“Ontario’s Mining Act” and the Importance of Exploration to the Future Prosperity of the Province – by R. S. Middleton (October/2008)

This letter was sent to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines in October/2008. The letter provides interesting background information on Ontario’s mineral exploration sector. R. S. Middleton is a well-known and respected geophysicist who has been involved with many mining projects around the world and in Canada over the past 40 years.

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

LACK OF ADEQUATE OR APPROPRIATE CONSULTAION

Meetings on changes to the Mining Act in Ontario were held on August 11, 13, 18, and September 8th, 2008 in Timmins, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kingston and Toronto. The timing was particularly unfortunate since exploration people are always away in the field during the summer months so they were unable to take part or comment on the  proposed changes to the Act. This suggests either that the government has a poor understanding of the industry or that it has deliberately set in train a process to carry out its plans without proper consultation with the industry. Changing an Act of Parliament with only a three week review period is completely unacceptable in any parliamentary democracy.

Those of us away on field work have been unaware of any of the discussions and proposals that have taken place and consider that they have not been properly consulted.

Moreover holding hearings in a small number of towns over such a short time frame, will not elicit the input that is required from the industry.  Why was Ottawa not included in the hearings?  There are more exploration mining companies based in Ottawa than in Thunder Bay. There is only one company based in Kingston and its prime projects are in Manitoba and their principal exploration geologist had already gone to Mexico when the consultation was held. The choice of Kingston suggests an attempt to pacify cottagers and other environmental groups rather than include the concerns of the mining and exploration industries, the livelihood of whose staff are at stake.

Investment in exploration is decided mainly outside Ontario. Although Toronto is an important source of investment Quebec, Montreal, British Columbia (Vancouver) as well as the USA, UK, France, South Africa and Australia play major roles in financing exploration in Ontario.  It is unlikely that stakeholders in any of these countries have been consulted

APPROPRIATE LEGISLATION

The Ontario Mining Act of 1868, last amended in 1990, has provided a world standard for such legislation and has been used as a model for Mining Acts elsewhere in Canada as well as in Central and South American countries.  Although the original legislation was enacted more than 100 years ago it nevertheless provides a sound foundation for Ontario’s exploration and mining industries which continue to make such a significant contribution to the Province’s prosperity.

If major changes are made to  the way mining companies do business in Ontario, or if there is even a belief that taxes will increase in the future to pay for all the promises that are proposed, then investment and exploration will cease and the existing mining industry will die from lack of new ore reserves.

RECENT CHANGES AFFECTING MINERAL EXPLORATION AND MINING IN NORTHERN ONTARIO

In 1969 the Ontario Department of Mines had its name changed to the Ontario Department of Mines and Northern Affairs mainly to address the concerns of people in Northern Ontario about their economic future especially in exploration and mining.  The provincial legislators at Queen’s Park in Toronto however continue to introduce legislation such as the Parks, Signature Sites, Conservation areas – Lands for Life – Living Legacy etc. without proper consultation that has serious negative impacts on mineral exploration.  Access to land  for  exploration has become restricted, roads are dug-up deliberately, culverts and bridges are removed, at great expense.  All of this activity is at the behest of The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), another branch of the Ontario Government that seems to work in direct opposition to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) who are concerned with  promoting  exploration and development.

New conservation boundaries designated along lake shores and rivers continue to further restrict access to existing mining properties.  With such obstacles exploration will cease and go elsewhere. The process has the potential to sterilize mineral deposits of great value for  job creation and the future economic prosperity of northern Ontario.

Protection of the boreal forest is frequently used as a pretext to gain the sympathy of  the people of southern Ontario who do not realize that most of the trees in northern Ontario have been cut down and that north of 51° vegetation comprises mainly string bog and swamp where conditions are so wet that trees will not grow.

The lumber and paper industry is now in decline because of foreign exchange rates, trade restrictions and a lack of a low cost resource (trees).  Mining, education, special manufacturing (train cars) and energy protection may be the only industries northern Ontario has left.

EXTERNAL PRESSURE TO RESTRICT MINING AND EXPLORATION

Much of the problem of the mining and exploration industries in Ontario result from  pressure from organisations such as the WWF (headquartered in Switzerland) to set aside 12 per cent of  land as parks. Civil servants based in Toronto should not however simply identify large areas of land as parks to satisfy some unrealistic quota.  The land should first be evaluated carefully for mineral and forestry potential before any such restrictions are put in place.

In the late 1960’s, no park was allowed without the Ontario Department of Mines (ODM) first carrying out such an evaluation.  Pukaskwa Park is a good example of how an area was studied and properly subdivided.  Areas with mineral potential were kept unrestricted and 1-2 small gold mines were identified as a result.

COMMITMENTS TO FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE

The new Mining Act proposal, based on statements from Premier Dalton McGuinty, does not  address the demands of  First Nations people. The proposals focus mainly on consultations with First Nations people that are required of Government following recent Supreme court decisions to notify them of any forthcoming economic activity. Unfortunately, the Provincial government is trying to pass this responsibility to the exploration industry by drawing up new regulations.  Industry has been consulting with First Nations people for some time but they are now demanding a lot more that is not being addressed by the changes to the Mining Act.

A WAY FORWARD

The Crown Lands of Ontario needs to be thoroughly mapped for its mineral potential, based on the interpretation of modern geophysical and geochemical mapping  before any more land is withdrawn and exploration and mining restricted.  Land use planning such as that used in establishing Pukaskwa Park is required in Ontario not further ill-informed restrictions. The interests of First Nations people should also be a material consideration at this stage of land designation

CONCLUSIONS

If sudden changes are made to Ontario’s mining act investment in northern Ontario will stop and be redirected to where the results of exploration can be developed and mined.  If development is restricted, then exploration will stop.  Therefore no replacement ore reserves will be found and smelters will close.  Everyone in the region will be out of work, including First Nations people.

It is ironic that the biggest exploration play for Cu-Cr-Ni and diamonds in Canada since the Hemlo Rush in 1981-1983, that resulted in three gold mines, is in northern Ontario and is taking place at this time. Hemlo was driven mainly by investment from Vancouver.  Ontario has to compete on the world stage and tax rates affect mine development.  Access to land and the ability to follow through with mine development following exploration is crucial if investors are to consider investing in exploration in Ontario.

The benefit of the mineral potential to the Province will not flow to the citizens if further ill-informed restrictions are made.  Taxes flow from production, the products of mining are used to build the necessities of modern life that people in Toronto use everyday.

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