Stephen Lucas’ background ranges from his early work as a geologist and a researcher to his involvement in policy and planning. This broad spectrum of experience has given him a unique perspective and prepared him for his dual role as Assistant Deputy Minister, Minerals and Metals Sector, with Natural Resources Canada and a member of the transitional board of directors for the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC).
CIM: Can you tell us how you came to be involved with the CMIC?
Lucas: One of the things I took on when I joined NRCan as ADM was working with a community of interested leaders from industry, universities and governments — both federal and provincial — who were concerned about the state of mining research and innovation in Canada and wanted to do something about it. That led to the notion of the Canada Mining Innovation Council, which was initially endorsed in concept by both federal and provincial mines ministers in the fall of 2007, and advanced to the development of the Pan-Canadian Mining Research and Innovation Strategy and the governance model for the Council.
The beauty of this is that the CMIC is not a Government of Canada initiative, but rather a Canadian mining community initiative. NRCan supports it, as do federal, provincial and territorial governments across Canada, through the endorsement of the mines ministers and leaders from industry and universities. We’ve also had endorsements from the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and the Canadian Mining Education Council (CMEC), so I’d say it’s strongly supported by the mining community in Canada.
CIM: The theme of this issue is “Canada’s Global Impact.” Perhaps we can start by getting your input on the Canadian mining industry’s role on the global stage.
Lucas: Canada has a very long history in mining, mineral exploration, mineral processing, and related technologies and services. In fact, it’s woven in with the history of our country. During the 1990s, and into this decade, Canadian firms — including mineral exploration, mining developers, service industries and support providers — moved significantly onto the global stage. A year ago, before the current economic downturn, we had about $110 billion of assets globally. In 2008, Canada raised about 37 per cent of the equity on the global stage for mining or exploration through the strong cluster of financial and related industries, in centres like Toronto and Vancouver. By number, about 57 per cent of the world’s exploration or mining companies are based out of Canada. It has evolved such that, numerically, Canadian business expertise is the globally dominant force in mining.
CIM: How do you see Canada’s mining industry changing and evolving in the future?
Lucas: The demand of nations and societies across the world for minerals and metals will, if anything, increase going forward, particularly as developing and emerging economies — including the emerging middle classes in countries such as China and India — increase their consumption and use of metals in areas such as building infrastructure, automobiles and many other applications. That is going to continue the drive for finding new deposits, so opportunities for mineral exploration, exploration financing and related services will continue to grow.
In the meantime, some of these deposits are going to be harder to find, as a lot of the easier deposits around the globe have already been found. The challenge is to discover the ones that are more deeply hidden and perhaps more challenging to extract. So there is a call for innovative technologies to look for these harder to find deposits.
Increasing expectations from public and governments in terms of reducing the environmental footprint of mines will continue to drive the development of new technologies, processes and approaches. There will be clear benefits to early adopters and nations that support the research and innovation needing to bring these on-stream. We think Canada is well positioned for that.
CIM: Can you tell us about some of the new initiatives that the CMIC is looking at both in the short term and the years ahead?
Lucas: In its strategy outline, the council, highlights a number of key areas. There is a critical need for people in the industry and, in particular, highly qualified ones, such as engineers, geologists and skilled trades people. Notwithstanding the challenges brought on by the economic downturn, we expect increased demand in the medium and longer term. Demographics suggest that there will still be shortages in the next five to ten years in a number of these key areas, both in Canada and around the world. Clearly, we want to ensure that through the CMIC’s work we can continue to attract and help support the ongoing professional development of researchers, geologists and engineers. A key part of that is keeping students interested in careers in this industry.
The second area of focus is on improving collaborative efforts, thereby enabling us to better multiply the benefits of Canada’s research brainpower and industry work in some of the key areas. We are developing critical mass around some of these issues and have been bringing technologies into demonstration and commercialization, such as in the areas of green mining.