Mining industry has displayed stability amid pandemic, says association V-P

·4 min read

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada's mining industry has been a steady ship on the seas of uncertainty, despite their own struggles.

In the latest edition of “The State of Mining” series hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce, Brendan Marshall, vice-president of northern and economic affairs for the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) spoke to chamber members over Zoom to provide an overall picture of where the one of the nation's most important industries is at.

Marshall has been working with MAC since 2012, and has experience working on Parliament Hill.

“MAC is the national voice of Canada's mining industry. We're situated in Ottawa, and our mandate from our membership is to engage prominently federal decision makers on virtually all policy and regulatory considerations that come to bear on the ability of the mining industry to operate in Canada,” he said. “We take a very constructive approach in our engagement with federal decision makers.”

Marshall explained that MAC respects that governments are elected with a democratic mandate with broad public policy considerations.

“We view our role at MAC as working with those decision makers to implement those agendas, but in a way that is reflective of the concerns and considerations of the mining industry. Often times, we view ourselves as partners in the legislative and regulatory process, as opposed to another approach that other organizations may take.”

Throughout his presentation, Marshall provided relevant facts and figures relating to the last year or so in Canada's mining industry, highlighting some of the extreme market volatility in the early months of the pandemic.

“In a year that has been unprecedented for most of us, it's really important to contextualize information, not just in our own lives, but for the industry itself, especially for those that work in and around the industry. To get that context of how it was affected, how companies were affected, and how those companies reacted, what they've done, and ultimately where they and the industry are at now.”

He pointed to the downward trend in demand for resources such as zinc, copper, nickel and iron ore. Demand for diamonds and petroleum products also dropped considerably last spring. Gold, which is used as a financial hedge in uncertain times, unsurprisingly went way up.

Although the mining industry was heavily impacted by the pandemic, there were thankfully enough highs to balance out the lows.

“The extent of the impact was not universal. Some regions were affected more so than others, and some products were affected more so than others,” said Marshall.

He added that throughout the pandemic, the mining industry prioritized public health and safety above all else, not only of their employees, but also of the communities in which they operate, which is something to be proud of.

Additionally, he was proud of his membership's generosity.

“I haven't seen evidence of this in other industrial sectors, but MAC members donated over $40 million in Canada to support community COVID-19 relief efforts.”

That included everything from personal protective equipment, food bank donations and supply chain assistance, to health-care provisions made available to remote communities across Canada.

“I'm quite proud to say the industry stood up to fill growing and tenuous gaps at a moment of tremendous uncertainty, and it's one of the reasons that I am very proud to work in this industry in Canada, when you see things like this. This is not par-for-the-course. This is unique.”

Of course, like all workplaces, mines have had to adjust, plan and adopt new ways of working safely throughout a public-health crisis.

Marshall said he had recently reached out to a number of MAC members to inquire about how the new and augmented safety protocols that have been implemented have effected the ability to operate.

“Most of the responses I've gotten back suggest that companies have fully adapted, and that their production schedules have resumed to what would be comparable to a normal outlook in a non-pandemic situation, and that's commendable that these health and safety augmentations have been managed in such a seamless way.”

The good news is that Canada's mining sector has been on a steady rebound over the past six months or so, and has generally managed to keep workers safe. Marshall is hoping that the government has taken notice.

“The industry has ascended from, and is managing COVID very, very well within Canada.”

Andrew Autio is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for The Daily Press. LJI is a federally funded program.

Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press