CEO paints green picture of mining industry’s future

Profile: Bryan Cox, CEO, Mining Association of BC

Bryan Cox, CEO, Mining Association of BC

Bryan Cox seems to have a knack for arriving on the job just in time for a crisis.

On his first day at work in public affairs with Molson Brewery in Edmonton, he was dealing with the fallout of the company’s decision, following a strike, to shut down its landmark brewery in that city, which had been in operation for nearly a century.

“That was actually Day 1,” Cox said. “The brewery went on strike and I was in charge of managing the public relations around the closure. It was basically getting thrown in the deep end pretty quickly.”

And in 2014, just three months into a new position as vice-president of public affairs for the Mining Association of BC (MABC), the industry in B.C. suffered collateral damage from the Mount Polley mine disaster.

In both cases, out of crisis came solutions – solutions that required working collaboratively, often with competing interests.

In the case of the Molson Brewery closure, Cox worked with developers, the city and community groups to redevelop the old brewery site while maintaining some heritage elements.

It was a crossroads for Cox, 42, now CEO of the MABC.

“It was at that point that I really sort of recognized my strengths around collaboration and finding shared values and bringing people around a table to get to a solution – and people from oftentimes very different positions,” he said.

That ability to work with competing interests came in handy when, in August 2014, the Mount Polley copper mine’s tailings pond suddenly collapsed, pouring 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of slurry into Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek.

The incident gave the entire mining industry in B.C. a black eye. Cox set about helping to heal that bruise, working with government as it enhanced the management and oversight of tailings ponds, and aiding in the effort to rebuild public trust in the industry.

The disaster was “hugely destabilizing, obviously,” Cox said. “But we really, I think, seized the opportunity to pull the membership together and drive to solutions, and I think that’s what really changed the dialogue. The success stories coming out of Mount Polley on the regulatory side are ones that haven’t been fully told yet.”

Another story that Cox believes has not been given full expression is the importance of mining in the global move to a decarbonized economy and as a driver of clean technology.

“For me, my two main focuses are on competitiveness and mining awareness,” he said. “When I took this job, my pitch for it was that this industry doesn’t talk about itself.

“Let’s talk about the fact that it’s going to take four times more copper to build an electric car than it does a combustion engine. Let’s talk about how it’s going to take 100 tonnes of steelmaking coal to build one wind turbine. So as we make this transition, mining’s absolutely essential, and especially in British Columbia. Those are our two main commodities.”

Greg D’Avignon, now president of the Business Council of British Columbia, was the western region president of the Canada’s National Brewers association when he got to know Cox, who was still with Molson at the time. He has since seen Cox play a role in changing the way British Columbians think about mining.

“He’s bringing a generational, but also a fresh, perspective around an industry that we’ve taken for granted for 150 years in this province,” D’Avignon said. “He understands communication and the value of taking complex issues and boiling them down to meaningful materials.”

Born and raised in Alberta, Cox said his own family’s experience with economic hardship helped shape the way he thinks. His father was an entrepreneur who ran a catering business that served work camps in Alberta’s oilpatch.

Like many businessmen in Alberta, his father was hit hard by the recession in the 1980s that gripped North America and sent oil prices tumbling. Cox said his father’s business never did fully recover from the shock.

“That really shaped my upbringing,” Cox said. “Economic issues, plus public policy stuff, can have such a huge impact.”

Those personal experiences led him to take an interest in politics and public governance. He earned a degree in political science from the University of Alberta, and in 2002 he began working for the B.C. government in Victoria.

He spent four years working for the ministries of health and education. In 2006, he moved back to Alberta to work in government relations for Epcor Utilities Inc., an Alberta company that provides municipal services. Less than a year later, he took a job at Molson in public affairs.

In 2009, Molson moved him and his wife to Vancouver to manage the company’s sponsorship of the 2010 Winter Olympics. His two children, aged eight and five, were born here.

After the Olympics, in 2011, Cox went to work for Canada’s National Brewers, taking D’Avignon’s former role as vice-president for Western Canada. Then, in 2014, former MABC CEO Karina Briño encouraged Cox to apply when the position of vice-president of corporate affairs came open at the mining association.

With 41 members, MABC represents and lobbies on behalf of the owners of operating mines or ones that are in the development stage. In addition to heading the MABC, Cox also sits on the steering committee for Mining for Miracles, which has raised $29 million for BC Children’s Hospital since its founding in 1988.

In May 2017, after Briño left to take a job with a mining company in Chile, Cox was tapped as her replacement.

With copper and metallurgical coal prices now soaring to four-year highs, the market conditions are good for mining. There are some worrisome signs, however, that investment – at least in terms of exploration spending – may be bypassing B.C. for Saskatchewan and Ontario.

While the markets are positive, B.C. is challenged by unresolved First Nations land claims, and by potentially more stringent regulations.

The BC NDP government has formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and is reviewing both the environmental review process and the professional reliance model – all of which could make it tougher and more expensive to get new mines approved in B.C.

The first major decision of the NDP government on mining was a potentially chilling one for investors. In mid-December, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy rejected the $1.5 billion Ajax copper mine in Kamloops by denying it an environmental certificate.

“Whenever a mine doesn’t get approved, it’s troubling for industry,” Cox admitted. But he doesn’t seem all that worried that regulatory changes will deter investment in mining in B.C.

“I think we sometimes feed into this perception that things are tough here and it’s tough to do business,” he said. “It’s a jurisdiction where we’ve got a really, really rigorous regulatory process. That’s a good thing. It’s good that our government cares. And we’ve got really, really great operating mines that have excellent relationships with their Indigenous people and communities. Let’s talk about that more.”

Starting in 2014, a number of mines in B.C. began shutting down, due to low commodity prices. But of the three metallurgical coal mines shut down by the now-bankrupt Walter Energy, two have since reopened under new owners Conuma Coal, and the Myra Falls lead-zinc mine on Vancouver Island is also in the process of restarting.

“With where copper prices are right now, Huckleberry [copper mine] could reopen as well,” Cox said.

As for new mines, Cox hopes to see construction begin on the Kemess copper-gold underground mine north of Smithers this year. •


Inside Information: Bryan Cox

Currently reading:

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

First album bought or downloaded:

The Eagles, Greatest Hits

When you were young, what you wanted to be when you grew up:

A lawyer

Other profession you’d most like to try:

Broadcasting (TV or talk radio) and politics

Toughest business or professional decision you ever had to make:

Leaving the beer industry to join the mining industry – turns out to have been the best career decision I have ever made

Advice for your younger self:

To heed the advice in Rudyard Kipling’s If – it’s the same advice I give myself today

What’s left to do:

I plan to play a leading role in bringing people together to identify shared values and a shared pathway forward, while ensuring that there is certainty in the process. I want to be a part of creating long-lasting economic opportunities that my children’s generation can benefit from and be proud of