First Nation leaders are criticizing the Ontario government’s new mining act, saying it puts too much faith in industry to “do the right thing” without adequate monitoring or regulations ensure meaningful consultation happens.
In a six-page letter to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) pointed out a range of flaws with phase two regulations, including concerns over the lack of compliance monitoring and enforcement.
“First Nations should not be asked to trust that companies will do the right thing,” NAN’s letter states. “There must be ongoing monitoring of all project sites, to ensure companies are properly motivated to comply with permit terms.”
According to NAN’s letter, the government has said it will identify the “bad apples” among exploration companies over time. “The only way this would happen is by letting them spoil the land, perhaps even more than once, and then stop it from happening in the future,” NAN wrote. “This reactionary approach is not acceptable.”
Phase two of Ontario’s mining act deals extensively with the relation between industry and First Nations. It includes conditions that prospectors have to notify First Nations before exploring on traditional lands, sets a framework to withdraw lands of cultural and spiritual significance from exploration, and establishes a dispute resolution process to deal with conflicts between industry and First Nations.
Robert Merwin, the director of MNDM’s mining act modernization secretariat, said the government has taken “significant strides” to address and listen to comments from First Nations, and that it will continue to do so as phase two progresses.
“We want to take the time to get it right,” Merwin said.
Merwin said that the province hopes to “turn the page” when it comes to the relationship between industry, government and First Nations.
“We think a conversation will work between First Nations and industry, where the whole process is based upon a system of mutual respect and goodwill,” Merwin said.
NAN, however, raised a number of issues with the approach of trusting industry to do the right thing.
At one point in the letter NAN brought up Miner’s United, a group of junior exploration companies that has spoken out harshly against consultation with First Nations.
One mining exploration company president was quoted in a Globe and Mail article on March 27 saying that the whole concept of consultation was “ridiculous” and that it was “not [his] job to go find arrowheads for those people.”
Those kinds of comments make it essential for the government to ensure through regulation that consultation with First Nations happens in a timely manner, NAN wrote.
“With such transparent hostility on display, Ontario cannot reasonably expect that sending messages to industry is enough,” the letter stated. “You have to regulate…and require industry to consult in advance of submitting workplans and permits. Failure to do so will mean continued First Nation-industry conflict, and will violate your legal duty to ensure meaningful consulation.”
The mining act’s phase two regulations were posted to the Environmental Registry in March 2012. The deadline for comments was April 30, but the government has continued to take First Nation comments.
Merwin said the new regulations were initially scheduled to be implemented in June 2012, but that date has been pushed back until autumn, at the earliest to allow more time for consultation.