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Apr 28, 2021

Opportunities   *  Partnerships  *  Prosperity

By Kevin Vincent
The best athletes in the world hone their skills almost every day. The best mining jurisdictions in the world need to stay on top of their game as well.
That’s why Thunder Bay, as the largest city in northwestern Ontario has developed a Mining Readiness Strategy (MRS) that gives the region a blueprint on how to enhance existing industry readiness and attract new opportunities.
The strategy is a template that other jurisdictions can use as well, according to John Mason, the Thunder Bay Economic Development Corporation’s Project Manager of Mining Services.   
“That’s one of things we want to do is share that this can be done anywhere in any jurisdiction. They can roll this up and do a terms-of-reference. Mine presidents, procurement managers, and HR managers can be connected to the key questions to dive deep and pull out information that’s going to give us a great product going forward.”
“I just talked to Manitoba about this, their committee on mineral exploration and development. There were thoughts of Northern Manitoba doing a similar thing. I said go for it. If you need any advice, let me know, I think anybody can do this. And I think it’s a great opportunity to be strategic and capitalize on the opportunity.”
In the last edition of Mining Life, there were a couple of references to Robert Friedland from Ivanhoe Mines, and a remarkable insight into the world of electric vehicles. Going forward, as the world continues to electrify, the demand for rare earth and critical elements is expanding.
“And some of the language he used were the comments by geologists having the pulse on a lot of these areas, because the critical metals industry and profession is going to often provide the solutions to global needs,” said Mason. “It’s for all the public. It’s not for this small group that are consumers of mining products, the entire globe is a consumer of mining products at this point, and it’s only going to grow. That dial has been totally reset.”

Mason says both the northwest and the northeastern regions in Ontario face significant challenges, but even greater opportunities.

Jobs Picture

One of the goals of the MRS is to provide senior mine management the tools and ammunition they need at their fingertips.  
“We want to make sure we connect with procurement managers, for example. On advanced exploration projects, we talked to the mine presidents or VP’s and boil that down because we want to handle supply and services on the exploration side and on the mining side. Thunder Bay’s got about 400 service and supply companies now. That’s one of my action items is redoing our mining directory.”
Mason says he has come to appreciate that the gold standard for mining directories is Mining Life Online’s website www.mininglifeonline.net.
“We’re not as deep as what you guys put out, but this is going to be a much lighter footprint on that. We want to grow those 400 companies.”
As more and more companies move into Ontario mining regions like Thunder Bay and Red Lake, they are discovering that they can source supplies and services locally – the expertise is there – it’s homegrown.
“One of the refreshing surprises was one of the local mines told us in a nutshell, about 70% of their buying is local - meaning in Thunder Bay and/or Northwestern Ontario. It kind of surprised me because they do have a blend of global buying, not a surprise. Barrick and Newmont have had it in place for probably 10 years plus. But I think we’ve learned lessons from that in terms of the response and quickness of service companies being able to engage and have the logistics happen almost at the snap of a finger and get the service and supply they need.”
The MRS study also identified some of the gaps on the supply chain of the northwest. “A good example would be mine contractors. We have Manroc, and we now have Barminco at Barrick. But we don’t have a Thunder Bay-based mine developer who do great engineering. Things like logistics or transportation and the movement of goods, we can still improve that, it’s very good now, but it could be a lot better. That was identified.”
Mason says there are multiple areas that present incredible opportunities. “Ground support materials, reinforcing steel for underground wiring bolts, etc. That’s one of the pieces. We do pretty well on the catering, mine support, and health and safety procurement under COVID, food provision and all that. But in that area of catering accommodation, that can also be beefed up.”
Another area of opportunity identified in the MRS is equipment parts. “It’s a tough world where people don’t have warehousing support, it’s a global thing. Time of delivery these days is often what people look at. It’s important and imperative that critical parts, whether it be pumps, generators, or other things that are required, that could fail immediately. And many times the mines would have one or two on hand, but they may need something driven up overnight.”

The Mining Readiness Strategy delves into hot-button topics as well, including energy. For decades, Ontario’s mining sector has struggled with both the availability and pricing of hydro-electricity.



Mason says it could be a quarter million to half a million-dollar part. “It’s got to go. And that has to be improved slightly, I would suggest, going forward.”
“The current load, not a surprise, like Northeastern Ontario and many spots, Timmins, Sudbury included, the largest industrial user is the mining industry.
190 megawatts would be the load on the six mines in the Northwest, and that’s not even counting PureGold until as they get into commercial production.”
The demand for power in the northwest is expected to grow by 180%. “It’s a huge concern in places like Red Lake and the Greenstone-Marathon planning area, just to get those electrons in.”
Mason says he has been asked by the mayor whether the new Wataynikaneyap Power project and the East-West Tie is going to solve all the problems. “I said no, it’s not approved yet, even though they have to go through a bunch of rules.”
“That’s going to be great at the end of the day to create the spine or backbone for moving electrons in the northwest, but it doesn’t get the electrons into the mining districts like Red Lake. So you need a brand new 230 kV line, I’ve told Minister (Greg) Rickford that and Hydro One repeatedly. The numbers speak, and they’re only becoming more astronomical.”
Mason points out that there’s only a few megawatts of surplus power now in Red Lake. With the region’s economy on a huge upswing, power is essential. With the Minister of Energy Greg Rickford, Mason has a direct pipeline because the minister is from the region and understands the challenges.
“It’s almost embarrassing from the standpoint you can have projects fail by not having enough electricity. And every time I saw Greg Rickford, when I worked for the province, I’d have to write six briefing notes just to get to the Assistant Deputy Minister, and it would never get to the minister’s doorstep necessarily, but now I can talk directly to Greg.”
In the end, the MRS has a handful of high-level messages. “Transportation, infrastructure and enough supply of electrical transmission, that’s all that has to be done. Industry will spend the rest of the money on development, exploration development, construction, operation and closure. They’ll spend every other red cent.”
Mason says he’s told the Minister that the concerns in the study reflect up. “It’s not just the direct needs in those areas that I mentioned, some areas, even into say, Treasury Metals into Dryden or some of these other areas are going to be not quite as hamstrung, but it’s still a bit of a concern, but certainly Red Lake, Greenstone Marathon are a concern. We’re never going to know the opportunities that we missed in Ontario, because these become investment attraction tools, having basic infrastructure.”
“You’re never going to know that other companies from Australia or Nevada, or the EU withdrew their interest to invest or buy a project, merge, or acquire because they found out there wasn’t basic infrastructure, including electricity, for example.”
“Never mind the projects now where there’s hundreds of millions of dollars going into PEAs (Preliminary Economic Assessments) Pre-feasibility Studies or final bankable feasibility studies done and there’s a concern. It is very, very concerning.”
Mason says he’s aware of two projects that are stalled at the moment due to transportation access. “Transportation infrastructures are being considered for the Ring of Fire, of course. That’s the third one. But that’s coming. There’s some good news there with Martin Falls and Webequie in that northern link road.”




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