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Mining industry needs to do better job selling itself

Apr 20, 2021

By Kevin Vincent

The minister and industry leaders exchanged high level thoughts about the current state of mining in Ontario, and it’s clear that there’s a long way to go for mining to dispel some of the myths of the industry’s role in today’s society and economy.

If you invite senior mining executives into a room (virtual or otherwise) for a casual, organic conversation, you get a lot of frank dialogue. That’s what happened a short time ago when Kirkland Lake Gold President and CEO Tony Makuch, Evolution Mining President Jake Klein, and Newmont’s John Mullally, Country Manager and Senior Director of Sustainability and External Relations sat down with Ontario Mines Minister Greg Rickford.

Tony and Greg pic

Jake and Mullally pic

“When we talk about sustainability and sustainable gold mining, we see that we’re at the point where we’ve got to move to new ways to do our business,” said Makuch. “We have been leading over the last few years. In 2016-17, we made a commitment at Macassa, and we’re the lowest greenhouse gas producer in the world. 90% of our production fleet is electric battery powered.”

Kirkland Lake Gold purchased its first round of 40-tonne underground electric trucks a few years ago. “We’ve now purchased a number of 50-tonne battery electric trucks. All of our loading is done with battery electric equipment, and we’re going to continue to move forward there. But we’ve also started an initiative where we’re going to invest $75 million a year over the next five years, focusing on a number of key areas on ESG. And one is community support, focusing on areas of mental health addiction and really supporting our communities to be better and better support for our employees and their families.”

Makuch says they are investing and helping communities be stronger. “And senior citizen care, things like youth employment and training, we think that’s very important in terms of retaining and attracting people to want to stay in Northeastern Ontario and come work for us because we see a 30 to 40 year mine life in terms of what we’re trying to do.”

Evolution Mining’s Jake Klein agrees. “I have to say that in the last three to four years, the ESG issue is kind of going exponential and its momentum. It’s something that we are going to have to deal with as a sector. I think shareholders are demanding it, and I think correctly so. I’ve got young adult kids, 25 and 22-year-olds, they are demanding it. There is a momentum and gaining, and I think it’s good for us, it’s good for companies, it’s good for societies, and it’s good for the planet.”

Ontario’s Northern Development, Mines and Energy Minister Greg Rickford says mining is a global leader when it comes to its commitments to diversity, environmental protection, and sustainability. “There’s a discussion around the use of renewables and frankly, Ontario now has taken the lead, you’ve heard that again now, with small modular reactors. The federal government has come around lately to understand it. But Ontario believes we have one of the best integrated supply chains and expertise the world over.

We are the gold standard for safety.”
“In the nuclear space, our strategic business units in the nuclear aren’t just electricity generation, they also include decommissioning, refurbishment, and now SMRs and we have site locations confirmed and three companies making plans for “Made in Ontario SMR” to lead the world.”
Rickford says SMRs have potential applications in the mining sector. “We have to do this well, and we’ve got to get to it. Because some of our mining operations, are still thinking about the ones that are currently passing milestones to go live.”
Notwithstanding the incredibly under-reported, and under-valued impact that mining has in today’s society, there are stark reminders that there’s a gap between reality and how our school system, for example, treats mining.

2019 Mining Expo picture

“You do have a problem where, as we branch out into other countries, and it’s probably not as bad a problem in Australia, but it is in Canada, where there’s a negative connotation towards the mining industry,” said Tony Makuch, who shared a powerful anecdote involving his family.
“When I first moved down to Richmond Hill (part of Toronto) where my daughters started going to grade school. They came home one day, they were upset. They had a course on mining and what the teacher did was give them each a chocolate chip cookie and a spoon, and they had to cut the chocolate chips out with the spoon.”

Makuch says the cookies broke apart and the teacher said, “That’s what mining does to the earth, it breaks the earth, it’s bad. My daughters were crying and mad at me.”
“Part of it is, we have to demonstrate that this is a really attractive industry. It’s just a great industry where people get to do a lot of exciting things. You can be a biologist. You can be a physicist in this industry. We do a lot of interesting stuff. We’re down in the Macassa mine 2,000 meters below surface, you have mines that are 3,000, 4,000 meters below surface. You look at the things we do in the industry, it’s a lot of exciting stuff.”
Makuch continued, “and we have lawyers, and we have accountants, and then they say we have environmentalist. We have to sell ourselves more.”
The Kirkland Lake Gold President doesn’t mince words when it comes to hiring women. “First off, if we didn’t embrace inclusion and diversity, when you’re working in these remote areas, how are you going to attract people? Those are the people you want to come and work. It’s only good business. Chances are, if you’re hiring from the local indigenous community, or if you can have more females working for you in these communities, odds are they’re going to stay here and they’re going to work there for 30-40 years, it’s better for us, better for the industry, and better for building these communities over time.”

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