Kendra Johnston
Credit: Association for Mineral Exploration

COVID has been kind to the prices of gold and copper, both of which are plentiful in B.C., Johnston notes

In advance of AME Remote Roundup, the Association for Mineral Exploration’s president and CEO sees an upside to the pandemic

For details on AME Remote Roundup (January 18-22), click here. For the complete interview with Kendra Johnston, check out the BCBusiness Podcast.

1. When you think about mineral explorers’ contribution to the provincial economy, what are a few key numbers?

If we look just at the last 15 years, we’ve contributed over $5 billion to the provincial economy. On average, we spend approximately $330 million a year as mineral explorers directly into the ground in B.C. So that’s an average of about $1.2 million per company.

If we look more regionally, of the dollars that are spent on an exploration project, approximately 97 percent stay within the province. The other piece is that 38 percent stay within the region in which they are spent.

2. How have AME members fared in the pandemic, and what role do you see them playing in B.C.’s recovery?

In March and April, it was quite a scary time for us as the world markets basically shut down. Money to put toward mineral exploration and financing was just not available.

As the world started to deal with the pandemic and global markets started to decrease, of course gold is always a safe haven. So investors started putting money in gold, making the price rise, which was a great thing for British Columbia mineral explorers. Gold and copper are the two most abundant minerals in the ground here—and what our explorers typically are looking for. So that opened up a window for them to go out and raise some dollars. We have ended up with a fantastic financing season come late summer and now into the fall. [As of October 1], we’ve raised just over $271 million for exploration in British Columbia, and we have over 600,000 metres of drilling planned across the province.

3. Many B.C. mining companies are active abroad. Looking at mineral exploration in this province, what are you most excited about?

First and foremost, we have phenomenal geology in this province. You can’t have a mineral exploration industry operating somewhere that doesn’t have the geology to support it, and our geology here is beyond supportive and full of possibilities.

But when you look at Canadian explorers, and B.C. specifically, we’re in a very transparent governance environment. We have a political regime that is very supportive of mineral exploration and mining. We have community groups and First Nations that are now very interested in what’s going on in the ground. Our best practices from an environmental, social and governance standpoint have increased vastly over the last 10 years or so.

4. Canadian mining companies have faced criticism and lawsuits for their negative environmental and social impacts on communities around the world. How is the industry doing when it comes to sustainability and social responsibility? What improvements could it make?

There have been some relatively negative stories in the news over the last few months, and as much as that’s unfortunate, it is only a few stories at the end of the day. Some of them are pretty massive stories, and I don’t want to downplay them. But the fact that we are talking about them and that they are important principles to us, to have good environmental, social and governance practices, is a step in the right direction.

When you look here in British Columbia at some of the conversations we’ve had since something like Mount Polley, we’ve come a long way in implementing some of those practices, not only from a corporate perspective but from an industry perspective, from AME and our guiding principles. But there’s been regulation change from a government perspective as well. So, collectively, everybody involved in the industry has upped their game.

5. Mining is a cyclical business. Given those ups and downs, what are three things the B.C. industry can do to set itself up for future success?

We are a cyclical business, but we’re also a long-term business. The typical time for a project to go from discovery through to development and operating is at a minimum 15 to 20 years, and at a maximum well over 100 years.

No. 1 is to collect data professionally and consistently so that we build the baseline of what we’re looking for. That goes for geological as well as environmental data.

No. 2 is building relationships with First Nations. Regardless of what the market is doing, those relationships need to stay steady so that when the market does roll around and you want to hit the ground running, everything is in place.

The third thing is to keep an open mind and take advantage of the opportunities when they come, because they will come. The beauty of a cyclical business is that for every downturn, there is an upturn.

Getting to know Kendra Johnston

Previously: Professional geologist and mining executive

Hobby: “I was a competitive figure skater growing up. I don’t get out to do that often anymore, but if I could, I would”

Favourite place in B.C.: Anywhere in the middle of the rainforest

Last book I read: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Favourite TV show: Schitt’s Creek

Guilty pleasure: Sugar in any form