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QuarryThe Minister of Northern Development and Mines has introduced Bill 173, a substantial set of amendments to the Mining Act. The amendments are intended to:

  • improve notice to, and consultation with, aboriginal communities and surface rights owners;
  • prevent mining claims from being staked on land with private surface rights, such as certain parts of cottage country;
  • allow staking to be made on a map, instead of physically on the ground; and
  • improve enforcement, e.g. by increasing fines and the powers of inspectors.
  • The purpose of the Act is broadened to: encourage prospecting, staking and exploration for the development of mineral resources, in a manner consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the duty to consult, and to minimize the impact of these activities on public health and safety and the environment.

The amendments may soften some conflicts over mining, such as the outrage in Haliburton and Muskoka over uranium staking. However, it seems likely that all stakeholders will be disappointed. Prospectors may be offended by the mandatory new sensitivity training, and the many areas removed from staking. Miners may object to the new importance given to surface rights holders, to the retroactive addition of aboriginal rights to existing leases, to the new procedural obstacles, to potential restrictions on their use of surface rights, and to the new planning process for the north. Aboriginal communities may be disappointed that they cannot veto mining on areas subject to land claims. Surface rights owners may object that the areas protected from staking are relatively small: 45 metres from a church, 100 metres from a cottage (and on the same lot, unless the lot is less than a hectare). And the new rules won’t affect claims already staked, and can be overridden by the Minister.
We are disappointed too, in our capacity as longstanding volunteers for Algonquin Ecowatch. Other than the change in the “purpose” section, nothing is being done to protect  sensitive environmental lands, such as the headwaters of the Tim River, long threatened by acid mine drainage from a badly run graphite mine. Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, MNDM continues to insist that mining on such lands can be adequately controlled by the Ministry of the Environment, e.g. through after the fact enforcement of water taking permits.

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