Manitoba wants to become a global destination for critical battery minerals mining and refining. Now it’s working on a roadmap to get there
The Manitoba government believes the province could be a leading critical minerals jurisdiction and they are working to make it so.
The Manitoba Critical Minerals Strategy: Driving Sustainable Growth, released in July, is a 36-page report is designed to entice investors, prospectors, mining companies and electric vehicle battery and component manufacturers to Manitoba.
Jeff Wharton, Manitoba’s minister of economic development, investment and trade is excited about the strategy and using it to unlock the province’s critical minerals potential.
“Manitoba is so well positioned. We’re in a unique position right now… Manitoba has 29 of 31 critical minerals identified in the federal critical minerals strategy, including the top six identified for their distinct potential to grow our economy,” says Wharton during an interview with Electric Autonomy.
“Critical minerals like lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper and those rare earth minerals…are going to help us grow a green economy and help our neighbors in other jurisdictions, whether it be east, west, north or south.”
The strategy has been founded on six key pillars. These areas of strategic priority for Manitoba are:
- Building global awareness of Manitoba’s competitive advantages;
- Advancing Indigenous involvement in the mineral economy;
- Creating access to high-quality geoscience information;
- Streamlining regulatory and permitting processes;
- Building a supportive ecosystem of value-added activities; and
- Establishing targeted training and skills development pathways.
Strategy action items
The strategy outlines a number of promises and actions the government has committed to taking, in order to support the six pillars.
For example, to advance the Indigenous involvement pillar the province will create a Mining Advisory Leadership Table “to strengthen government-to-government relations [i.e. provincial government to Indigenous government], share industry and project information, and explore options for mineral resource revenue sharing together.”
The strategy also explains the government will follow Manitoba’s Mineral Development Protocol Template, which is a “starting point for respectful discussion and includes a process guide and matrix for Crown-Indigenous consultation” so that both parties will be able to agree upon how consultations will proceed throughout the entire mineral development process.”
To address the geoscience pillar, the strategy commits the government to conducting “new geophysical surveys and mapping initiatives targeting remote or under-explored areas of Manitoba with high-potential for critical minerals.”
The strategy also promises that software will be deployed to make it easier to search and extra data from existing provincial geoscience resources, that a new geoscientific-specific database will be developed that records that publicly available geoscience data and inventories haven’t already been digitized will be converted.
Other commitments in the strategy include holding an economic summit and mining conference in northern Manitoba; establishing a new, single-point-of-contact permitting office; working with the federal government to reduce the timelines to assess projects; and evaluating the possibility of switching to a digital claim-staking system (so that prospectors won’t have to make claims by physically driving stakes into the ground).
Manitoba trying to catch up
Competitively, Manitoba is a bit behind other jurisdictions — including other Canadian provinces and international mining destinations — in releasing a critical minerals strategy. Quebec, for example, released a plan in 2020. Australia, the U.S., Canada and Ontario all released their approaches in 2022.
That is one of the reasons why Manitoba is not necessarily top-of-mind when it comes to mining destinations, but that’s something Wharton wants to change. He says it’s starting to happen.
“I came out of a meeting just earlier where I used the analogy that Manitoba was always a flyover province. Well, guess what: they’re not flying over anymore. They’re landing in Manitoba. They’re working here.”
He goes on to say that in 2022, the province saw a record $170 million spent in mining exploration.
To encourage even more growth of the mining sector — especially mining for critical minerals — Wharton says the government has already made significant and long-term financial commitments to the industry and will keep doing so. As an example, he pointed out the recent funding top-up of the Mineral Development Fund. Originally established in 2020 with $20 million, so far the fund has approved $10 million in projects, which have generated $61 million in investments, 150 partnerships and 400 jobs.
“That is why we replenished that fund this year with another $10 million, because the return on investment is not only monetary, but [it’s about] what it’s doing for the economy, what it’s doing to build jobs and build partnerships.”
Critical battery minerals
The strategy addresses all the critical minerals, but it pays special attention to lithium, copper, nickel and silica — all prime ingredients in the EV revolution.
The strategy points out that Manitoba already has a producing lithium mine — the Tanco Mine, owned by Sinomine, a company based in China — and has approximately 20 companies exploring for other lithium deposits.
In addition, the strategy notes there are companies contemplating lithium extraction from oil-field saline brines located in the western regions of the province.
Mining lithium is just step one in the EV battery value chain. The mineral still has to be processed and manufactured into an EV battery. The Manitoba government — and Wharton — want to develop these capabilities in the province.
That’s one of the reasons Wharton is enthusiastic about Toronto-based Grid Metals and 1911 Gold Corp., two mining companies with a presence in the province.
In July, 1911 Gold announced it was leasing its Manitoba-based True North Mill to Grid Metals for the future processing of spodumene pegmatite (lithium ore) from Grid’s Donner Lake Lithium Project in southeastern Manitoba.
“We rely too heavily on products and supply chains outside of our own borders. We need to focus more on that. We’re really excited about the opportunity for Grid and 1911 Gold to partner on their mill processing. This will unlock our dependence on any single producer, and significantly advance the timeline to bring Grid resources to market,” says Wharton.
Going for it seems to be the approach the province is taking as well.
The strategy commits the government to releasing the Manitoba Minerals Action Plan in spring 2024, which will “focus on specific and time-bound actions that [the] government will take to implement the strategy with clear indicators to monitor and evaluate progress and success.
When asked for a hint of what’s to come in the plan Wharton only offered a tease.
“We’ll continue to have conversations with stakeholders, industry, Indigenous folks, to make sure that we get the action plan for the critical minerals strategy right, because we know that Manitoba’s input is going to play a critical role.
“Stay tuned. We’ve got a great strategy in place for critical minerals and the action plan will be even bigger and better.”