| Sep 04, 2008

Editorial - Sept 4, 2008

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Editorial - September 4, 2008 Mining Act revision: Is it a hoax after all?Editorial by Jeff Green

On the opening page of a 16-page discussion paper called “Modernizing Ontario’s Mining Act – Finding a Balance” Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle, concluded his minister’s message with the following paragraph:

“Our task is to find a balance. By getting it right, we can ensure that all communities have the opportunity to reap the benefits of the current mining boom – according to their aspirations – while we preserve the natural heritage values we so deeply love.”

The review that is taking place is a limited one, as it will need to be if the ministry is planning to meet the deadline they were proposing as late as last week, which is to have legislation before the house by Christmas.

For at least five years a Minister’s Advisory Committee met, made up mostly of mining industry representatives, with Frontenac County resident Peter Griesbach bringing the perspective of private landowners to the table as the representative from the Federation of Ontario Cottage Associations. The committee held meetings throughout the tenures of several ministers and they straddled two governments and as many elections.

Finally, last summer, after extensive vetting from government departments as diverse as finance, tourism, municipal affairs, mining and agriculture, etc., a set of proposed changes to the mining act was posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights website for comment by the public.

After the comment period was over, the thinking was that the proposed changes would find their way to the floor of Queen’s Park in the spring of this year.

The proposed changes would have provided some protection to private landholders from the impacts of staking and exploration, although they stopped well short of eliminating the free entry system, whereby 2% of private land and 100% of Crown land in the province is open to staking

Then, the political atmosphere changed. Part of the that change resulted from the controversy in North Frontenac over uranium exploration on private and crown land that included in the Algonquin Land Claim territory. That, couple with a sister dispute over platinum exploration at Big Trout Lake in the far north-western corner of the province, led to respected Aboriginal elders spending time in jail. These disputes, among other factors, highlighted the fact that reforming the mining act without considering aboriginal concerns would not fly politically.

The government, seemingly, had two choices.

They could have gone ahead with the proposed changes and at the same time launched a comprehensive review of the Mining Act, taking all the relevant issues into account, including surface/subsurface rights and aboriginal title. This review would take years to complete.

The second option was to forego the changes, and immediately launch a review of the act.

Instead, the government seems to be trying to have it both ways, delay the changes as written for a short time, and launch a condensed consultation process.

At public meetings in five locations around the province, stakeholders as well as the general public were asked to comment on five elements that have been identified for discussion.

As if to underline how important the aboriginal aspects of the review are, four of the five elements make specific reference to aboriginal concerns. The fifth element refers to the surface/subsurface rights issue.

The plan seems to be to add an aboriginal element to the Mining Act changes, incorporate protection of the boreal forest, and keep the mining industry moving as other sectors of the economy falter.

At the public meetings in Sudbury and Kingston, the public did not exactly play along.

In Sudbury, some prospectors walked out of the meeting, arguing that changes were being pushed through too quickly.

In Kingston, a range of concerns were heard, including the argument, put forward by Bob Lovelace, that uranium be singled out from other minerals because even exploring for it carries environmental risk.

Aboriginal issues are complex. Mining issues are complex. Property owners will only be satisfied if surface and subsurface rights are joined, which is something the prospecting and exploration companies will not accept.

For the McGuinty government to solve the Mining Act problem by Christmas will require the intervention of Santa Claus.

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