If you were asked to identify five major sectors that will create sustainable jobs and wealth in Canada in the next 150 years, would mining and related industries be on the list?
If I offered you a major chunk of $950 million dollars over five years and you built a consortium that was willing to match the amount dollar for dollar, would you be interested in helping to create a Canadian mining cluster that will commercialize innovative products and processes that will improve safety and increase sustainability in this sector?
Canada’s federal government is calling on industry leaders from select sectors to propose “superclusters” of technological innovation that promise to create jobs and spur economic growth.
In May, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said, “We are in a global innovation race. This is about creating a high value economy.”
Where do mining companies, supply chain companies, mining research institutions and Northern Ontario fit into this plan?
The initiative seeks to create superclusters in specific industries: advanced manufacturing, agrifood, clean resources, clean technology, digital technology, health and biosciences and infrastructure and transportation. What is missing is any direct reference to or identification of mining and related industries although clean resources and clean technology are potentially relevant to mining. Up to five superclusters will be created. Each supercluster will be a non-profit consortium created by large and small companies along with post-secondary educational institutions or non-profit organizations.
Applications will be accepted from both Canadian companies and international companies with Canadian operations.
Ontario, and especially Northern Ontario, has developed the fundamental infrastructure required to qualify as the nexus of a national mining supercluster. Increasing the geographical scope and critical partnerships would be an easy transition for the next five years. Location of a central office in Sudbury (a highly sophisticated mining community) with satellite offices in other jurisdictions across the county could be initiated quickly.
There has been a formal application by the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) and the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) for a supercluster initiative called CLEER (Clean, Low-energy, Effective, Engaged and Remediation). This consortium has the support of four existing clusters representing eight resource companies, 12 post-secondary institutions, 42 SMEs and 25 other support organizations.
There is ample evidence that Northern Ontario and Ontario have the necessary critical mass.
Some pertinent recent facts are provided by the Mining Association of Canada, the Ontario Mining Association and SAMSSA (Doyletech Study 2011).
The mining industry directly employs more than 373,000 workers across the country in mineral extraction, smelting, fabrication and manufacturing and indirectly employs an additional 190,000.
Mining is the largest private sector employer of Aboriginal people of Canada, accounting for about 7.5 per cent of the total mining population.
Canada has one of the largest mining supply sectors globally with more than 3,700 companies supplying engineering, geotechnical, environmental, financial and mining services to mining operations.
Northern Ontario boasts a supply and service sector with over 500 companies – more than half of the mining supply and service companies in all of Ontario –and a consortium of mining research institutions together employing over 25,000 skilled trades people directly in globally innovative companies. More than 320 innovative companies are located in Sudbury alone employing over 14,000 people.
Mining contributed $56 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2015.
Ontario’ s leading-edge mining supply and service sector employs more than 40,000 people and has an estimated direct economic impact of $6.6 billion.
Northern Ontario mining supply and service companies pay out over $1 billion in salary and benefits annually.
We see SAMSSA companies transitioning to provide innovative technologies for underground mining globally. The solutions are innovative and leading edge, and will increase productivity and produce cleaner environments. There are numerous examples – from battery-powered mobile equipment and underground fibre-optic systems to advanced sensor technology and data mining.
My greatest concerns at the moment are whether the funding decision makers appreciate the potential for a mining supercluster and whether Northern Ontario will play a key role in it. It would be a major disappointment for me to see Toronto selected as a base of operations if a mining supercluster gets the nod.