explorer, Power Nickel (TSX-V:PNPN), on 26 April acquired an additional 30% of the Nisk Project in Québec, from Critical Elements Lithium (CVE:CRE) giving it an 80% interest. 

Speaking to Mining.com.au, CEO Terry Lynch believes Power Nickel has identified a large area hosting different styles of multi-element mineralisation, each being a smaller part of a much larger system.

Lynch says Power Nickel has exposure to one of the best mining addresses in the world.

Earlier this year, Québec Mining Association President and CEO Josée Méthot spruiked the region as a rich source of CSMs with some deposits discovered being world-class.

“This is a key advantage for the province. The positive benefits of CSMs development add to the benefits that Québec already derives from the traditional sector by creating even more value from our mineral resources

“This is a key advantage for the province. The positive benefits of CSMs development add to the benefits that Québec already derives from the traditional sector by creating even more value from our mineral resources.”

Québec’s resources sector creates more than 48,000 jobs and mining activities generate upwards of $12 billion in value to the economy.

Mining employs thousands more across the country, not least of which within the other two major regions British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Part four of The May Twenty Four on May 23 digs into the backstory of how mining is one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest and oldest industries and a major contributor to its economy, particularly in rural areas.

More than 15 mineral commodities have been produced or mined in Newfoundland and Labrador. Five metal mines currently produce iron ore, nickel, copper, cobalt, and gold.

Last but not least in the series on May 24 is a look at the province of British Columbia, which coincides with Queen Victoria’s birthday.

On the back of global economic uncertainty last year, and the price of gold recording historic gains throughout the year, 2023 left a lacklustre mark on base metals, of which British Columbia is well-endowed. Copper prices rounded out the year at about the same level as it opened, although lead and zinc fell by about 10%.

Amid this global backdrop, the British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey found the province experienced its first year-on-year decline in exploration budgets in nearly a decade.

So, what mining and investment opportunities are available in British Columbia?

The final instalment of The May Twenty Four explores what the key trends have been and the state of the industry going forward.

Mining investment capital

While not one of the main four, Saskatchewan is one of Canada’s top-rated jurisdictions for mining investment. This is based on a combination of geological characteristics and industry-friendly government policies, according to the Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies May 2023.

The province covers more than 651,000km². It is the world’s largest potash producer, a leader in uranium production and is home to the largest ‘high-grade’ uranium deposits globally. EY data shows Saskatchewan was expected to see a 33% surge in exploration expenditure over 2023, targeting uranium.

The Government of Saskatchewan released its critical minerals strategy in March 2023 which notes the significant untapped potential for various minerals, such as lithium, copper, zinc, cobalt, nickel, and REEs.

By 2030, the province’s government’s goal is to double the number of critical minerals produced in the region, in line with the country’s quest to be a leader in the critical minerals space. 

However, at the core of the country’s resources sector are the large urban areas, such as Toronto and Vancouver, which are recognised as global hubs for mining and mineral exploration, financing and legal services.

The waterfront metropolis Toronto is one of the mining finance capitals of the world. Founded in 1861, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) is the country’s senior marketplace and 11th largest bourse globally. The Montreal Stock Exchange is the second largest in Canada.

The TSX is owned by the TMX Group, which also owns and operates the TSX-V, a venture capital marketplace for emerging companies. It’s also an attractive destination for retail – also known as mum and dad – investors.

Canadian law firm Gowling WLG says almost 47% of the world’s public mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and TSX Venture Exchange.

As of January 2024, the TSX had 1,811 listed issuers (including ETFs and other structured financial products) with a combined market capitalisation of C$4.16 trillion. The much smaller TSX-V had 1,665 official listings totalling C$69.9 billion in market value.

Mining accounts for 56% of all companies listed on the TSX Venture Exchange

Mining accounts for 56% of all companies listed on the TSX Venture Exchange (TSX-V). Unsurprisingly, the top financings on the exchange as of January 2024 were predominantly resources companies raising capital via private placement or public offering.

These were Canada Nickel Company (C$35 million), enCore Energy ($32 million), G2 Goldfields ($22 million), O3 Mining ($19 million), FPX Nickel ($14 million), GoviEx Uranium ($14 million), Forum Energy Metals ($10 million), Founders Metals ($6.7 million), and Arbor Metals ($6.7 million).

As this news service previously reported, over the past few years in particular there has been ongoing positive market sentiment with Australian investments in the North American country.

ASX-listed mining companies and Aussie investors are increasingly finding comfort having exposure to the wider North American market.

On the back of this, retail investors have been keen to get a piece of the action. Saxo Australia’s CEO Adam Smith recently told this news service in December 2023 that like Australia, the Canadian equity markets are dominated by the mining, financials, and energy sectors.

Some ASX-listed juniors which have recently entered the Canadian market include Cazaly Resources (ASX:CAZ), Cohiba Minerals (ASX:CHK), Forrestania Resources (ASX:FRS), NickelX (ASX:NKL), and Terra Uranium (ASX:T92).

True North Copper (ASX:TNC) took the opportunity at this year’s PDAC Convention in Toronto to showcase its flagship Cloncurry Copper Project in Queensland. The company highlighted how True North could emerge as one of Australia’s newest copper and critical minerals producers.  

On the flipside, Australian Strategic Materials (ASX:ASM) on 26 April received a letter of interest from Export Development Canada (EDC) regarding potential debt funding of up to $400 million for the construction and execution phase of its rare earths and critical minerals Dubbo Project.

Part two of The May Twenty Four is released tomorrow covering Ontario, with Québec on May 22, Newfoundland and Labrador covered on May 23, and British Columbia to be released on Queen Victoria’s birthday on May 24.

Write to Adam Orlando at Mining.com.au

Images: iStock, Clean Air Metals, Power Nickel, Q2 Metals
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Written By Adam Orlando
Mining.com.au Editor-in-Chief Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Orlando has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.