Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mining Act changes too rushed say prospectors

The Goldrush Room at the Howard Johnson Inn in Timmins was crowded Monday night by mine exploration people who fear that with proposed changes to Ontario’s Mining Act, they may never see another gold rush ever again.
In a three-hour public session, stakeholders from across the North and even Eastern Ontario, took part in the first of a series of public meetings initiated by the provincial government aimed at changing the rules for mining exploration. The province says it’s “a modernization process.”
Officials from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) presented a 20-page discussion paper. The room then broke up into small discussion groups to consider the changes, for nearly an hour.
As the groups came back to present their findings, some common threads emerged. The main one seemed to focus on the timing of the changes. Many complaints were voiced that the discussion paper was released on the same day of the first workshop with the result there was no time to study the document before discussing it.
The other concern is that the Ontario government appears to be moving uncharacteristically fast to get the changes to the Mining Act passed, according to many participants in the discussions.
That message came through when acting mayor Mike Doody presented a letter of welcome from the city to the ministry, where the ministry was invited to bring the consultations back to Timmins before any changes are passed into law.
“I am making this request because of the short time period we have had to review these very critical policy issues,” said Doody.
“Mining is the raison d’ĂȘtre of our city. It has contributed to the sustained economic life of our community for many years and we hope for many more,” Doody said.
“Your government’s review of the Ontario Mining Act will have a profound effect on our city and for this reason I feel an extensive amount of consultation is required,” he reminded the provincial officials.
The city’s letter also noted that the investment climate in Ontario has decreased dramatically in the past five years and the letter expressed concern about Ontario’s weakening economy.
“We cannot allow Ontario’s strength in mining to crumble,” said the letter.
The government’s rush on the issue was also a concern to veteran Timmins prospector Don McKinnon.
“This certainly was rushed,” said McKinnon, who added that he needed more time to fully analyze the document. He also commented on the concern for equal treatment by all stakeholders.
“We’re not looking for any concessions or special treatment. We want to be on par with everybody else,” said McKinnon.
Another concern was over what is called the “free entry” system that allows a prospector to enter and stake the land without prior consultation with the landowners. While the free entry system appears to bother some landowners and stakeholders, the prospectors made it clear that confidentiality and competitive secrecy have always been a part of mining exploration.
One part of the MNDM discussion paper said that aboriginal groups wanted to know beforehand where claims would be staked, so that they might decide whether the staking encroaches on their lands.
Several tables suggested that the mining industry does not have a problem with respecting aboriginal lands, but that there appears to be no firm rules about where prospectors can and cannot go.
One group suggested that a formal map of aboriginal “traditional lands” versus aboriginal “sacred lands” has to be defined. One prospector suggested that sacred lands, where ancestors might be buried, would be considered off-limits. But he said traditional lands, where there is hunting and fishing, should be open for prospecting.
It was suggested that aboriginal community has to make a decision on what lands are open and available to development and what lands are not.
“As far as Aboriginal rights, there seems to be a common thread; we need to know who to talk to and we need to know what the protocols are,” said geologist Bob Calhoun of the Timmins Economic Development Corporation.
Calhoun also defended mining exploration as an industry.
“The statement that is made fairly often that exploration companies run amok on the land is totally unfounded,” declared Calhoun. He said the industry has a host of regulatory agencies that are watching every step of the way.
“Mining is a business of rules, and we will follow the rules, but we really need to know what they are,” said Calhoun .
Calhoun added that the First Nations need to have some sort of formal land use planning in place.
“Those plans have to be developed by the First Nations, for the First Nations and the government has to be there to support them in that process.”
That concern was echoed by engineer and prospector Bruce Staines, who traveled all the way from Wawa to take part in the meeting.
“When we start to talk about traditional native lands, unless there are clear boundaries as to where those lands are, it is hard to engage in discussions and negotiations with people unless the boundaries and the limits are defined,” said Staines.
“When it comes to sharing the benefits of the mineral industry with First Nations, my concern is out of whose pocket does it come, does it come out of the government’s royalty portion or is it another dip into the profits of the company.”
“I think anytime you’re going to change an Act that has worked for many years, it’s an area of concern, because generally speaking this is not in favour of the mining industry,” he added.
“The mining industry is on a roll and anything that is going to dampen that is a negative for the province, and for Canada,” said Staines.

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