Conservatives endorse mining tax royalties for First Nations – by Bryan Phelan (Wawatay News – September 18, 2013)

Ontario Progressive Conservatives say a share of the mining tax royalties should go to First Nations and other communities that build and support new mines.

Tim Hudak, the PC leader, introduced a policy “white paper” outlining his party’s position on the North during a visit to Thunder Bay on Sept. 17.

“The Ring of Fire is the greatest mining discovery of a lifetime but the project has gone nowhere,” Hudak stated in the introduction to the policy paper, titled Paths to Prosperity: A Champion for Northern Jobs and Resources.

To ensure mining development moves ahead, “As a first step, we need to work with business and Aboriginal communities to expedite the construction of an all-season transportation link to the Ring of Fire deposits,” the paper suggests.

The policy release comes one week after the Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner dismissed an application from Cliffs Natural Resources for an easement that would allow the company to build an all-weather road to the Ring of Fire over mining claims staked by another company. Cliffs planned the road to transport ore south from its proposed $3.3-billion Black Thor chromite mine to Nakina, where it would then be taken by rail to a ferrochrome processing plant to be built near Sudbury.

The Mining Commissioner’s decision “does jeopardize the viability of the project going forward unless it can be resolved,” Jason Aagenes, director of environmental affairs for Cliffs, told Wawatay News.

In explaining the ruling over 43 pages, Commissioner Linda Kamerman and Deputy Commissioner Marianne Orr stated: “The tribunal is very troubled by the fact that no provincial representative came forward to testify as to the provincial or public interest.” As a result, “This is not a case where there is a public interest element for the tribunal to consider. What is before the tribunal is no more than a simple corporate fight and, as between those two corporations, the law is clear; the application must fail.”

In their policy paper this week, meanwhile, the Conservatives say: “A single provincial minister must be in charge of ensuring the Ring of Fire is turned into new jobs and (be) empowered to remove any obstacles standing in the way.”

As for changes to the provincial Mining Act introduced under the Liberal government in 2012, “these new regulations have made claim staking and early prospecting activities more difficult,” the PCs say. “The Mining Act should be streamlined to ensure the mining potential of this province is unlocked.”

The Conservatives propose that First Nations and other communities that support new mines benefit directly. “We would allow a portion of mining tax revenue from new mines to stay in local communities and First Nations.”

In the forestry industry, a PC government “will direct a portion of stumpage fees to local communities and First Nations” but only when the industry is profitable and the province’s books are balanced.