How the province is building the mines of the future

Mining Development in Ontario

June 19, 2024

Image courtesy of IAMGOLD

New mine construction is underway at four projects in Ontario. These projects include IAMGOLD’s Côté Gold project near Gogama, Gowest’s C$27 million Bradshaw gold project near Timmins, Greenstone Gold’s C$1.5 billion Greenstone gold project near Geraldton, and Glencore’s C$1.3 billion Onaping Depth nickel-copper project in Sudbury.

After Magino, the Côté Gold project, a JV between IAMGOLD and Sumitomo Metal Mining, is likely to be Canada’s third-largest gold mine, with a mine life of over 18 years. Conveniently located between Timmins and Sudbury, construction is now 95% complete and production is expected to commence in early 2024. In 2023, the Côté Gold project made headlines for being the first to deploy a fully autonomous fleet of Epiroc’s Pit Viper rigs on Canadian soil. “The deployment addresses labor intensity challenges in open-pit mining, and by eliminating some human factors we significantly reduce non-operating delays. Over time, we anticipate achieving higher overall efficiencies,” shared Renaud Adams, president and CEO, IAMGOLD.

With great uncertainty in the equity markets and a relatively high cost-of-debt, financing large-scale projects such as Côté Gold is no easy feat as the economic climate can change rapidly within a mine’s lifespan. Adams explains how IAMGOLD’s financing strategy overcomes these challenges: “While we have taken a US$400 million term loan with a higher interest rate, it is replaceable as we strengthen the company's position. Our confidence lies in the ability to improve our balance sheet, credit ratings, and cash flow, offering opportunities for debt reduction and growth. The goal is to avoid being stuck with a permanent financial structure.”

Hot on the heels of the Côté Gold project, the Greenstone Gold project, located 275 km northeast of Thunder Bay, is being developed by Equinox Gold in partnership with Orion Mine Finance Group. Construction is on track to pour first gold in the first half of 2024. The US$1.23 billion mine is already 90% complete and will become Equinox Gold’s largest mine and its only mine in Canada once in production. Being located in the traditional territories of four First Nations, Equinox Gold has a number of agreements and commitments in place around environmental management, employment and training, among others. “I was pleased to see 150 Indigenous community members receive training to support the construction of the new Greenstone Gold operation,” commented Pirie. 

Good communication, dialogue and close partnerships were particularly important for Greenstone, due to its proximity to population centers: “What sets the Greenstone project apart is the complexity of relocations required to accommodate development of the mine within the town limits of Geraldton. We needed to relocate 65 families due to the open-pit footprint being close to a neighborhood, and we also relocated a substation, a police station, and a 4.5 km section of the Trans-Canada highway,” shared Eric Lamontagne, general manager, Greenstone Gold Mines.

Greenstone Gold mines are currently focused on pouring first gold on schedule and within budget. Lamontagne shared the company’s long-term plans for the mine: "Beyond first gold pour, the crucial step is to ramp up the project to its full nameplate capacity. Ultimately, we aim to generate long-term cashflow for our shareholders and benefit the region and Indigenous communities through employment, training and business opportunities.” 

With so many major projects completing within a short space of time, there will be a large range of service providers who will soon be seeking new projects. Luckily, there are still many projects in Ontario to provide them with a pipeline of work. This will bring some relief for companies like Generation Mining, who is due to embark on a mine construction journey of its own: “Many contractors and suppliers who were busy working on the Côté Gold, Magino and Greenstone projects are now becoming available again. We hope this new increase in supply in the region will reduce costs compared to our previous estimates,” said Jamie Levy, president and CEO, Generation Mining.

In 2023, annual global jewelry consumption held steady at 2,093 t/y, even in the very high gold price environment, and central bank buying maintained a breakneck pace, with annual net purchases of 1,037 t falling only 45 t/y from the 2022 record. In the ‘Gold Outlook 2024 report’ the World Gold Council forecast heightened geopolitical tensions in a key election year for many major economies, combined with continued central bank buying being some of the main factors supporting gold prices. If gold prices continue their upward trajectory, Ontario’s newest mines may be in for a spectacular year.

Permitting 
A major part of building a mine is navigating the permitting process, which is constantly evolving. Ontario’s miners have to grapple with a complex web of regulation when embarking on a construction or expansion project. “In Canada, navigating through various authorities like Provincial Governments, the Federal Government and First Nations can be challenging, with unexpected obstacles emerging even after obtaining permits. In contrast, Australia's permitting process seems more structured,” said Zimi Meka, co-founder and CEO, Ausenco.

In 2023, Canada’s Supreme Court declared certain provisions of Canada’s Impact Assessment Act (IAA) unconstitutional. The court found the IAA’s provisions related to the assessment of designated projects to be outside the jurisdiction of the federal parliament and, therefore, unconstitutional. “One of the foremost challenges in the Ontario mining industry centers around the permitting process, particularly for emerging projects transitioning into development and production phases. Environmental permitting has been a persistent difficulty, often resulting in lengthy delays lasting years. Additionally, concerns over the level of federal involvement in the permitting process, as highlighted by recent Supreme Court rulings, have exacerbated these issues,” said Eugene Putrich. 

It is not just lengthy permitting timelines that are challenging. For developers, uncertainty in timelines is just as much of an issue, as uncertainty can mean losing out on crucial funding or result in cost overruns. “A key challenge in mine development is the uncertainty of timelines. It is hard to predict exactly the timeline for factors like environmental assessments and permitting,” said Lamontagne.

The Supreme Court’s decision may result in significant revisions to the IAA, thus causing great uncertainty for the 20 or so mining projects in Canada currently undergoing federal assessment. However, the government has taken a long-term view: “We hope [the ruling] will solve many of the problems we have with duplication of federal and provincial regulations and that it will boost the development of the Ring of Fire,” said minister Pirie.

Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is also keen to modernize and speed up permitting times, proposing an expanded permit-by-rule framework in August 2023. “The proposal of a permit-by-rule system holds great promise as an innovative approach to shorten timelines without compromising environmental protection,” shared Chris Hodgson, president, Ontario Mining Association (OMA).
Part of the appeal of Canada, and therefore Ontario, as a top destination for developers from all around the world, is the fact that it is a stable democracy. This, however, also means that changes to legislation must go through the democratic process, which can slow things down. Despite this, there are other ways Ontario can boost its sector without changing laws: “Stimulating the mining sector with tax incentives like the CMETC and METC provides an immediate, tangible boost to the industry. I think taking this direct route of providing targeted financial support to the industry will help the sector in the short-term, rather than the longer approach of legislative changes – which require many consultations and a lot of bureaucracy before they come to fruition,” said Denis Laviolette, executive chair and CEO, EarthLabs. 

Reform is needed if Canada is to streamline its permitting processes and reduce mine development times from the 15 or more years they are currently at. “There is a tremendous amount of support for developers at the highest levels of government, but we would like to see this support extend further down the chain of command to the various authorities. At the moment we have to deal with a huge number of departments and branches,” said Jamie Levy. 

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