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Back off on Ontario Mining Act changes activist tells committee

Northwatch is worried that proposed changes would give too much discretion of the Minister of Mines and allow environmental decisions to become political
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Brennain Lloyd, a spokesperson for Northwatch, a grassroots environtmental watchdog group in Northern Ontario, is urging regulators to slow down on proposed changes to the Ontario Mining Act that would put too much power into the hands of the minister responsible for mines.

A veteran environmental activist has asked the Ontario government to slow down on proposed changes to the Ontario Mining Act through Bill 71, also known as Building More Mines Act.

Brennain Lloyd, a spokesperson with Northwatch, was speaking to the Ontario Standing Committee on the Interior which held public consultations in both Timmins and Sudbury last week.

The ruling Queen’s Park Conservatives have said one of the reasons for upgrading the Mining Act is to speed up the process of developing new mines. 

 "Well, I think that the message to this standing committee is that they should put the brakes on this set of proposed changes. It's a large package of changes singly or in combination, I think they are going to increase uncertainty," Lloyd said in an interview.

She said one of the proposed changes would allow mining companies to submit finalized closure plans after a new mine has been developed. Currently mining companies must submit full closure plans, and put up the financial resources for those plans, before a new mine goes into production.

Lloyd said the new rules would allow far too much discretion at the hands of the minister of mines, so much so that decisions would be in danger of being made for political reasons rather than being based on merit.

"So to file an incomplete closure plan, a mining company would either prior to or at time of filing their closure plan, request basically permission to only file in part and bringing the rest of the closure planning later," said Lloyd.

"That becomes a minister's decision. It's a discretionary decision," she added.

Lloyd said there should be well-defined rules on how mining is permitted. There should be no uncertainty.

"There's no transparency, there's no traceability, I think it creates the opportunity for real unevenness within the mining sector, one company gets these favors and another company doesn't," said Lloyd.

She said it brings back concerns of the past, before major mining act changes were made in 1990, when companies could open a mining operation and then abandon those mining properties if the finances didn't work out. She said huge numbers of environmental mistakes were made and mining corporations would cut their losses and just walk away.

"The act was meant to rectify that by requiring closure plans; by requiring financial assurances. Over the years, we've seen a number of revisions, rolling those requirements back. And this is another really large rollback of the rules." 

Lloyd said this takes away the rules that make mining predictable and environmentally responsible.

She said the mining companies in Ontario have followed the rules since the last major change to the Mining Act that occurred in 1990. She said the system has worked, but if things change then it gives too much discretionary power to the minister of mines, which is not good.

"This is taking us out of a rule-based system to a discretionary ask-the-Minister situation, that's not good governance, I don't see how that can be even good for the mining industry," said Lloyd. 

Len Gillis covers mining and health care for Sudbury.com.


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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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