In conversation with PDAC’s 38th President, Alex Christopher

PDAC’s new President shares his vision for the association and the minerals sector, the importance of access to land and permitting timelines, and how the sector needs to adapt—and evolve—in these volatile times.

  1. When the PDAC 2021 Convention ended, your two-year term as President of the association commenced. How are you feeling as you start your presidency during a time when the sector is starting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic?

    Firstly, I would like to say that PDAC is a great organization to be associated with and I think it does a tremendous job of supporting our industry, both within Canada and abroad. I certainly never expected to be dealing with what we all hope is the tail end of the COVID- 19 pandemic—one of the most impactful black swan events of our generation. I am optimistic that we will put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror during my term as President and, given the resiliency and entrepreneur- ship within our sector, I expect we will come out stronger as a group and better positioned as an industry. I believe that events like COVID-19 drive collaborative, innovative and creative solutions that only serve to strengthen our industry in the long run.

  2. You’ve been associated with PDAC for a number of years. Tell us about your various volunteer roles within the industry and how you got started with the PDAC. 

    I have been a regular attendee of the PDAC Convention since the early 1980’s, and although I moved to B.C. in the mid-90’s I continued to attend, leading Teck’s participation and sponsorship for over 25 years. I spent several terms on the Board of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME), including time on the Finance Committee, Nominating Committee and Executive Committee where I served as Vice Chair, and then I shifted my industry volunteer efforts to PDAC as I took on the leadership of Teck’s global exploration group. Since joining the PDAC Board in 2013, I have been active on a number of committees, including the Governance and Nominating Committee and the Executive Committee. I think it’s important to give back to an industry that has given us so much over our careers, and I encourage others to do the same.

  3. What are some of your specific goals for the association and industry as a whole that you wish to achieve as PDAC President? 

    My focus during my term as President is to ensure we continue to foster and support a competitive mineral exploration and development industry in Canada, and continue to deliver against PDAC’s strategic objectives. Leadership in terms of environmentally and socially responsible practice is one key focus area, and we will continue to provide leadership and support for our members and stakeholders to encourage our industry to continue to build mutually-beneficial relationships. There are many other strategic objectives for the PDAC, and I think key to successful delivery is focus and ensuring we don’t try to be everything for everyone.

  4. You’re an exploration geologist by background. How has exploration changed since you first started working in the sector?

    Those of us who are old enough to have lived through the sweeping changes in the world over the last 40 years have experienced a significant shift in how exploration programs are planned, permitted and executed. Evolving priorities related to sustainable practice, stakeholder engagement and the application of new technologies now leads us to invest more time and relative expenditures to test a target or concept in an environment where discovery success has been dropping as we look deeper and further afield.

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

    I would say there are three things that resonate here which are all direct results of government policy and approach, and these are on top of Canada’s natural mineral endowment. First is the strength of our junior mining industry and the ability to finance exploration activities, driven by both our highly effective equity markets and flow-through funding. Second is our mineral tenure system and the open access to land that has required in-the-ground expenditures to advance tenure and promotes active exploration of mining claims. And third is our requirement to file exploration results publicly, allowing others to build off the work that has come before and ensuring new dollars are not just repeating the prior work which often adds little value.

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

    Good question. I think we need to consider what success looks like in our industry and understand that the historic economic climate has been as unpredictable and volatile as it is today. So, the economic challenges are not new and the industry has been very successful navigating this area over the years. However, the evolving regulations and expectations create more complexity and lead time in everything we do and, although this evolution has been happening over decades and is not new, the ability to adapt to these needs and the ability to manage the economic impacts of the additional requirements requires thoughtful, innovative and collaborative solutions.

  7. What is one specific thing you feel could be done to improve Canada’s mineral exploration and mining industry?

    Clarity and certainty with respect to access to land and permitting timelines are key to ensuring we maintain a robust exploration industry in Canada. As I noted earlier, the business has evolved as expectations have changed, yet there needs to be the right balance to ensure the jobs and benefits from the products we produce continue to flow, and this will only happen if the Canadian people truly understand our business and recognize the need to create this balance for the long-term.

  8. If you could choose one place to explore in Canada where would it be, and why?
    This is a really tough question for me. I will speak to it not from an endowment, mineral prospectivity or policy point of view, but from a field experience point of view. We have such a beautiful and diverse country that it gives the people in our industry not only a wonderful opportunity to see Canada’s beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife, but also an opportunity to interact with local communities and experience the cultural differences across Canada. At one point of time or another I have worked in almost every province and territory. Maybe it is because my first field season was on the tundra in northern Canada but I see this as one place that people should take the opportunity to visit, as it is truly spectacular and rivals the high alpine and glacier vistas of the west coast.

  9. In looking back on your career, what is your fondest memory?

    It’s a real challenge to just select one memory as there are so many fond memories and experiences, and these are what make this career so rewarding. There are the discovery, industry and corporate highlights that are exciting and fulfilling. But it is the people we work with and the relationships we develop that create lifelong connections, and brothers and sisters for life, by sharing even a single field season that bring back the fondest memories.

  10. The sector needs a new wave of talent to fill a potential labour shortage. What can industry do better to encourage new graduates and early career individuals to pursue a career in mineral exploration and mining, and why should they?

    This isn’t a new challenge and in the 40+ years since I started university our industry has struggled with attracting and retaining talent, which is even more challenging in the exploration sector as it is much more cyclical than the mining side of the industry. Three critical factors that I see here are: (1) ensuring exposure to the true nature of our industry in our school system so the students are aware of the high tech and progressive nature of the industry across all disciplines; (2) ensuring we stay competitive with other sectors with respect to wages and benefits and creating a balanced lifestyle for employ- ees, as we all recognize the travel and field components of our industry impact attraction and retention; and (3) figuring out a way to remove the impact of the boom/bust cyclicity of our industry in order to provide a more stable labour market.


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