In his recent Annual Report, Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, makes it clear that there are serious flaws in how Ontario currently oversees the mining industry. The report’s chapter on mining focuses on the new Mining Act and the problems occurring in the area of northern Ontario that industry has dubbed the “Ring of Fire”. While recognizing improvements under the new Mining Act, the Commissioner said that the environmental concerns of non-governmental organizations and the public are not adequately reflected in the new law.
MiningWatch Canada shares the Commissioner’s concerns, having raised many of the same issues during consultations on the Mining Act and directly with the Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDMF). Fortunately, some of these problems could be resolved through the timely development and implementation of rigorous regulations to accompany the new Act.
To better prevent environment damage from mineral exploration activities the Commissioner recommends that MNDMF “require that the approval of an exploration permit include the completion of a comprehensive environmental impact assessment”. He also wants the government to provide better consultation by making use of the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry for all exploration activities. Both of these recommendations should be included in the regulations for exploration plans and permits currently being developed by the Ministry.
The Commissioner made special mention of the concerns related to exploration for uranium and for other minerals in uranium-rich deposits. He expressed disappointment that uranium was not considered by the MNMDF during consultations on the new Act. There is, however, still the opportunity for the Ministry to fulfil the Commissioner’s recommendation that “the unique aspects of uranium are considered and that appropriate uranium-specific environmental safeguards are included in exploration permits.”
Because the new Act did not give the government the authority to cancel mining claims, and all existing claims remain valid, the government needs to move quickly in developing the regulations to minimize the ongoing problems with exploration activities and conflicts around disentanglement of areas designated as off limits to mining. The Commissioner pointed to two examples of ongoing problems in the Ring of Fire – the construction of an unauthorized landing strip and the use of mining claims to lock down potential rail corridors. Regarding the rail corridors he notes that, “Staking of hundreds of kilometres of Crown lands for a rail corridor abuses the intended purpose of mining claims.” He further noted that it circumvented appropriate approvals and planning mechanism. These are the same concerns that MiningWatch identified to Minister Gravelle in November 2009.
Some Fundamental Problems Will Remain
While MiningWatch remains hopeful that some of the flaws in the Mining Act can be overcome through appropriate and timely development of regulations, other fundamental weaknesses we and the Commissioner have identified will remain. These include:
- Broad ministerial discretion
- No requirements for revenue sharing with First Nations
- Provincial override on community land use planning designations
- No provincial authority to cancel mining claims or leases
- Ability to stake mineral claim in world heritage sites, conservation areas, endangered species habitats and provincially significant wetlands and woodlands.