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Kristen Courtney is an environmental lawyer and a Fellow in Global Journalism at the Munk School for Global Affairs.
Industry warns of an impending exodus of mining companies saying new regulations are too onerous for an industry already in dire financial straits.
Many of Ontario’s junior mining companies are struggling to catch up with the law this month as new regulations under the province’s century-old Mining Act have just come into effect.
According to Garry Clark, executive director of the Ontario Prospectors Association, many companies didn’t understand what the new rules required of them, which has resulted in some getting caught offside the law and abruptly having to halt exploration work.
Companies that didn’t obtain the necessary plans and permits now required by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines “have effectively had their exploration work shut down while they wait for these to go through… there are quite a few tied up in the process right now, and most of them are taking longer than 30 days,” says Clark, throwing off scheduling and costing companies more money.
Even amongst those companies that did understand what’s required, many find the regulations too onerous for an industry already in dire financial straits.
The industry has been warning of an impending exodus of mining companies and mining dollars from the province – at a time when both the federal and provincial governments are banking on the tens of billions of dollars that mineral development could mean for Ontario’s north.
The April 1 amendments were the latest to come into force in the suite of changes introduced in 2009 to update Ontario’s Mining Act. Although often criticized as antiquated, the Act has also been credited with providing a regulatory environment that has underpinned a flourishing mining industry in the province.
The latest rules are designed primarily to ease tensions between mining companies, Aboriginal communities and landowners. They require prospectors to prepare and file exploration plans with the province for early exploration work, and then wait for a 30-day public notice and comment period.
Prospectors must also now notify landowners in advance of any exploration activities, consult with potentially-affected Aboriginal communities, and apply for a new provincial exploration permit when activities like test drilling and line cutting progress beyond a certain threshold.
According to the Ministry, permits ought to be issued within 50 days, unless greater time is required to consult with Aboriginal communities.
This is in stark contrast to the current “free entry” system that has existed since 1996, whereby prospectors have been able to carry out early exploration work without any provincial permits or landowner or community oversight.
“The old Mining Act was outdated in many ways,” said Shawn Batise, executive director of the Wabun Tribal Council in Timmins, but for First Nations in particular, the Act hadn’t kept pace with the case law on the duty to consult and accommodate Aboriginal peoples. This led to a number of high profile disputes between First Nations and resource firms.
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