Ontario Auditor-General slams Mines Ministry over failure to protect the public

In a report released on December 5, 2005, the Ontario Auditor-General slams the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines over its failure to protect the environment and Ontario taxpayers from the long-term impacts of mining.

"The Auditor-General confirms what mining activists in Ontario saying for years: that the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines allows the mining industry to police itself, while it leaves the public to clean up its mess," says Joan Kuyek, National Co-ordinator of MiningWatch Canada.

Nowhere can the public costs of mining be seen more clearly than in the 5,600 known abandoned mine sites in Ontario. At least 250 of these sites are toxic waste dumps, leaching acidic, metals contaminated drainage into water courses and aquifers. Many have open adits and shafts, or are contaminated with asbestos. The Auditor-General's findings show that not only is Ontario doing little to clean up these sites, it is doing almost nothing to prevent more being created.

Among the findings:

  • The Ministry has no idea of the extent of chemical contamination at more than 4000 abandoned mine sites, nor does it know what the costs of clean-up will be.
  • The Ministry has no long-term strategy for managing, monitoring and rehabilitating abandoned mines.
  • Of the 144 mines for which a plan to remediate the mine after closure should be in place, 18 have no plan at all.
  • Since mining activities can have a significant impact on the environment, companies are required to provide the Ministry with financial insurance, so there will be sufficient funds for clean-up if they don't or can't do it. However, the Ministry relies on mining companies to assess and certify the amount of security they must post. "Consequently, the Ministry has little evidence to substantiate the sufficiency of the financial insurances posted".
  • In many cases, companies with a Triple B or better credit rating are allowed to self-assure; that is, they post no bond at all. "The Ministry is effectively assuming the status of unsecured creditor". The Auditor-General notes that one company kept its Triple B rating even though it had been placed on a credit watch.
  • In 19 cases, companies have been allowed to contribute to a "sinking fund" instead of posting a bond. However, four companies of these companies were allowed to go bankrupt without having paid $600,000 into the fund.
  • There are only two mine rehabilitation inspectors and almost one-half the sites had not been inspected in the last five years.
  • The Ministry has no performance measures for minimizing the impacts of mining activities on public health and safety and the environment.

"The province's negligence is putting us all at risk: from small communities like Sachigo and Big Trout First Nations faced with leaking diesel tanks and tailings ponds to mining cities like Sudbury and Timmins where there is inadequate financial security for cleanup enormous and toxic tailings ponds and infrastructure, " says Kuyek.

MiningWatch Canada is a pan-Canadian coalition of twenty-one environmental, social justice, labour and Aboriginal organizations, based in Ottawa.

For more information, contact: Joan Kuyek, (613) 569-3439