November 2008

Broaching the boreal

Ontario’s mining industry responds to the Far North Planning Process

By M. Kerawala

Protecting northern Ontario’s boreal forests is a complex task in which the mining industry’s participation is vital.

In response to requests over the years from various groups for a land use plan in the Far North, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the launch of the Far North Planning Process this past July. “Although the northern boreal region has remained virtually undisturbed since the retreat of the glaciers, change is inevitably coming to these lands. We need to prepare for development and plan for it,” stated the premier. While it welcomes the government’s vision, the Ontario Mining Association (OMA) expressed that it is keen to see that the initiative does not become a bloated enterprise that could impede development through poor decision-making. To allay such fears, OMA representatives have been in discussion with government representatives since the initiative was announced. In a letter to all member companies dated July 22, 2008, OMA president Chris Hodgson outlined the association’s position and concerns in four major areas.

The Mining Act

To prevent a prolonged period of flux from hampering Ontario’s investment climes, OMA requested that the review of the Mining Act be sharply delimited in scope and time. Consequently, consultation on the Mining Act review began this past August. Hodgson is optimistic that workable solutions will be reached. Foreseeing intensive consultation, he has advised members to actively participate and help strengthen the industry’s position.

Land use planning

Committing to protect half of the Far North boreal forest, the government has assured that existing land tenure, claims and leases will remain unaffected. There is also agreement on balancing ecological and developmental concerns and adopting rational planning approaches. Meanwhile, Hodgson urged members to contribute to the multi-stakeholder discussions on creating a framework for the plan. He pointed to the Yukon and Northwest Territories as examples of how governments can allow certain low-risk mining-related activities with limited or no screening, while maintaining stringent environmental protections overall. Hodgson also recommended that the mining industry make key contributions to land-use planning.

Ties with First Nations

Referring to the more than 40 Impact Benefit Agreements signed with First Nations peoples, Hodgson lauded industry efforts to foster mutually beneficial and respectful ties with aboriginal communities. He welcomed the government’s attempt to clarify the rules around consultation with the First Nations. Hodgson hopes that this would be part of the review of the Mining Act, the revised version of which would incorporate a consultation template.

Resource benefit sharing

Hodgson reiterated OMA’s belief that everyone impacted by mining should benefit from the prosperity it brings. The association recommended to the government that it create a formal revenue-sharing system for First Nations communities that support mining as an acceptable land-use on their traditional holdings. OMA also recommended that such revenues emerge from existing taxation and that no new taxes are levied so that the competitiveness of the sector is safeguarded. Hodgson welcomed the government’s plans to provide a downpayment towards resource benefit sharing in the fall.

Hodgson concluded by voicing OMA’s appreciation for the access it was granted to key government decision-makers. Recognizing that the government’s approach is considered and measured, he urged the industry to participate in OMA’s engagement with government and in the task of ensuring the sustainable development of Ontario’s northern boreal forest regions.

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