Mining exploration in the province is down more than half from what it was a few years ago, says the head of the Ontario Prospectors Association.
While Ontario announced $1 billion in exploration in 2011, OPA executive director Garry Clark that number included development. True exploration was really closer to $450 million. But today, the province would be lucky if exploration in Ontario is $250 million, the worst Clark has ever seen.
"It's probably the slowest exploration year we've had," he said. "A lot of people are scared to invest in high risk things right now."
Typically prospectors would head to other provinces or countries to find work but Clark said lately it's been slow all over the world. Closer to home, that means a lot of prospectors, drillers and other industry professionals are looking for work.
That also means there's no one out there making discoveries in the region that could one day turn into mines.
"If you don't have people kicking rocks and drilling diamond drill holes you'll end up with a glut of time where you don't have new projects coming on stream," Clark said.
Changes to the Mining Act, which were announced in 2009, have yet to materialize. That, along with land issues, could be scaring away some investors too Clark said.
But the best way to get investors to take a chance on exploration is for discoveries to be made. The sizzle of discovery in the Ring of Fire has slowed recently but Clark expects a run there again. He said prospectors by nature are big gamblers and optimists.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle is also optimistic. While there have been challenges he said mines in the province continue to open like Vale's Totten Mine, the first new mining operation in Sudbury in 40 years.
"The fact is Ontario continues to be a very attractive place to invest," he said.