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Mining Act changes ‘flawed,’ need workover, says Sudbury MPP

Sudbury project cited by Conservative government as a good example of why they want to speed up the process to get new mines into production
Electric scoop tram at Vale's South Mine in Sudbury (Len Gillis/ photo)

Sudbury’s MPP said he wants what he describes as a “flawed” but “not terrible” bill aimed at making Ontario’s Mining Act more industry-friendly to have a workover by members of the legislature.

Jamie West said he supported sending Bill 71 to second reading because he wants to see the proposed changes get more scrutiny from the public and at Queen's Park committee level. 

The changes to Ontario's Mining Act were debated in the Ontario Legislature this week with second reading of Bill 71 taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

One of the key reasons for changing the Act is because the government wants to speed up the process of permits and approvals for new mining operations. 

Bill 71 is also known as the Building More Mines Act. The first reading of the bill was approved on March 2.

Members of the public can comment on changes to the Mining Act by going online to the Environmental Registry of Ontario. 

Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie told the House there are 36 active mining operations in Ontario and that amendments to the Mining Act will "help to pave the way so that more critical mineral mines get to production that much sooner — mines like Vale’s Copper Cliff South Mine project." 

Pirie reminded the House that the South Mine project "reunites the south side of Copper Cliff mine with the north side and creates a new supply hub for low-carbon critical minerals, helping anchor Sudbury as a homegrown and sustainable supply chain for electric vehicles and the batteries that power them."

Pirie added that Vale’s new project will see spending of more than $900 million of private sector money

"And they’re doing it cleanly, all with EVs (electric vehicles), no diesel. They’re committed to the environment that their employees work in," he said. 

"The re-opened mine will provide employment for more than 250 workers, boosting the local economy. These numbers are impressive, Mr. Speaker, but there is more that needs to be done. We need to continue to support the growth of the mining industry, because the future of our world depends on it," Pirie added. 

He added that this was prime time for Ontario's mining industry because the minerals of Northern Ontario are in peak demand for the manufacture and production of automotive electric vehicles in Southern Ontario.

Sudbury MPP Jamie West also spoke about Bill 71 and said "This bill is flawed — it’s not terrible, but there are some flaws."

West said he would support the bill through second reading, “so that it can get to the committee level and out to the wider community where the flaws can be addressed."

West said he is a solid supporter of mining and added his own background was in mining health and safety. He said he is concerned that Bill 71 would allow "more flexibility in the techniques used to rehabilitate mines once they’re closed.”

He reminded the legislature that the reason Ontario has an Occupational Health and Safety Act is because bad things can happen and go wrong despite everyone's best intentions.

"Those regulations are important because things went wrong, and when you don’t follow through on why they went wrong, things go really, really wrong," said West.

He said he worries that even though Bill 71 has the best intentions of making mine closures happen more efficiently and giving mining companies more options for closure plans, he still has concerns.

"The final part that I’m a little bit concerned about is about creating more options for companies to pay financial assurance," West explained. 

"Instead of paying financial assurance up front, it could be paid in phases, tied to the project’s construction schedule. Maybe that makes more sense as we drill into it. But I am always cautious of large industries in mining who post profits in the billions and are very successful in important communities—but if you go bankrupt and the cheque is in the mail, the cheque is never coming. So this is my concern that I have."

The second reading of the bill was carried and it has been referred to a Legislature standing committee for further debate.