Ontario Mining Association Feels Mining/Aboriginal/Environmental Communities Can Cooperate in the North

Chris Hodgson - President of the Ontario Mining AssociationThe Ontario Mining Association (OMA), is an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

This letter from Ontario Mining Association President Chris Hodgson to member companies maps out the Association´s position concerning various aspects of Premier Dalton McGuinty´s announcement on plans for the future of Ontario´s northern boreal forest.

Recently, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made an announcement concerning the launch of the Far North Planning Process.  A land use plan for the Far North has been requested by various groups for years and the lead up to this announcement has taken some time.  A fundamental principle of the Ontario Mining Association since its inception in 1920 has been to work productively with the government of the day and, in keeping with this, we have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue on this issue.

You may recall a memo that was sent on June 21, 2007, outlining the points of concern regarding a proposed Far North Planning Initiative that the OMA discussed with various ministers, members of the civil service and political staff. Since that memo was sent, our discussions with the government have taken on greater depth and, lately, more urgency, but the essentials remain the same.  The government is faced with a large task, which requires management of many competing interests.  Recent media reports have been giving rise to mounting expectations for a radical overhaul of the rules around access to land by resource companies. While the OMA supports changes to improve the systems in place, our concern has been that the scope of the initiative not become overwhelming and, therefore, drawn out and largely unmanageable, resulting in irrational decisions and regulatory uncertainty.  

The OMA Directors had an opportunity to discuss some of our concerns and proposed messaging at the most recent meeting of the Board.  Over the last weeks, I have taken this message to various ministers and deputy ministers, the Premier’s office, as well as members of the environmental community, including the Canadian Boreal Initiative.  The purpose of the meetings was to find common ground on a way to approach the complex issues involved in land use planning in a way that is manageable for both the government, the ENGO sector and the industry.  I believe that the Premier’s announcement reflects some measure of this consensus on key issues for our sector.

 Mining Act Review

Until recently, political statements and media reports were calling for a significant overhaul of the Mining Act.  The OMA argued that the inevitably prolonged legislative flux would significantly undermine the investment climate in the province.  To retain some sense of certainty, we asked that the review process be tightly scoped and conducted over a limited timeframe.  The wording of the announcement, as well as follow-up conversations with senior policy advisors at the Premier’s Office, have confirmed that the review process will be focused on dealing with private land issues and Aboriginal participation.

The consultation process on the Mining Act review is set to begin in August and proceed on a tight schedule.  Given prior discussions on the issues at hand with the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the Ontario Prospectors’ Association, as well as a wide group of stakeholders involved on the Ministers Mining Act Advisory Council, we believe that workable solutions are in sight.  Nonetheless, even with the limited scope, we foresee an intense consultation process and we ask that our members offer up their expertise, so that we have a strong presence at the discussion table.

Land-use Plan for the Far North Boreal Forest

In proposing to protect 50% of the Far North Boreal Forest, the government has stated that existing land tenure, claims and leases will not be affected.  It is also recognizing the fundamental need to strike a balance between conservation and development for the future.  This precludes arbitrary selection of protected areas and calls for a rational approach to planning, which is supported with substantive data on the region’s biodiversity, carbon sequestration potential, Aboriginal cultural heritage, natural resource and mineral potential.  Both the OMA and leading environmental groups like the Canadian Boreal Initiative support a rational approach to land-use planning.  This is reflected in the government’s commitment to comprehensive mapping of the region, which is expected to take 10 to 15 years.

Meanwhile, I urge OMA members to take an active part in the multi-stakeholder discussions on creating a framework for the government plan.  Mining has a miniscule footprint on the landscape, but it does depend on broad-based access to land to identify mineral potential at the early exploration stage.  I believe that there are useful jurisdictional models, including the Yukon and Northwest Territories, which demonstrate how certain low-risk activities can take place with limited or no screening, while overall stringent environmental protections are maintained.

Modern mining practices stress environmental protection and ecological conservation. There are numerous examples of progressive practices to protect species at risk – the De Beers Canada woodland caribou study in the Attawapiskat area comes to mind – in addition to other measures to protect the environment, which we can bring to the table in the interest of working out the best possible land-use plan in the Far North.

 A New Role for First Nations in the Far North

The mining industry has done much to develop productive and respectful relationships with Aboriginal communities.  More than 40 Impact Benefit Agreements have been signed between mining companies and First Nations that provide for employment, infrastructure and economic development.  We welcome the move by the government to clarify the rules around consultation with the First Nations. We expect that this will take place as part of the Mining Act review and that a consultation template will be embedded in the revised Act.

 Resource Benefit Sharing

The OMA believes that all those impacted by mining activity should benefit from the prosperity that the industry brings.  For that reason, we have been recommending that the government create a system of revenue sharing with First Nations communities that support mining as an acceptable land-use on their traditional lands and territories.  We have proposed that a base fund be established and be supplemented annually from existing mining tax streams.  We have stressed that these contributions come from the existing taxes and that no tax rates be increased and no new taxes be added, as this would undermine the competitiveness of the sector.  A similar proposal, which takes the OMA position into consideration, has been endorsed by the Ontario Mineral Industry Cluster Council. We welcome the government’s plans to provide a down payment towards Resource Benefit Sharing this fall.

In all, the OMA appreciates the level of access to government decision-makers that we have been granted over an extended period of time and the openness with which our positions on land-use issues and the proposed Mining Act review have been received.  Ultimately, I believe that the Ontario government is taking a measured approach to a complex set of issues and we look forward to participating fully in the consultations that will inform the government’s decision-making.  To be truly effective, we will need significant input by our members, and we welcome your comments, suggestions and participation.