| Jul 31, 2008

Feature Article - July 31, 2008

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Feature Article - July 31, 2008 The Bedford Mining Alert and the Ontario Mining ActBy Jefff Green

The Bedford Mining Alert (BMA) started out, literally, as a voice from the wilderness 9 years ago, founded by a group of landowners who were faced with prospecting on their properties.

In some cases, these people had no idea that there was such as thing as mining rights to properties in Ontario, and that they were among the small percentage of landowners in the province (2%) who did not own theirs.

They also did not know that those 2% of properties are subject to staking and as the result of the co-called “free entry system”, staked properties can be accessed and altered by mining exploration companies.

Nine years later, the Bedford Mining Alert is extremely well versed in the 140 year old Ontario Mining Act and its current applications, and as Sandy Cameron informed the public at the Association's Annual General Meeting last Saturday at the Glendower Hall, the current Minister of Mines and Northern Development wrote a letter to the BMA earlier this year stating that the “BMA will be an important part of the review of the Mining Act that is being undertaken by the Province.”

That review process was addressed in one of the presentations made to the AGM.

Peter Tabuns (left), the critic for Energy Mines and Resources for the New Democratic Party, took issue with the review that has been ordered, not because he is a particular fan of the mining act, but because the announcement of the review effectively squashed a process which had been on the point of bringing in what he called “modest changes” to the act.

“The Provincial government knows this,” he said. “13 months ago a series of changes to the Mining Act were introduced. There was a 60 day posting on the Environmental Bill of Rights website. The changes do not solve all of the problems but there are some useful elements there. They are modest changes, but they are changes that landowners and mining companies were comfortable with.

“Premier McGuinty has clutched delay from the jaws of progress,” Tabuns concluded.

One member of the audience took exception to Tabuns statements. Charles Fishner, who owns property in Lanark Highlands, has been involved in a 20 year fight with the Province over the way the mining act has been applied to his property. He interrupted Tabuns, and said “I disagree that the proposals for change have broad support from landowners. The proposals would do nothing to give comfort to landowners. The proposals were an appalling response. The mining companies were given extraordinary privileges.”

Also in the audience was Peter Griesbach, a Sydenham resident whose land was subject to staking several years ago, and who until recently was the chair of the sub-committee that wrote the proposed regulation changes which have been shelved.

“I want to say how much I appreciate the work that the NDP has done on these issues,” Griesbach said.

For Randy Hillier, MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, the entire matter is essentially a property rights issue.

Hillier railed against the free entry system when he was the President of the Ontario Landowners Association, before entering provincial politics last year.

“With the Mining Act we have created injustice through legislation,” he said. “We have created privileges for some and disadvantages for others. No level of injustice is acceptable.

“The changes from last year were a little step. I have spoken to ministers, and others and I see there is an interest in changing the mining act. If the whole thing is to be opened for a complete review, it will take years. I would bet it will be longer than the McGuinty mandate. I believe there is some intention to that. Meanwhile it allows the injustice to remain.”

Ramsay Hart, a staff member from Mining Watch Canada, and advocacy group for mining reform, was also in attendance.

He said that the “free entry system is at the core of mining across Canada. At mining Watch we really do believe we have reached a point where we may see some things happen.”

Hart also referred to an announcement that was made by Premier McGuinty two weeks ago. It concerned the withdrawal of lands in northern Ontario from staking and the recognition of aboriginal rights in respect to mining, which he said “Mining Watch will be pursuing. We will also be pushing that municipal and other interests be taken seriously along with aboriginal interests.”

Ramsay Hart then asked if the Conservative and NDP parties had positions on the free entry system.

Tabuns said the NDP did, and Hillier said there was no policy in the platform for last years’ election “but the rural task force that I will be chairing this fall will be providing input to the policy making for the next election.”

“What about environmental assessments for mining,” Hart asked.

“I’m not the critic for that,” Hillier replied. “I’m not well enough informed on the mining side.”

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