Sudbury’s Totten Mine
Sudbury’s Totten Mine (pictured) produces nickel and copper. Ontario is a leading supplier, producer and manufacturer of nickel, copper, zinc and platinum group elements. (Photo credit: Vale Canada)

As high-growth sectors and the push towards a green economy drive demand for critical minerals, Ontario is uniquely positioned to become a global supplier of choice

Perhaps at no other time in history have people relied so heavily on technology for daily living. COVID-19 has intensified our dependence on electronic devices, effectively tethering us to our smartphones and laptops. Many ordinary tasks, such as shopping, work meetings and connecting with loved ones, are now done virtually.

The result is that more people appreciate what leading governments and industrial sectors have realized: that our economy and financial security rely on critical minerals.

The Chalcopyrite
The chalcopyrite, a copper mineral, is from the McCreedy West Mine in Sudbury.
(Photo credit: Greg Paju, Ontario Geological Survey)

Critical minerals are resources with highly specialized industrial, technological and strategic applications that have few viable substitutes. Among the sectors that rely on these minerals are information and communications technology, electronics, energy, aerospace and defence, health and life sciences and transportation.

As more countries transition to green economies and governments accelerate the adoption of new technologies and renewable energy, the demand for reliable, sustainable and ethical sources of critical minerals will grow.

By 2040, more than half of all passenger vehicles sold will be electric, finds the Electric Vehicle Outlook, 2020 report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Meanwhile, the World Bank predicts a 500 per cent increase in graphite, lithium and cobalt production to support the transition to renewable energy.

Many countries have recognized the importance of critical minerals for economic recovery and future growth. The European Union, Japan and the United States are accelerating efforts to stockpile domestic supplies of critical minerals. This accumulation is contributing to a growing list of critical minerals and strategies. It is also increasing the risk of a global shortage.

For Ontario, current market conditions mean opportunity. The province’s rich mineral endowment, along with its established trade relationships with the United States, European Union, South Korea and Japan, uniquely positions it to compete on a global stage. It is well poised to become a supplier, producer and manufacturer of choice of certain critical minerals, with nickel, copper, zinc and platinum group elements topping the list.

Ontario is already a mining powerhouse. In 2019, its mining sector produced more than $10 billion worth of minerals, accounting for almost 25 per cent of Canada’s total mineral production. The mining sector is also an economic catalyst, directly and indirectly employing more than 70,000 people. The mining industry also has one of the highest proportions of Indigenous workers of all industries in the province at 11 per cent.

Two male miners inside a mine
Ontario’s mining sector employs more than 70,000 people.
(Photo credit: Cabinet Office)

Ontario has a long history of producing minerals considered critical by other jurisdictions. But its potential for exploring and developing sustainable, ethically sourced minerals is immense.

In recent years, the mining industry has called for a provincial approach to critical minerals to advance mining opportunities and attract more foreign investment. The need to improve regulatory processes is often cited as the most pressing priority.

Ontario understands the importance of making it easier for companies to mine. To that end, the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines is taking steps to reduce red tape and create opportunities and jobs in mining and other industries.

As many as 83 per cent of Canadians encourage domestic production of critical minerals, finds a survey commissioned by the Mining Association of Canada. According to the survey, 88 per cent of Ontarians want Canada to increase its role in mining and produce critical minerals for world markets.

For its part, Ontario has an ambitious vision for its mining sector and continues to make strategic investments in critical minerals. Last December, The provincial and federal governments each contributed $5 million to the First Cobalt Corporation, North America’s first and only producer of ethically sourced, low-carbon cobalt sulphate. Cobalt is necessary for the production of long-range electric vehicles. The mineral is deemed critical by the United States and the European Union, both of which are looking to Canada’s mining industry to diversify their respective supplies. These investments will accelerate the domestic production of battery-grade cobalt sulphate while creating high-paying jobs and opportunities in communities across Northern Ontario.

Clean technology is another area in which Ontario has made focused investments. Recently, the province matched the federal government’s $295-million contribution to retool Ford Canada’s Oakville Assembly Complex. The investment was an important step in securing future investments across the battery electric vehicle supply chain.

As Ontario becomes a bigger player in the electric vehicle value chain and other key supply chains (such as stainless steel and high tech), the province is well on the road to becoming a global hub for critical minerals.

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