Is there a maggot in the new [Ontario] Mining Act meat? – by John R. Hunt (North Bay Nugget – May, 2010)

The North Bay Nugget, established in 1907, is the daily newspaper for the northeastern Ontario community of North Bay. This column was originally published in May, 2010.

On the Rocks Column

Is there a maggot in the meat pie, a worm in the woodwork or a rat in the basement? I have that strange feeling that afflicts newspaper people when they suspect they are being conned. Smart housewives get it when an energy retailer says he will save them money.

I cheerfully admit I hope I am wrong. I am only concerned because I fear a small group I have long admired is to be flushed down the political tube.

Prospectors are my special minority and chances are that most people have never met one. By strange circumstance I have spent much time with all kinds of prospectors. I have no illusions. As a group they have the same percentage of crooks and charlatans as any other trade or profession. But they have had an incredible influence upon Canada’s development and growth.

You may have heard Michael Gravelle, the minister of Northern Development and Mines, talking about changes to the Mining Act. Everyone is supposedly delighted.

Cottage owners will be protected from wicked prospectors. Natives will no longer have their hunting grounds invaded by mining companies without permission.

Very few noticed that the minister said that to protect the environment the province is moving towards map staking. It will start in southern Ontario and gradually move North.

I am sure that 90% of Ontarians neither know nor care what map staking is all about. Neither do I, but I fear it is the culmination of a long and insidious move to drive the little guys and small companies out of mining exploration and turn it all over to big corporations.

This will make life easier for the bureaucrats. Bay Street will love it. The corporations will develop Canada’s natural resources and then sell them to foreigners.

Sudbury folk understand. Canada’s richest nickel deposits have been sold to Brazilian and Swiss companies. Yet most mines exist because of independent prospectors and small mining companies. Traditionally they have taken huge risks to find mineral deposits and then sold out to the big boys.

Ed Horne paddled from New Liskeard to Osisko Lake in Quebec to stake what was to become Noranda Mines and found the cities of Rouyn and Noranda.

More recently it was diamond prospectors financed by Western money who discovered the nickel deposits at Voiseys Bay.

Some believe that the day of prospecting on foot has passed because electronic equipment carried by aircraft can detect mineral deposits far beneath the surface. This is partially true. But geologists and scientists often make mistakes. A good prospector can often follow his hunches and prove the experts wrong.

Until recently a prospector would stake a 40-acre claim or series of claims. Each claim would be marked out by lines, or trails cut through the bush. Line cutting requires some skill and often employs a lot of men.

Regulations have changed, and now everything is metric and prospectors can stake a larger area with a lot less line cutting.

The point of the old system is that there had to be a physical presence and the expenditure of considerable effort and some money. The Bay St. boys dislike spending money and consider text messaging more than enough hard physical effort.

Of course all this will be eliminated when map staking is allowed. A team of corporate lawyers will meet with civil servants and draw lines on a map to reserve large blocks of land for their own exploration.

Perhaps the new regulations will impose some restrictions. There should be limitations on how much land can be staked by any individual or company. There has to be some annual fee or tax to discourage holding land too long, and a requirement that a certain amount of work be done each year or the claim will come open.

All of these regulations are pretty well incorporated in the present Mining Act as applied to traditional staking.

Most big mining companies support map staking. It seems the Prospectors and Developers Association does too, although one of its studies revealed that small operators are apprehensive. I do not blame them.

The great advantage of the present system is that it is open. People can see what is being done. It is difficult to corrupt.

The new deal reminds me of the Peterson Liberals’ land use plan for the North. It put the boots to trappers but few cared about them. Then many people discovered the leases on cottages their families had enjoyed for generations were to be cancelled. The devil was in the details.

Here is the kicker. No one really knows how map staking will work!

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