Extensive revisions to Ontario’s Mining Act were approved by Queen’s Park on October 21, 2009, and received royal assent a week later. The new Act follows commitments made by Premier McGuinty to “modernize” the Act and strike a balance between the diverse interests that are affected by and involved in the sector. Though another round of consultations took place as part of the legislative process while the bill was under Committee review, few substantive changes have been made since the bill was introduced in the spring. Response to the Act has been mixed.
At least from appearances, an important change in the Act is the addition of wording around Aboriginal consultation, including it within the purpose statement of the Act and throughout various sections. Though touted as a major advancement by the government, several individual First Nations and regional First Nations organizations have commented that a vague requirement for “consultation” is not adequate and that the province needs to institutionalize Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for affected First Nations. In other words, if consultation is to be meaningful then communities must have the right to say no to projects they determine are not in their interest. There is nothing in the new Act that requires consent or recognizes First Nations’ right to say ‘no’, though most of the details on consultation requirements are being left to the development of the regulations under the Act. Another concern regarding Aboriginal consultation is the fact that the bill passes responsibility for consultation on to mining companies when it is the legal duty of the government to engage in consultation.
The act addresses concerns over the “Free Entry” system by requiring the submission of exploration plans and requests for exploration permits. The requirement for exploration permits was one of MiningWatch’s core demands for the new bill and we are pleased to see this included. It is not, however, at all clear what will be involved in the permitting process. Some vague direction is provided but, as with Aboriginal consultation, all the details are being left to the development of regulations.
We have enquired how regulations are going to be developed and have been promised that there will be additional public consultations to provide input on the regulations, but no specifics are available. Given the looseness of the framework created by the new act, and the importance of getting the regulations right, MiningWatch will fully engage with our allies to propose regulations that will effectively address social and environmental concerns.
Other aspects of the Act where MiningWatch recommended changes have not been addressed at all. There is nothing in the new Act to improve financial assurances or the environmental assessment process, or to prevent uranium exploration and mining.