Ontario Updates its 136 Year Old Mining Law to Limit Exploration Rights
After 136 years, the Ontario government is planning on revising its 136 year old mining law to reflect modern circumstances (including prohibiting exploration on private land in Southern Ontario). Drafted in the 1873 when the exploitation of natural resources was seen as the key to economic success, mining was treated as an activity that superseded anything else. Based on a “free entry” system, a mining company could explore and stake land anywhere in the province, including personal property, aboriginal lands, and some zones of ecological sensitivity.
And in Canada (and Ontario), mining was and still is serious business. The largest private sector employer of Aboriginal people, mining provides Ontario with a trade surplus of about $3.3 billion annually. However, pressure has been mounting to modernize the Mining Act and reached a fever pitch with the jailing of Aboriginal protestors trying to block mining activities from occurring on traditional land.
Following a series of consultations with landowners, miners, Aboriginal groups, environmental groups and others, the Ontario government committed to modernizing the Mining Act. In Ontario’s 2009 budget, the provincial government committed $40 million over three years to support modernizing the Mining Act.
The new act (if passed) would mean that Ontario would become the first jurisdiction in Canada to formally recognize Aboriginal and related treaty rights in mining legislation, and would enable a dispute resolution process for Aboriginal-related mining issues through regulation. Additionally, the new Mining Act would require a graduated approach for exploration, requiring more significant levels of community consultation and notification depending on the impact of the activity.
Other significant aspects of the legislation include:
- Placing stronger environmental rehabilitation requirements on exploration activities.
- Prohibiting new mine openings in the Far North until there is a community-based land use plan in place.
- Preventing mining from occurring on private property in Southern Ontario (where the majority of the population live).
- Requiring enhanced notification of private land owners, after claim-staking and prior to exploration.
A sore point with private landowners, Aboriginal groups, and community groups, revising Ontario’s Mining Act will be welcomed by groups from across the industrial spectrum. While there will probably be some who believe that the new Act goes too far, and others that will challenge it goes too far; modernizing a 136 year old piece of legislation that is still actively applied is long overdue.
Image: Effects of coal mining via Flickr’s Media Commons[social_buttons]