On April 30, 2009, Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Mines, the Hon. Michael Gravelle, introduced for First Reading Bill 173, the Mining Amendment Act, 2009. The Bill strikes a balance between preserving the competitiveness of Ontario for exploration and mining and addressing the concerns of surface rights holders. Importantly it implements the Crown’s constitutional duties owed to Aboriginal people. Although the Bill leaves considerable detail for regulations, resource companies that have been engaging Aboriginal people will likely find alignment with the approach of the new regime.
The extensive package of amendments to the province’s Mining Act would formalize consultation with Aboriginal communities affected by exploration and mining activities. It would also require prospectors to undergo “awareness” training, and introduce a dispute resolution process to resolve problems when discussions over exploration permits and closure plans run into difficulty. The details of the required consultation, training and dispute resolution mechanisms won’t be known until the draft regulations implementing those programs are released for comment.
The Mining Act would be amended to remove most lands in Southern Ontario and certain designated land uses in Northern Ontario from the threat of mining in the future. These restrictions were designed, in part, to allay worries by cottage and home owners that mining rights could be granted to the land literally beneath their feet. However, existing mining claims, leases and licences would remain valid and application could be made to the Minister to reopen any lands closed to staking. New mines would not be permitted in the “Far North”, an area to be defined in regulation, on any lands deemed “inconsistent” with mining.
While the Bill has received generally positive results from both the mining industry and Aboriginal groups, several groups have complained that not enough consultation was undertaken. There is also concern that staking would be allowed prior to the start of consultation. First Nations groups are calling for the funding and technical support that will be necessary to participate in future consultations and project assessments on an equal footing.
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