By Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen, ottawacitizen.com
OTTAWA — Big changes to Ontario’s Mining Act will prevent companies from looking for uranium and other resources on private land, and require consultation elsewhere from First Nations. That makes Marilyn Crawford happy, mostly
She belongs to a group that opposed uranium exploration near her South Frontenac home, but she says there are still loopholes in the new rules. Some native groups think so too.
At the same time the mining industry is worried, believing exploration is about to become slower and more expensive. And one Conservative MPP predicts the industry will shun Ontario as the new rules drive delays and costs too high.
The source of this flurry is a century-old law that used to allow mining companies access to land where private owners own the surface but the Crown owns mineral rights under them. In the past few years a wave of exploration for uranium has stirred up resentment among residents of Lanark and Frontenac Counties, especially around Sharbot Lake. Last week the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines issued a “modernization” of the Mining Act. Starting in April, it will oblige companies to consult with aboriginal groups who would be affected by their projects at an early stage in exploration. This requires providing detailed plans of what the exploration will involve. Some forms of early exploration activities will also require a permit from the ministry as of April 1, 2013.
As well, the ministry says mining companies can no longer stake claims on private land. The ministry says the new rule book “recognizes Aboriginal and treaty rights, is more respectful of private landowners and minimizes the impact of mineral exploration and development on the environment. These new rules and tools will help provide clarity and certainty to industry, insure ongoing engagement by industry with affected Aboriginal communities and help build positive relationships with surface rights owners.”
At least one native group has rejected the changes. The Anishinabek Nation, which includes 39 communities in Ontario, says native peoples must “be involved in the process from the outset and that they be provided with the opportunity for free, informed consent and the ability to reject a development that may have an adverse impact on their territory.”
Chief Isadore Day of Serpent River, the organization’s spokesman on resource issues, says that development without the consent of native communities denies them their constitutional rights. In South Frontenac, Marilyn Crawford of the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium predicts that a mining company will be able to consult and then develop a mine whether native communities agree or not. But Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier says the courts often interpret the demand for consultation as meaning that First Nations must also consent to the exploration. “In large part there’s a de facto veto on mining by First Nations,” he said.
Hillier was until recently his party’s mining critic. He said overall the revised Mining Act slows down mining developments by adding further steps and layers of approval. “The process here is just no longer acceptable) to companies, he said. “There’s just no certainty in the process any longer,” and many mines “are held up and inactive because of the uncertainty of the process.”
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