On March 27, 2023, the Government of Saskatchewan launched Securing the Future: Saskatchewan’s Critical Minerals Strategy to drive growth and development of the sector in the province.
The race is on
Critical minerals provide the building blocks for many modern technologies and are essential to our national security and economic prosperity. And the global race to ensure secure and reliable sources of critical minerals is on.
Enter Saskatchewan. Home to a naturally occurring 23 of the 31 minerals on Canada’s critical mineral list, the province is poised to contribute to meeting the global demand for potash, uranium, helium, lithium, copper, zinc, cobalt, nickel, and rare earth elements. Critical minerals are used to produce everything from smartphones to fertilizer, clean electricity, electronic devices, space travel and research, solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and stainless steel.
“Saskatchewan is a critical minerals leader today and will be a critical minerals powerhouse tomorrow,” Premier Scott Moe said with the strategy’s release. “With our existing expertise in mining and processing, our province has the opportunity to become a critical minerals hub and meaningfully contribute to the global demand for these resources.”
Strategy for the road ahead
Saskatchewan’s Critical Minerals Strategy highlights the province’s sustainable production of minerals, and a highly competitive business environment for exploration, mining, processing, and manufacturing. The strategy enhances a selection of programs and incentives to facilitate further growth of the sector. While Saskatchewan has long been a top global producer and exporter of potash and uranium, the province is also now home to a thriving helium sector and to the first-of-its-kind minerals-to-metals rare earth processing facility in North America.
The strategy outlines four goals for the sector: to increase Saskatchewan’s share of Canadian mineral exploration spending to 15 per cent by 2030, to double the number of critical minerals being produced in Saskatchewan by 2030, to grow Saskatchewan’s production of potash, uranium, and helium, and to establish Saskatchewan as a rare earth element hub.
Three government programs were also expanded in the 2023 Budget to pave the way for critical minerals development. The Saskatchewan Mineral Exploration Tax Credit was increased from 10 to 30 per cent and the Targeted Mineral Exploration Incentive, which applies to exploration drilling of all hard-rock minerals, was increased from $750,000 to $4.0 million. In addition, $2.4 million was also dedicated to providing better systems for geoscience data collection and reporting, which explorers use when considering projects. The changes were met with enthusiasm from the Saskatchewan Mining Association.
“As Saskatchewan competes for Canadian and international investments, the increases to the Targeted Mineral Exploration Incentive Program and to the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit, are very welcome,” Saskatchewan Mining Association President Pam Schwann said about the strategy. “They position Saskatchewan to be one of the leading Canadian mineral jurisdictions and will be effective in incentivizing additional investment into Saskatchewan.”
Saskatchewan’s strategy follows Canada’s December 2022 launch of The Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy. The strategy acknowledges the increasing global demand of critical minerals and the generational opportunity it presents for Canada’s workers, economy, and net-zero future. Growing consumption of today’s technologies along with technologies that will reduce carbon emissions, is being driven by both consumer preferences and government policy decisions.
In March, U.S. President Joe Biden visited to Ottawa, where the need for Canada-US collaboration on critical minerals supply chains was discussed at length. As the US and Canada’s European allies seek to reduce their reliance on foreign sources amid geopolitical dynamics and strained value chains, there is an important role for Saskatchewan to play.
“It’s an exciting time for critical minerals in Canada,” says Jim Thompson, vice president, mining sales at Brandt. “Across the country, we’re seeing significant growth in interest and activity in it.” However, there are a few hurdles to cross before Saskatchewan is home to a robust critical minerals sector. While exploration is well underway, it takes a lot to bring a mining project to life. “We’re lucky that governments in Canada understand the value critical minerals and the important role they play,” says Thompson. “However, even with the excitement, there is still a lot of work to be done.”
The short story is that mines don’t spring up overnight. It takes years to get from exploration to production. There are regulatory processes to follow, along with significant planning, design and engineering before critical minerals are extracted, into processing and off to market. “Right now, we’re at the beginning of a long journey. We need the people, the capacity, and the expertise to build the industry and infrastructure,” says Thompson. “Luckily, Saskatchewan’s mining sector has a lot of the people and skills already.” Now, it’s a matter of building capacity while harnessing the talent and tools at hand—and moving it all in the right direction.
“There is a lot of optimism out there, and rightly so. Saskatchewan has a lot of the front-end knowledge and expertise in discovery and development,” says Thompson. “Mining is a long game, and the province is well-positioned for it.”