The head of the Ontario Prospectors Association harbours some trepidation on whether new regulations to the province's Mining Act will reduce misunderstandings and conflict between the exploration industry and First Nations.
“We have some reservations on some of the things they are enacting,” said Garry Clark, the association's executive director in Thunder Bay.
The new rules are basically geared to improve the consultation process between government, industry and First Nations.
Included in the revised act are new requirements for notifying landowners and Aboriginal communities about proposed activities through a system of plans and permits during various phases of early exploration.
Prospectors have been grumbling the new regulations in the revised act create more paperwork and slow down projects.
“We're not 100 per cent sure that plans and permits are going to work, but on a personal level I think it's one of the ways to go,” said Clark. “But we need First Nation communities' buy-in and we're not sure it's there.”
Clark said each First Nation community is very individual and independent, making it difficult to have a one-window solution.
Among the new rules from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines are that exploration permit applications will be posted to the Environmental Registry for public comment. Bulk samples for testing purposes will require an exploration permit and there will be new criteria to determine sites of great cultural significance to First Nations in order to protect sites from claim staking.
Aboriginal consultation is also required prior to the submission, or the amendment, of a mine closure plan.
The Anishinabek Nation in northeastern Ontario expressed concerns about consultation with Aboriginal communities at the early exploration stage.
In a news release, Lake Huron Regional Chief Isadore Day said the revised act does not address many of their long-held concerns.
Day said many of the proposed changes will “infringe on our constitutional rights, and disregard the recommendations from the Anishinabek Mining Strategy and feedback from our community engagement sessions.”
Anishinabek leaders want the opportunity for “free, informed consent and the ability to reject a development that may have an adverse impact on their territory.”
The new rules take effect Nov. 1, but Clark said it's a “soft launch” and won't become mandatory until April 1, 2013.
“This gives time to sort out some of the growing pains and educate people on how to apply for a plan or permit.”
Years ago, prospectors and junior miners were once required to fill out work permit applications which were circulated to various ministries to add terms and conditions. But those were phased out in 1996 by the Mike Harris government as part of the Conservative government's move to cut red tape.
In an Oct. 3 news release, Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci said this brings a century-old piece of legislation into the modern age.
“Through these regulations...we can all ensure Ontario continues to be a leading jurisdiction for mineral exploration investment for decades to come.”
Clark said it remains to be seen whether these new ground rules will enhance Ontario's reputation as a mining-friendly jurisdiction.
“It may take a while to see how the system works. It's why everyone worked toward it, as a way to inform First Nations so they'll have the capacity to understand what we're really doing, and that staking a claim doesn't mean a mine right away.”
Whether it clarifies the picture on First Nation consultation is a difficult question to answer, said Clark.
“Consultation isn't done by industry. It's downloaded from the ministry onto industry.
“The waves don't stop Nov. 2. It's going to take time for people to get used to how plans and permits work and it's going to take time for how the government thinks they should be executed too. I'm always an optimist. I'm hoping it makes it easier to some cases.”