In conversation with PDAC’s President Rod Thomas

An in-depth discussion on the current and future state of the industry, the evolution of the PDAC Convention, and what Rod aims to accomplish as the association’s 36th President.

Q. Over the course of your career, what major developments do you feel have played a role in making Canada’s mineral exploration and mining sector a global powerhouse?

A. I could go on at length about technical advances in exploration hardware and software, but the primary drivers are Canadian exploration and mining know-how, along with entrepreneurial spirit. We are very fortunate to live in Canada, a large country richly endowed with natural resources and a well-educated citizenry imbued with a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial mindset supported by political and legal systems that favour free enterprise and reward those who are willing to work hard and take risks. In this context, the various provincial and territorial mining codes have encouraged prospectors to seek their fortune by providing free access to land and a means of securing mineral title by way of staking claims. This process has been active in Canada for over 150 years and these individual success stories have continued to persist throughout my career.

Q. What are the biggest differences you find between the PDAC Convention today and when you first started attending?

A. My point of reference is the mid to late 1970s...about 35 years ago... and at that time the PDAC Convention, or the “PDA” as it was known at that time, was essentially synonymous with “very big party.” I have an extensive collection of geophysical service company beer mugs as proof of my attendance. Later, when I became involved with the PDAC as a volunteer with the Convention Planning committee in the early 1990s, and eventually chaired the convention from 2006 to 2008, I became part of a team effort composed of dedicated staff and volunteers that has grown the convention from its regional roots to the global powerhouse it is today.  Over those 35 years attendance has increased more than 10-fold with a commensurate increase in the breadth and depth of the Technical Sessions, new programs focused on engaging students and Aboriginal communities, and the quality and quantity of Short Courses.  Moving from the Fairmont Royal York Hotel to the north building in 1997 and later to the south building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre allowed for the massive growth in the Trade Show and Investors Exchange. True to the convention’s roots the Fairmont Royal York Hotel still plays a large role in terms of the convention’s social program, and is a vital part of the convention’s networking opportunity.  I have a great deal of affection for the PDAC Convention. It is an incredible franchise and I am very proud to have played a small role in its development.

Q. How can juniors, and even mid to large companies, succeed in today’s volatile economic climate?

A. It is a capital intensive, competitive environment that we work in and to be successful means that the majority will not be. It is an old adage in this business that the most successful junior mining companies are those with good management, not necessarily good projects. Good management will extract the maximum value from a poor project and use it as leverage to find or acquire a better one. Good management has the connections and the wherewithal to secure the necessary capital in order to do the work necessary to evaluate and advance a project. Good management understands what risk is and how best to manage it.  Good management works hard to establish credibility and realizes that once lost it is gone forever. Good management also recognizes what luck is and once you have it how it must not be squandered.  Did I mention that good management is important?

Q. What opportunities do you see becoming available to prospectors and juniors in terms of land access in Canada and abroad in the near future?

A. Presently, the trend is for diminished opportunity access to land for exploration purposes. This negative trend is manifest in various forms, some of which are supported by large segments of society and others by various special interest groups with varying rationales for excluding access to land. As an industry we need to continue to educate the various stakeholders, communities and special interest groups of the need to evaluate large areas of land in order to find an economic mineral deposit. If we could do anything as an industry to help our case for improved land access it would be to better educate the broader public that mineral deposits are actually quite rare and that the probability of finding an economic deposit, and resulting mine footprint, is quite small in relation to the initial exploration area. We need to showcase examples of present-day environmental stewardship programs and social license practices to develop an appreciation of the benefits of mining operations. The good news is that mine development is a high tech, highly regulated business and mining companies nowadays work hand in hand with local communities to promote favourable outcomes.

Q. The mineral exploration and mining industry needs a massive injection of new talent (more than 100,000 jobs in the next decade according to MiHR). How do you think the industry can attract new workers, especially young Canadians?

A. Since the late 1990s the employment model in the mineral exploration side of the business has been to provide contract rather than full-time employment. This model was adopted from necessity—mineral industry consolidation during a period of low commodity prices—but with sustained improvements in commodity prices and the realities of an aging workforce the model is no longer viable.  There is a realization that it takes time and money to educate and train people and that the investment needs to be treated with care, as you would any other investment, if you expect a reasonable return. The PDAC is doing its part with programs such as Mining Matters that aims to capture the interest and imagination of secondary-school students about the importance of mining in our everyday lives, as well as the PDAC’s various programs aimed at providing awards, bursaries, support and educational opportunities for university students seeking careers in the mineral industry.  Having said that, it is still highly probable that if the industry continues to experience strong growth rates associated with high commodity prices it will be difficult to meet the demand by training new talent alone and some of the demand will be satisfied by sourcing individuals from other industries, overseas by way of immigration and work visas, and also by extending the careers of those who might otherwise be inclined to retire. As an industry, we need to continue to work on many fronts to provide tangible support to our young people that mineral exploration and mining offer outstanding career opportunities.

Q. As PDAC President, what are some of your goals for the association?

A. In my career the PDAC membership has grown both in terms of numbers and diversity. Our membership now comprises a significant number of Canadian Aboriginals as well as non-residents. One aspect of the exploration business, despite our individual competitive imperatives, is that underlying sense of common purpose and belonging to an exploration fraternity that transcends national barriers and cultural differences. As a Canadian association, we are known and respected as a world leader and recognized as the principal advocate for the mineral exploration industry. This is quite an accomplishment and one that provides both an opportunity and responsibility to be a leader in advocating best practices for the exploration community as a whole. As incoming President I will continue to work with management to build on the good work of my predecessors to maintain and grow relationships in Canada and throughout the world. I am particularly interested in association governance and will continue to advocate for a strong governance structure for the PDAC. I would also like to encourage the establishment of mineral industry internship programs where the PDAC would work with industry and universities to create opportunities for those considering a career in the mineral industry.