Canadian mining industry a story of abundance and opportunity

By Norman Leach

Norman Leach


In Canada, the mining and oil and gas industries have gained reputations they do not deserve. Ask the average Canadian what they think of either sector, and the answer is often one of derision and hopes for banishment.

Both face the same challenge – they create enormous wealth but are far from the end user. Few Canadians realize just how much of their daily life depends on the mining industry, so it is easy to criticize.

As far back as the 1670s, explorers and business people (it was sometimes hard to tell them apart) were trying to establish mining operations in a territory recognized for its wealth of mineral resources. Coal was discovered on Cape Breton Island, and copper in the Hudson's Bay region. However, it was not until 1783 that a commercially viable mine was built in Trois-Rivieres, Que. – extracting iron ore and then copper in Bruce Mines, Ont.

Through the end of the Second World War, the Canadian mining industry grew rapidly, serving the needs of an economically expanding Canada and the demands of the war.

Today, mining is still vitally important to Canada, and the folks at Canada Action ( help us highlight a range of impressive facts.

More than 720,000 people work directly or indirectly in the industry. Economically, mining represented 5% of the country's GDP – over $105 billion ­– in 2019 alone. By value, Canada's top five mineral products are gold, coal, iron ore, potash, and copper, representing a collective revenue value of $31.6 billion in one year.

Canada is one of the world's most diversified mining countries, with almost 200 mines and another 6,500 quarries. Today, Canada is the largest producer of potash, uranium, and niobium, and the third-largest producer of aluminum, cobalt, nickel, gemstones, and platinum.

Canada ranks fourth worldwide in cadmium, cobalt, graphite, and sulphur, and fifth in graphite, nickel, diamonds, gold, mica, and titanium.

As for bringing investment to Canada, the mining industry plays a leading role. Fifty percent of the world's public mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and the TSX-Venture Exchange, making Toronto the mining finance capital of the world. Mining companies and investors collectively pay an average of $2.4 billion in taxes and royalties annually.

In 2019, 14% of the world mining industry investment in non-ferrous exploration was spent in Canada.

For workers, the news is also good. The average annual wage in Canada is $63,000; in mining, it is $126,000. In Ontario, on average, mine workers made 77% more than the industrial wage, earning $1,791 per week. In Saskatchewan, the industry paid $1.4 billion in wages in 2017.

Since 1974, the mining industry has signed 525 agreements with Indigenous people in Canada, covering more than 365 exploration and mining projects. Since 2010, 300 agreements have been signed, and, in 2019, 430 of the total agreements were still in effect.

Add to the mix that 16,500 First Nations people are working in the mining industry – the highest number in any private sector industry in Canada. Today, Indigenous people represent 12% of those working in the mining industry – up from 8% in 2011, while Indigenous people account for approximately 3% of the Canadian population.

The mining industry is often called into question for its impact on the environment, and the positive side of the sector’s efforts are often left out of news reports.

In 2004, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) established the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Initiative, well ahead of many industries. The TSM initiative has been recognized by many as a world-class initiative. Argentina has adopted it, as has Botswana, Finland, Spain, and the Philippines – with more countries actively considering using the Canadian standard.

Driven by the BC Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines focused on "best practices in environmental stewardship and responsible development, mining companies in British Columbia are among the lowest GHG emission-intensive mining sites in the world.

The Canadian mining industry also supports the Green Mining Initiative, led by Natural Resources Canada, which aims to "improve the minerals sector's environmental performance and create green technology opportunities."

It is easy to criticize an industry when you ignore the facts. In the case of the Canadian mining industry, the facts paint a mostly bright picture.