George Ross is deputy minister, Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, and the president of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.
Ontario and jurisdictions across Canada are entering a new golden era of mining. Massive mineral deposit discoveries are spurring enormous economic opportunity. But, to fully benefit from the prospect at hand, governments need to adapt to 21st century needs, and Ontario has led the way.
There is no doubt that the minerals industry in Ontario is booming. We are anticipating eight new mines to open over the next decade with three opening this year.
Yet, while success has been traditionally measured by jobs created and economic prosperity gained, it’s vital that the social well-being of Aboriginal communities and other area residents – and the need to curtail any potential environmental concerns – are put front and centre in the planning process. This is not only for just reasons, but also to ensure mine development can be fostered swiftly and assuredly. In addition, it’s critical that the province – through its legal duty to consult – ensure that Aboriginal and treaty rights are respected throughout the mining process.
Six years ago we introduced our first ever Mineral Development Strategy to foster the sustainable management and stewardship of Ontario’s mineral resources. Our goal was to boost Ontario’s standing as a leading international mining jurisdiction and to solidify responsible mineral development.
Our groundbreaking Modernized Mining Act continues to reflect this vision. When introduced in 2009, Ontario was the first jurisdiction in Canada to expressly recognize Aboriginal and treaty rights in its mining legislation and to incorporate a dispute resolution process for Aboriginal-related mining issues.
New regulations that came into effect on November 1, 2012 are the direct result of four years of far-reaching dialogue with a countless array of stakeholders and Aboriginal representatives. Over the last two years alone, we’ve carried out over 90 Aboriginal and stakeholder consultation sessions.
The passion and commitment of everyone involved has transformed a 100-year-old piece of legislation into one that addresses the needs of today, while reflecting the values we hold dear. Clear rules and requirements are making it easier to reach common ground, and are driving our mining industry forward. For example:
- A system of exploration plans and permits requires that Aboriginal communities are notified in advance and consulted on proposed early exploration activities. Private landowners would also be notified in advance, and the public will be able to comment on exploration permits on the environmental registry;
- Comprehensive policies provide clear, progressive guidance around Aboriginal consultation relating to mineral exploration and development activities;
- New tools help protect sites of Aboriginal cultural significance from mineral staking and exploration;
- Requirements for carrying out and rehabilitating early exploration activities are helping minimize impacts on the environment; and
- New rules requiring prospectors to take a mining act awareness program when applying for, or renewing, a license help ensure everyone knows their obligations from the outset.
Ring of fire
All of this sets us up to take full advantage of one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Northern Ontario in perhaps a century.
The Ring of Fire is a potentially massive nickel, copper, platinum and chromite deposit located in northwestern Ontario that promises to bring prosperity to Ontarians across the north, and indeed the whole province.
Our success is again dependent on consultation and collaboration. So, we are engaging in discussions with First Nations communities to ensure they will be involved in decision-making on things such as:
- Socioeconomic, community development and regional infrastructure supports, including transmission, local road access and broadband needs;
- Long-term monitoring of the environmental impacts to the Ring of Fire region to complement the existing environmental assessment and land use planning processes; and
- Resource revenue sharing.
To date, we have signed agreements with two of the most directly affected First Nation communities near the Ring of Fire, Marten Falls and Webequie. And, we look forward to engaging with others as we move to take advantage of the enormous opportunity that lies ahead.
Ontario is a global leader in mineral exploration and development. It is, quite simply, something we are very good at. And to be even better at it, we are balancing the economic development of our natural resources with environmental protection, respect for Aboriginal and treaty rights and regard for community and cultural values.
For more on Ontario’s Modernized Mining Act, please visit: www.ontario.ca/miningact