On July 14, 2008, Premier McGuinty committed his government to “Reforming and Modernizing Ontario’s Mining Act”. At that time, he said:
“Our plan will ensure that mining potential across the province is developed in a sustainable way that benefits and respects communities. We will ensure that our mining industry remains strong — but we also need to modernize the way mining companies stake and explore their claims to be more respectful of private land owners and Aboriginal communities. The Ontario government believes exploration and mine development should only take place following early consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal communities. To ensure that mining practices are up to date in the far North and across the province, we will review the Mining Act. Consultations will begin early next month. We will introduce legislation in the upcoming session and new rules would be in place for later next year.”
The Ontario government announced a schedule of public consultations on August 5th. The consultations were focussed around the government’s discussion paper Modernizing Ontario’s Mining Act, Finding a Balance posted online on August 11th.. Closed door stakeholder and open public consultations took place from August 11th to September 8th in Timmins, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kingston and Toronto. The government is also accepting written comments until October 15th.
Instructions for submitting written comments can be found on the Ontario Environmental Registry website.
Working with a number of key environmental and social justice groups in Ontario, MiningWatch Canada has carefully considered what is needed to fulfill the Premier’s vision of bringing the Ontario Mining Act into the 21st Century.
The following are what we see as the key elements to meaningful reform of mining legislation in Ontario:
- New mining legislation in Ontario must reconcile differing land values prior to exploration and prospecting, ensuring the protection of the natural environment , incorporating free, prior and informed consent, and the recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights.
- Aboriginal peoples, municipalities and private landowners who may be affected by mining must have right to grant or withhold consent before land can be prospected, staked out, explored or mined.
- A permit system should be introduced that would require separate permits for different key mining stages: prospecting, and early exploration, advanced exploration (including a closure plan), permit to mine (including water taking permits, industrial sewage works and closure plans). Rigorous standards for all stages of mining would be developed and act as the regulatory basis for these permits.
- The Mining Act free entry system fails to recognize First Nations on a nation-to-nation basis and as treaty partners and violates Aboriginal peoples constitutional rights to consultation and accommodation prior to government decisions being made that might affect their interests. As a result, it also fails to uphold the principle of reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples.
- We agree with the Premier that Aboriginal communities and municipalities must be given the right to withdraw lands from prospecting and staking for environmental, heritage, cultural, economic and spiritual reasons within their respective jurisdictions.
- Comprehensive Land Use Planning must be completed prior to any new staking on Crown lands in the Boreal Forest. We also suggest that a Provincially Significant Natural Heritage Inventory and Map be created for the entire province showing those places where mining - including prospecting and exploration activities - is not permitted.
- The Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act must be to be changed in order to allow for ecological, heritage and recreational values to be placed higher in priority for planning than mining (Provincially Significant Mineral Potential - “PSMP”) values.
- A moratorium on any new staking, permitting and licensing has to be put in place immediately and be in place until comprehensive land use planning is completed.
- Full and independent environmental assessment (EA) has to occur before the issuance of any permits for mining operations. EA must incorporate public participation and funding to facilitate such participation. The current Declaration Order which exempts mine permits and leases from Environmental Assessment must be lifted.
- Full realizable reclamation funding should be put in place for ongoing mining operations and for any new mine operations and that the public have access to such information. We need to end the present scheme of financial self-assurance for companies with strong credit ratings.