Jeff Green | May 21, 2009
Back to HomeEditorial - May 21, 2009 Mining Act reform brings changes – but not enough for manyEditorial by Jeff Green
For some, the recent changes to the Ontario Mining Act marked the culmination of years of effort to address the conflicts between the interests of the mining industry and property owners’ rights, environmental concerns and Aboriginal rights.
The interests of property owners who own only surface rights to their property, which have been the subject of 10 years of lobbying successive provincial governments, are dealt with in the new mining act. They are no longer subject to staking.
So why are so many of the local activists still so upset? The reason is that while the surface-subsurface issue has been resolved in southern Ontario, the impact of mineral staking on Crown Land has not changed, and while for the first time there are provisions for “consultation” with Aboriginal peoples in the mining act, they will not satisfy all of the demands of certain Aboriginal communities.
Although the consultation protocols are not finalized, it is clear that they will not address the question of sovereignty over lands that are part of land claims processes or disputes.
During the consultation process that took place in the time period between the end of the Robertsville mine occupation in late 2007 and the court hearing in February 2008 that eventually led to the jailing of Bob Lovelace, there were three or four sessions that were open to the public. The meetings were between chiefs and senior council members from the Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquins, and representatives from the ministries of Mines and Northern Development, and Aboriginal Affairs.
It was touted as a kind of pilot project for Aboriginal consultation. The issue that was at the forefront of the discussions, from the Aboriginal point of view, was simple: did the Aboriginal communities have the right to refuse mining exploration on their land claim territory? Ministry officials said this was not something they could consider. The consultations eventually failed.
Under the new mining act Aboriginal communities will still have no right of refusal, and the consultation process, although ill-defined as of yet, will not include any kind of veto. Sovereignty over Ontario lands rests with the Government of Ontario; of that there is no doubt.
The new mining act also does not grant even limited authority to municipalities. Throughout the long struggle over mining exploration on private lands in Southern Ontario as well as during the Robertsville dispute, municipal bylaws, official plans, council resolutions, etc. have had no impact on the implementation of the mining act.
The townships of South Frontenac and Tay Valley discouraged mining exploration in their official plans. About 15 eastern Ontario municipalities, ranging from rural municipalities to the cities of Ottawa and Kingston, passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on uranium exploration.
The mining act has always overridden municipal regulations, and there is no change in the new act. It represents no gain for municipalities.
Finally, on the matter of uranium itself, the act is silent. Activists have been saying that the environmental impacts of uranium exploration are such that it needs mention in the mining act, which is the only regulatory tool that kicks in for preliminary exploration, but the mining act takes the position the uranium is the same as any other mineral. For the purpose of exploration, uranium is treated in the same way as graphite, copper, or any other mineral.
Activists will have to look elsewhere for reform over the coming years as the mining act review is now complete.