By Daniel Sekulich
After three consecutive years of steadily declining
attendance, more than 24,000 people from over 120 countries
took part in this year’s PDAC convention, held at
the beginning of March in Toronto, Canada. The attendance
figure is still down from the peak years of 2012 and 2013, when
over 30,000 took part, but the increase from last
year’s turnout has many hoping it is another
indication of upcoming better times for the sector.
John Waldie, mining investor, surveyed the scene inside the
sprawling Metro Toronto Convention Centre and said, with a
grin, "Well, it’s good to be back."
Waldie’s first visit was a decade ago, a visit
that spawned an interest in investing with various mining
development projects. But like many others, Waldie took a
pass on the last few PDAC conventions. "The way the markets
and prices were going, it just didn’t make sense
to attend. I kind of sat back and waited for things to
rebound. But now things feel different. Finally."
The return to the convention of small investors like Waldie
is a welcome signal for those eager to see the mining
business truly on the rebound.
A year ago, there were empty booths on the convention floor,
empty chairs at presentations and a sombre mood among many
attendees battered by low commodity prices. But this
year’s gathering saw exhibitor space sold out
and increased numbers at investor meetings, short courses and
other events, leading PDAC to declare that the 2017
convention exceeded expectations.
"The mineral exploration and mining industry is cyclical in
nature and has faced a variety of economic challenges over
the past several years, but optimism has always remained and
it’s fantastic to see this being reflected at
the PDAC Convention," said PDAC president Glenn Mullan.
"There was an upbeat vibe throughout the convention
– a positive sign for the sector going
Ministers speak out
Among the highlights of the convention, PDAC and the World
Economic Forum hosted the International Mines Ministers
Summit (IMMS). This was the second year the IMMS was held,
bringing together 25 ministers from around the world, up from
the 16 who came to the first gathering. The focus of the
summit was innovation in the mining industry and the clean
The only major government announcement to come out of the
convention was made by Canada’s minister of
natural resources, Jim Carr, confirming a one-year renewal of
his country’s federal mineral exploration tax
The 15% tax credit is aimed at helping junior companies
raise capital for early stage exploration work, and may be
added on top of the 'flow-through share system’,
allowing exploration companies to transfer costs to the balance
sheets of investors, that is also being continued by the
Speaking at the kick-off of the convention, Minister Carr
said more than 200 companies issued flow-through shares and
more than 410,000 investors benefited from the credit in
2015. The extension of the programme was clearly greeted with
relief by those listening to his speech.
Game changer boasts
On the convention floor, exhibitors and attendees alike
expressed positive thoughts on future growth for various
parts of the industry.
This was most evident in those engaged in lithium,
electric and rare earth elements (REE), who attended in
greater numbers than previous conventions.
A common theme with many of these firms is the boastful
pitch that their project is a "game changer", when many are,
in fact, still in the very early phases of development and
sorely lacking in firm financial support.
While some observers of the lithium sector have been
wondering when its bubble will burst, at least one firm at
PDAC 2017 felt confident about their business plans- Nemaska
Lithium. Nemaska Lithium is making final plans for its
Québec-based mine and mill to begin commercial
operations. As Guy Bourassa, Nemaska’s president
and CEO, puts it, "This is an exciting time for us. Demand is
strong, we have a high-grade source, we have signed offtake
agreements and we are quite advanced in our financing."
Bourassa and his team believe that by the time next
year’s convention rolls around, Nemaska will be
the biggest producer of battery-grade lithium hydroxide in
At the convention’s various networking and
social gatherings, one topic that kept arising was concern
about the so-called 'Trump effect’.
More than Brexit or the apparently doomed future of the
Trans-Pacific Partnership, some individuals worried that
whatever recent growth has occurred in the mining business
could be tempered by the Trump administration’s
protectionist economic actions, such as its 'Buy
In a bar not far from the convention centre, a group
involved with projects in Mexico and South America compared
notes after a day at the show, and their comments were
"All this talk of walls, import taxes, tariffs [is] a big
issue for my investors," said the executive director of a
base metal firm. His colleague, a geologist in charge of
exploration, glumly adds that, "If the [US] market becomes
harder to access, we can only hope that China and others will
work with us. Otherwise, we do not know."
But sipping a beer as the trade show wound down one
afternoon, a mining insider summed up another perspective: "A
year ago, no one here was talking about a Trump presidency
because we were more focused on the state of our own affairs.
Yes, some people are worried, but look: the US needs us.
Mining is not the problem with the American economy. In fact,
we are one of the solutions."
Back on the floor of the convention’s last
day, investor John Waldie agreed. "I don’t think
the sky is falling because of Mr Trump. And with mining, it
felt like that was happening, at least recently." Waldie
pulled out an impressive stack of promotional material
he’d acquired over the course of PDAC 2017.
"If you put aside all the hype in these documents and the
sales talk at the booths and look at the hard data,
you’ll see there are opportunities out there.
Absolutely. Opportunities that I don’t think
existed a year ago. So count me in again."