MiningWatch Canada Response to Ontario Government Announcement: "Protecting Ontario's Northern Boreal Forest"

MiningWatch Canada welcomes the Ontario Government’s July 14th announcement regarding the protection of 225,000 km2 of the Far North Boreal Region, and its intention to reform the province’s Mining Act. MiningWatch has taken an active role in researching and monitoring mining issues in the boreal region and has been advocating for change to Ontario’s mining policies and practices for many years. (See our recently updated Boreal Below report.)

We are pleased by the current commitments to engage First Nations, to develop a new system of resource benefits sharing, and to “ensure that mining practices are up to date in the far North and across the province”. We see this as an important opportunity to reduce the conflicts that the “free entry” system of mineral exploration and development has created in the province, and to introduce important environmental protections that are currently absent from provincial mining policies and regulations.

Undertaking community-based planning exercises across Ontario’s vast northern region will be a significant undertaking. We trust that adequate resources will be provided to ensure successful completion of the task. While timeliness is important this is not a process that should be rushed and sufficient time must be given for communities to gather and analyse information and to engage in meaningful internal decision-making processes. The suggestion implicit in the government’s statement that plans will be completed within one year is overly optimistic and we would not want to see the process rushed to conclusion.

Given that existing mineral claims are to be “grandfathered” and additionally that land use planning in the far north will not alleviate the conflicts occurring in the southern Boreal and other more “settled” regions of Ontario, MiningWatch feels that a comprehensive review and reform of the Mining Act and associated regulations and policies is fundamental to a successful outcome from this announcement.

In order for the Mining Act to effectively minimise conflict it will be vital for the amendments to:

  • Recognise and clearly establish the ability of First Nations and municipal governments to withdraw lands from staking for mineral claims;
  • Require the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of First Nations, as well as consultation with municipalities and surface rights holders (landowners), before mineral exploration and development occurs;
  • Establish a permitting system for mineral exploration, advanced exploration, and mine development that will allow for meaningful public consultation and the setting of enforceable conditions on the permitted activities.

In addition to the reforms necessary to the mining act, other provincial policies that are counter productive to the intentions of minimising social conflict and environmental harm need to be addressed. Specifically, it is necessary that as part of the reform to mining practices the provincial government:

  • End the exemption of mining activities from the provincial Environmental Assessment process;
  • Revise the Municipal Planning Act and Planning Policy Statement to remove the designation of mineral development as the highest priority land use in areas of high mineral potential.

We trust that the process to reform the Mining Act and other relevant provincial regulations and policies will be undertaken in a transparent and inclusive fashion, including representation from First Nations, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations. We will look forward to contributing to this process in the months and years ahead.