B.C.’s provincial ministry responsible for mining is looking for input on a discussion paper to guide the province as it tries to become a global supplier of critical minerals, while also respecting First Nations’ rights and protecting the environment.
The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation wants to take advantage of minerals deemed critical for technologies such as batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels that are hoped to help the world slow the pace of climate change.
Despite the promise, the province has not moved quickly to institute changes, or produce the strategy considering the minerals have been touted since at least 2017 by the World Bank, and others, as a necessary component of a low-carbon future.
“In British Columbia we have an opportunity to take advantage of this in a way that really feeds the world’s energy transition,” said Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Josie Osborne. “We’re going to do it in a responsible way, a safe way and, absolutely key, in respect of First Nations.”
The province has promised a strategy by early 2024 for how the industry can achieve this. Central parts of the plan will include collaboration with First Nations, in whose territories much of materials currently exist, and strict guidelines and environmental requirements for companies.
The plan is “to transform the mining sector and bring together First Nations, communities, industry … to do this work and get critical minerals out to the world in a safe, responsible way,” Osborne said.
Since the 2017 provincial election, the B.C. NDP has been promising to keep mining and major industry in the province, with critical minerals becoming an enduring source of value.
B.C.’s mining industry was worth $7.3 billion to the provincial gross domestic product in 2022, which is about three per cent of the total, and more than any other natural resource sector.
Non-compliant Mineral Tenure Act
An overhaul of the province’s Mineral Tenure Act, which governs, in part, how exploration can be done in the province is also needed in tandem with a critical minerals strategy.
In September, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the province’s mining permit system does not comply with the government’s duty to consult Indigenous groups and gave the province 18 months to correct it.
“We are firmly committed to implementing Mineral Tenure Act modernization, this has to be done in consultation with rights and title holders,” Osborne said.
Earlier this month, the ministry published a discussion paper that lays out the critical minerals strategy framework and asks for input on six goals, which include advancing recognition and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, public transparency, innovation and environmental stewardship.
Anyone can submit feedback on the paper until Nov. 6 at 4 p.m. PT.
This week the province announced an advisory committee co-chaired by ministry officials and the First Nations Leadership Council tasked with providing a review this fall of work done on a draft critical mineral strategy.
A dozen experts from the sector, academia, labour and environmental organizations are on the committee
Last December, the federal government launched its national critical minerals strategy, which has many of the same values and initiatives B.C. says will make up its own.
Critics, such as Mining Watch Canada, say that a push for critical mineral exploration in B.C. should be tempered by the disruption it can potentially cause and the risk of never finding anything or being able to extract it.