Ontario Resources Stakeholders Fight Over Canadian Mines

At the height of the mining rush in Northern Ontario a century ago, pits spewed high levels of mercury that later leached into the drinking water of communities in all corners of the province….

Ontario Resources Stakeholders Fight Over Canadian Mines

At the height of the mining rush in Northern Ontario a century ago, pits spewed high levels of mercury that later leached into the drinking water of communities in all corners of the province. So when Premier Doug Ford signed a proclamation earlier this year that offered incentives to developers who wanted to start up new mines, First Nations in the region blasted the government for ignoring environmental concerns.

So it is interesting that the Ontario government, through a regulatory body called the Provincial Facilitation Office, held an open house on Dec. 4 to help facilitate approvals for projects in Northern Ontario. But according to First Nations, when the facilitation office attempted to use the outdated Resource Development Facilitation Agreement map of 2015 to get approval, the meetings have suddenly escalated into a battle for land.

The problem is that the mineral exploration map for Northern Ontario, created in 2015, does not fit what the industry wants. The mineral explorers want to find and exploit a range of resources. Some of those would include salt, clay, molybdenum, and zinc and most have not yet been discovered. Mining companies are paying attention to those resources, and also the First Nations communities that would own and be responsible for the environmental consequences.

But for the mining companies, the mineral exploration map of 2015 doesn’t tell them who they should consider partnering with. The map doesn’t tell them, in a literal sense, that they would need to work with Aboriginal communities when the mineral is found. The map doesn’t tell them that they would need to work with those communities to design mining sites that don’t affect the drinking water supply. The map doesn’t tell them that those sites might have earthquakes. And the map doesn’t tell them that those sites could be run into by other industries that could be a threat to the communities.

Essentially, the mineral exploration map of 2015 was an outdated land use plan that didn’t take into account that the map, created as part of the Saskatchewan Mining Agreement in 1964, was no longer useful. According to Ford, that’s an accurate description, noting that the map “has not been up to date since that time period.”

But the Ontario Mining Association, which advocates for mining in the province, said the original Mineral Exploration Plan is still worth using. They said the map helps them focus their exploration efforts on specific areas that they can quickly secure permits to start mining. But the Association acknowledged, in written correspondence to The Times, that if the previous map were up to date, “the number of permits would be significantly lower.”

So what would the revised plan look like? The mine industry said it doesn’t have a long-term strategy in mind, but it does have the support of First Nations from across the province. Aboriginal communities have significant political power in Ontario. Indigenous communities held 29 of the province’s 87 seats in the provincial legislature when it came to power in June. And the majority of those communities are located in the Northern region of the province that is home to many mineral exploration sites. Those communities and the mining companies want to be part of the process of developing those sites, not fighting over them. But the mining companies seem to want to control the process, perhaps thinking they can better find new reserves by starting in the Northern part of the province than when they finally get to their new projects in the rest of the province.

The mining companies seem to be making the language of a land use plan because they think it is impossible to apply a 2017 modernization plan to the three decades-old mining map from 2015. But in order to adjust how the resource development Facilitation Agreement applies to the 2015 map, First Nations could make it to Canada’s Supreme Court.

First Nations and the Ontario Mining Association argue that mining companies should not be able to use outdated land use planning as a blueprint for new exploration projects. If not, they could rush into projects that will harm not only local communities, but all of the residents across the entire province of Ontario. At the same time, government should not be required to rush to approve permits. In that way, mining companies are essentially jeopardizing the global competitiveness of Canada’s mining industry for the sake of profit.

Leave a Comment