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Good afternoon, everyone.
I would like to commend the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Aboriginal Committee and all its partners for making this forum possible.
Events like this one are important for promoting a greater understanding of the mineral industry by Aboriginal people and encouraging their greater participation in the industry.
It is with that in mind that I have accepted the kind invitation to address the Forum today.
What I would like to emphasize is that we all have a vested interest in promoting the sustainability of the mineral development sector. And we all have a vested interest in maximizing the benefits of mining activity for all, including First Nations and Métis communities.
We must continue working together to make the changes that will help us achieve those common goals.
Change can begin only when we recognize there are issues that must be addressed. Change begins only once we undertake a dialogue to address those issues.
Dialogue, in the Canadian tradition, involves the exchange of views and the making of compromises, which bring about positive change.
I believe this is now happening in Ontario’s minerals sector. And our government is playing a significant role as an agent for positive change.
With respect to the First Nations and Métis, our government understands there is a growing awareness and increased expectations of Aboriginal communities that they be involved in activities taking place in their traditional areas of land use.
Listening to First Nations and Métis people and understanding their perspective is an obligation my ministry takes very seriously. In fact, engaging First Nations in the Far North in relationship building and consultation at the community level is something started by ministry staff more than a decade ago.
We continue doing so to this day, building on what we’ve learned and sharing those insights with the mineral development community.
We also want to ensure that the minerals industry continues to prosper in Ontario. It is, quite simply, too important to the economic well-being of the province.
The statistics confirm as much. Ontario is Canada’s largest producer of non-fuel minerals, accounting for 23 per cent of the national total in 2009 with an approximate value of about $6.3 billion.
We rank among the top 10 global producers of platinum, nickel, and cobalt and among the top 20 producers of gold, silver, copper and zinc. We have joined the select group of jurisdictions that produce diamonds.
Mining is one of Ontario’s economic pillars employing 75,000 people directly and indirectly. Mining is important to Ontario and we recognize that it is of increasing importance to First Nations and Métis.
Therefore, we are working diligently to respect the desire of First Nations and Métis to be involved with an industry that is respectful of the land.
At the same time, we are working to advance a vibrant, sustainable mining industry by encouraging early and ongoing engagement with First Nations and Métis. We are encouraging a graduated approach to consultation while exploring and developing mineral deposits.
After one of the most comprehensive consultations in the history of the Ontario government, we have produced a new Mining Act that is a ground-breaking piece of legislation — particularly for Ontario’s Aboriginal peoples.
Our new Mining Act expressly recognizes Aboriginal and treaty rights as well as enabling a dispute resolution process for Aboriginal related consultation issues. This is a first in Canadian mining legislation.
Importantly, it will bring the greater clarity and certainty desired by the mining industry.
We have created legislation that is considered by participants in the mineral sector as modern, balanced, and equitable.
Now that Bill 173 has received royal assent, we are holding consultations with First Nations and Métis communities and organizations, and with mineral sector stakeholders, on developing regulations and policies that will implement the new amendments.
At a time when the mineral development industry is experiencing the effects of a global recession — at a time when it is encountering increasing global competition — at a time it is dealing with rising expectations from more stakeholders — updating Ontario’s Mining Act is a proactive measure that will help revitalize the sector.
At the same time, we continue to support the mineral development sector. We continue investing in the production of high-quality geoscience information and high-quality services that promote mineral development.
It is this kind of commitment that helps make Ontario a preferred destination of mineral investment and encourages mineral exploration.
Once again, the numbers confirm the fact. In 2009, active mining claim units remained strong with more than 336,000 recorded.
According to our most recent figures, Ontario has gained market share of exploration in Canada from 24 per cent in 2008 to 27 per cent in 2009.
That exploration activity has led to some exciting mineral discoveries – testimonials to our considerable geological endowment, the skills and persistence of our mineral developers and our commitment to mineral development.
In Northeastern Ontario, near Timmins, Lakeshore Gold has updated their pre-feasibility report at the Timmins Mine Gold Project putting commercial production on target for the end of this year.
Further north, Detour Gold is “proving up” reserves on a large gold deposit at Detour Lake.
In Northwestern Ontario, Rainy River Resources has recently released promising drilling results from its gold properties near Fort Frances.
In each of these cases, I am pleased to note, the companies have either consulted with local First Nations or have negotiated agreements with them.
While we can talk about many other mineral exploration successes in Ontario, one of the most exciting can be found in the Ring of Fire area – particularly the recent discovery of Canada’s first potential world-class deposit of chromite.
The Ring of Fire presents us with an opportunity to make mineral development inclusive from its earliest stages. It offers us the prospect of promoting mineral development that sustains not only industry but also nearby communities including First Nations.
To that end, we are working closely with local municipalities and First Nation communities to support land use planning initiatives that will provide a framework for environmentally sustainable economic development.
In fact, last month officials from my ministry, the Ministry of Natural Resources and representatives from several companies active in the Ring of Fire, visited the communities of Marten Falls and Webequie.
Communities clearly expressed their desire to participate in a meaningful way in economic and business development initiatives and that development take place in an environmentally responsible manner.
These meetings proved to be an excellent starting point for the building of positive, mutually-rewarding relationships.
These meetings also speak to our role as a government – facilitating relationships, identifying opportunities for collaboration and explaining how government initiatives can assist in advancing economic development.
Change, ladies and gentlemen, is inevitable. Our government is working to promote dialogue that brings about positive change.
Getting to this point has been quite a journey for industry, for First Nations and Métis, for government. As is the case in many journeys, we are so focused on the destination that we forget to look back at the great distance we have already traveled.
In this journey, we have come a very long way in a relatively short period of time. By working together, we have already accomplished much.
We – Aboriginal communities, the mineral development community, the provincial government – have made remarkable strides in recent years.
You only have to think about the fact that more than 60 agreements between mining companies and First Nations and Métis have been signed. And more are being negotiated.
Some agreements involve employment opportunities. Others involve business relationships or community benefits. Still others are the foundations for future cooperation and understanding.
Change is taking place.
I think we all understand that there is a huge opportunity here. The industry can be a catalyst for an economic revival in many of our Aboriginal communities while developing superb mineral deposits.
We simply must continue working together to make sure we seize that opportunity for the benefit of all.
I’m glad to see so many of you here today because the PDAC is an excellent venue for fostering collaboration.
This forum and this convention, provide us with excellent opportunities to meet and discuss our respective aspirations for sustainable mining and community development.
Now, I believe the organizing committee has provided us with a few minutes for a question-and-answer session.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.