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by Virginia Heffernan on June 12, 2013 community
Disputes between exploration companies and Aboriginal communities in prospective areas such as the Ring of Fire prompted the Ontario government to change its century old Mining Act to recognize Aboriginal and treaty rights.
It was standing-room-only at the May 28th meeting of the Toronto Geological Discussion Group (TGDG) as a panel of legal, government and industry experts grappled with the contentious new Ontario Mining Act. No fights broke out under the expert moderation of Analytical Solutions’ Lynda Bloom, but the conversation did get heated.
Still in its infancy, the new Act ups the ante when it comes to consulting Aboriginal communities and private landowners before putting boots to the ground. Exploration plans and permits are required even for certain early-stage activities, and Aboriginal communities can apply to have culturally significant areas withdrawn from staking.
You can download a fine summary of the changes from the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines website.
Some insights from the discussion:
Rules are nothing without resources
Although Ontario government representative Rob Merwin, who worked closely on modernizing the Act, says there are consultants and ministry staff onboard to help with the consultation process, some industry representatives feel the responsibility for resolving disputes rests too heavily on their shoulders and that the government should be differentiating between real grievances and those launched for personal gain.
“We do a lot of work advising countries on their mining acts,” says Al Workman, vice-president of geological consulting firm Watts, Griffis and McOuat Limited (WGM), who is not alone in thinking junior companies simply don’t have the resources to manage their new responsibilities under the Act. “If one of those countries asked us for an example of how to write a mining code, this would not be it.”
Better get used to it
While acknowledging that juniors suddenly have a lot more work to do before they can explore their properties, Kate Lyons, a partner at Goodmans LLP who represents both the private and public sector when disparate stakeholders are involved, says community consultation is becoming a fact of life in jurisdictions across the democratic world.
She adds that if companies feel they are not getting enough support from government, they should go directly to the groups they need to consult because it’s often obvious who will be affected by an exploration program, and who might have objections. “All the changes to the Mining Act are pointing [companies] in that direction.”
Perhaps there is an even better way
But maybe the industry needs to overhaul its whole strategy toward Aboriginal relations. Ian Brodie Brown, president and CEO of Aurcrest Gold, says explorers must go beyond the consultation requirements of the Act to prevent disputes from arising in the first place. Instead of thinking of Aboriginals as the opposition on “the other side of the table,” he suggests industry representatives form partnerships with them at the early stages of exploration. As examples, he cites the drilling company co-owned by Aurcrest, Cyr Drilling and the Webequie First Nations in the Ring of Fire (northern Ontario), and the Lac Seul First Nation’s $500,000 investment in Aurcrest. “We [in the industry] are willing to accept money from anyone, but we have a patronizing attitude towards taking Aboriginal money,” he argues.
Will you still invest here?
To put an end to the discussion (which could have gone on all night), Bloom cut to the chase by posing this question directly to the audience: will the changes to the Act encourage you to explore outside the province?
The single Ontario loyalist in the crowd was drowned out by the “yes” camp. What’s your opinion? Is the Ontario government likely to drive away explorers with these new regulations or is it simply getting up to speed on community consultation?