Cash-hungry governments are digging into the mining boom – by Tasha Kheiriddin (iPolitics – March 5, 2013)

Welcome to the twenty-first century gold rush. Or lithium, chromite or iron: take your pick. This week the Toronto Convention Center turned into the set of Bonanza, as over 30,000 miners, prospectors and processers convened for the annual meeting and trade show of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), the largest such gathering in the world.

Not surprisingly, the political class turned out in force. The federal government dispatched forty Conservative MPs, its biggest contingent ever. Treasury Board President and Minister for FedNor Tony Clement kicked off the festivities Sunday night, speaking about the development of Northern Ontario’s “Ring of Fire”. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver gave the next morning’s keynote. Newly-minted Liberal Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne cut the ribbon on the Ontario Pavilion Monday, while Parti Quebecois Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellette held court at a Quebec reception the previous evening.

Ottawa, Ontario and Quebec all have high stakes in the lucrative mining game. The federal government wants to slay the deficit, stave off the threat of America’s fiscal cliff and boost international trade. Ontario and Quebec — both ‘have-not’ provinces — are grappling with the decline in their manufacturing sectors. Resource extraction could provide the ticket to prosperity for all — but it comes with a host of challenges.

Those include opposition by environmental movements and First Nations. It’s no accident that Premier Wynne opened her remarks by acknowledging that the conference was taking place on the territory of the Mississaugas of New Credit. The Ring of Fire, which boasts over 30,000 claims and could yield one fourth of the world’s chromite, affects First Nations like the Webequie and Marten Falls, who blockaded landing strips in the area in 2010.

That same year the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty passed the Far North Act, which gives First Nations a role in determining the development of public lands in northern Ontario. But the Act has come under fire both from aboriginal groups and the opposition Progressive Conservatives. The latter claim it creates uncertainty for investors and promise to scrap it if elected. The province currently ranks sixteenth among the world’s mining destinations, according to the latest Fraser Institute Report on the subject, but would rank eighth were it not for land restrictions in the Act.

iPolitics asked Ontario Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle whether the Act impedes development. “I truly don’t agree,” he said. “While I recognize that a number of First Nations and certainly a number of Chamber organizations have expressed some concerns about it, we have also seen significant progress made on a piece of legislation that is actually unprecedented, in that it actually partners for the first time with First Nations in the northern part of the province to give them decision-making power on how their lands are used, whether for regional development purposes or protected cultural purposes. That’s never happened before.”

Meanwhile, in Quebec, the green lobby is girding for a fight on the PQ government’s take on the previous Liberal administration’s Plan Nord, which seeks to develop northern mineral resources.

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