Dec '09/Jan '10

A call for clarity

Supporters and detractors agree that Ontario’s Bill 173 could do with some cleaning up

By M. Eisner

Few new pieces of legislation have stirred the mining industry as much as Bill 173 has. The bill, which is the Act to Amend the Ontario Mining Act, received its first reading in Ontario’s legislature on April 30, 2009. Subsequently, it received mixed reviews from some of the people who voiced their concerns and recommendations on August 13 before the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on General Government.

Its critics say that the bill lacks detail on many important issues, such as the processes involved in consultations with First Nations, the changes proposed to map-staking and permitting rules for prospectors and exploration.

Chris Hodgson, president of the Ontario Mining Association, thinks that the challenge now is to ensure that these issues are clarified in the rules and regulations. He hopes that this is done through a consultation process similar to the one that preceded the passing of the bill in October. “Overall, we’ve been pleased with the process, and if they continue with that process, we can work with it,” says Hodgson. “We need clear rules to make good investment decisions.”

Rob Galloway, who was the president of the Timmins Chamber of Commerce at that time, represented its 750 members at the Standing Committee hearing. Galloway shares Hodgson’s concerns. “That’s one of the worries, when you don’t know the details,” he says.

Galloway provides examples of issues that remain unclear. “The big thing is the timing. If you have to have a permit, what’s a reasonable time period? The prospectors are the most worried because they need secrecy. Some Aboriginal communities are concerned about whether or not they have enough staff to deal with new rules. We really want guidelines.”

The development of those guidelines will continue this winter with the release of a consultation workbook by the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development. The amended bill will shape the context of those consultations, but, says Rob Merwin, director of the Mining Act Modernization Secretariat, the outcome will rely on industry, Aboriginal and broader public input over the coming months.

Steve Kidd, former president of the Northeastern Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Timmins Chamber of Commerce spoke as a private citizen during the first round of consultations. As far as he’s concerned, the bill should never have been passed. “This is just horrifying. It’s going to make it difficult for junior miners to prospect and prosper,” he said. “I view some of these changes as a deterrent to exploration. The nature of junior mining is confidentiality and it affects the market. The bigger picture is that if you inhibit progress in mining exploration, then you’re inhibiting growth in northern Ontario. I find it difficult to understand how a bill of this nature could be formulated by stakeholders from northern Ontario. It seems rather obvious that the bill was formulated by groups from southern Ontario, and I don’t believe they are representative of the people of the North.”

He did concede that continued consultation with stakeholders, as well as clarity, were necessary in moving forward. “I would agree with Mr. Hodgson. Although I find the bill completely out of touch with reality, I hope that the government, as the regulation and implementation details are finalized, will learn to understand the realities of the industry.”

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