Critical minerals continue to play a major role in both government and industry plans, with no signs of slowing down. As the electric vehicle sector grows and the energy transition takes hold, the worldwide demand for critical minerals increases. Canada is uniquely positioned to address this demand, as well as securing its own supply of these vital commodities, for our own use in telecommunications, clean energy, defense and national security. In fact, Canada’s critical minerals assets are so essential to the world’s economy that the commodities were front and centre in the Federal Budget announced on Apr. 7. The 2022 Budget included earmarks for up to $3.8 billion for the country’s first Critical Minerals Strategy—a move applauded by many in Canada’s mining industry.
The federal government has big plans for the critical minerals and the economic growth and employment opportunities they present.
The Federal Budget Critical Mineral investments include:
- $80 million for geoscience and exploration programs to find new critical mineral deposits,
- $1.5 billion for infrastructure investments in new mineral projects in critical regions,
- $1.5 billion for new critical minerals projects focused on mineral processing, materials manufacturing and recycling for products in the battery and rare-earths supply chain,
- $144 million to research and and develop the responsible extraction and processing of critical minerals,
- $40 million for northern regulatory processes in reviewing and permitting critical minerals projects,
- $70 million to promote Canadian mining leadership in global partnerships,
- Renewing funding for Canada’s Centre of Excellence for Critical Minerals, and
- Doubling the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for targeted critical minerals.
The Canadian mining industry reacted positively to the investments. “With today’s budget, the Government of Canada has positioned Canada in a leading competitive position for new investments up and down the minerals and metals sector and beyond. Doubtless, these measures will give Canada a lock on the top spot for global exploration investment and spur new investments across the value chain,” said Pierre Gratton, the Mining Association of Canada’s (MAC) president and CEO on April 7. “Today’s budget should also send a strong signal to our allies in the US and Europe that Canada is and will remain a trusted source for responsibly mined and processed materials essential for the world’s low carbon future and security.”
The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) echoed MAC’s sentiments a day later. “The Federal Government has heard our call to increase the METC from 15 per cent to 30 per cent for critical minerals exploration in Canada and this decision is a reflection of PDAC’s continuous advocacy on behalf of members and the minerals industry at large,” said Alex Christopher, PDAC’s president on Apr. 8. “While the shift in focus towards critical minerals by governments has been swift, it is an opportunity PDAC and the industry has recognized for many years, and we are pleased to see that Canada is being positioned to benefit for the long term.”
While the national mining industry celebrated the news of these significant investments into critical minerals, where does Saskatchewan fit into it all?
The Government of Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan has set 2030 targets for $9 billion in potash sales and $2 billion in uranium sales and notes strategic metal as an opportunity for the mining sector.
Our time to shine
While China leads the world in production of these minerals, the competitors—including our province—are building their own presence in the market.1 Canada is home to some of the largest reserves of rare earth elements in the world, estimated at over 15 million tonnes, and the only Western nation with abundant cobalt, graphite, lithum and nickel.2,3 Saskatchewan is home to 23 of Canada’s 31 identified critical minerals, and already well on its way to harnessing the economic potential they offer the province and the country.
The province has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a ‘locally-grown’ critical mineral industry with staggering economic potential. With our status as number one in Canada for mining investment attractiveness by the Fraser Institute’s Annual Survey of Mining Companies in 2021, and number two in world (behind Western Australia), plus the significant market demand and investment dollars at the ready, Saskatchewan has never been better positioned to show the world what it’s got. The work has already begun to meet the challenge.
Saskatchewan’s own Prairie Lithium Corp. announced in November 2021 that it has completed Canada’s first-ever well drilled for lithium brine, with early results indicating “some of the highest known lithium brine concentrations in Canada.”
“I always believed that the best was yet to come, in terms of finding higher lithium concentrations in Saskatchewan. To find the highest repeated lithium brine concentrations in Canada to date, on the first well drilled for lithium brine in the country, is the result of a targeted exploration program with an A-class team of industry experts,” said Zach Maurer, Prairie Lithium’s president and CEO on Nov. 9.
That same month, the Government of Saskatchewan also released its Helium Action Plan: From Exploration to Exports outlining how it plans to make the province a world leader in helium and supply 10 per cent of the world helium market by 2030. The plan came on the heels of the opening of North American Helium’s Battle Creek helium purification facility in April 2021, and Royal Helium’s significant helium discovery at its Climax project a month later. January 2022 saw Global Helium Corp. increase its landholdings in Saskatchewan to over 1.5 million acres, making it one of the largest helium-focused landholders on the continent. In April 2022, another helium player—Helium Evolution Inc.—joined the fray, with properties near Mankota and Maple Creek.
Toronto’s Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp. announced in March 2022 that the company has commenced its 2022 drilling and exploration program at its high-grade, rare earth element (REE) and gallium Alces Lake property near Uranium City, Sask. Appia has identified high-grade REE mineralization on the property and believes “the project has the potential to be a world-class source of high-grade critical rare earth bearing monazite.” As well, the Alces Lake project encompasses some of the highest-grade total and critical REEs and gallium mineralization in the world, according to Appia. The critical REEs it has identified include neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), dysprosium (Dy) and terbium (Tb), which are used in permanent magnets, as well as in electric vehicles and wind turbines.
In April, Cheetah Resources (a subsidiary of Vital Minerals Ltd.)—shipped the first rare earths minerals from its Nechalacho mine in NWT to Saskatchewan. Vital Minerals Ltd. is Canada’s first rare earths producer, and just signed a funding agreement with PrairiesCan for the development of its rare earth extraction facility in Saskatoon. “Saskatoon is poised to become North America’s hub for rare earth processing and research. This funding announcement for Vital is a significant step in that direction. We look forward to Vital ramping up its plans to open the extraction facility in Saskatoon later this year and the new local jobs that will be created,” said Alex Fallon, Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority CEO on Apr. 6. Saskatoon will also be home to another rare earths facility currently under development at the Saskatchewan Research Council, a project announced in August 2020 that plans to be fully operational in 2024.
Foran Mining Corp. also updated on its McIlvenna Bay project near Flin Flon in March 2022. McIlvenna Bay is a copper-zinc-gold-silver Volcanogenic Massive Sulphide (VMS) deposit, one of the richest sources for copper, zinc and lead, and plans to be the world’s first carbon neutral copper development project. Project development continues, and its February 2022 feasibility study indicated that Foran predicts an 18-year mine life producing an average of 65 million pounds of copper equivalent annually.
On the cusp
With critical mineral interests and investment rising rapidly, Saskatchewan’s mineral riches have never been in more demand. Mining is already a major engine in our economy, and critical minerals present another massive opportunity for the sector, the province and the country. These valuable export commodities are vital to Canada’s industries, supply chain and national security, and to the world economy.
Now is the time to take these key ingredients found in our geography and make the most of them.
1,2Minerals and Metals Facts, Natural Resources Canada, nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/minerals-mining/minerals-metals-facts/rare-earth-elements-facts/20522
3Canada-US Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, Natural Resources Canada, saskmining.ca/ckfinder/userfiles/files/Plenary%20Session%201%20Update%20on%20