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Pirie's new Mining Act powers come into effect on April 1

Critics worried Ontario mines minister will have too much power for mining rehabilitation and exploration
Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie speaks at the official opening of the Phase 1 expansion to Vale’s Copper Cliff Complex South Mine on Oct. 13, 2022, a project that connected the South Mine operation to the North Mine creating the new Copper Cliff Mine Complex.

Beginning April 1, the Ontario government has made it easier and quicker for new mines to be approved without changing environmental safeguards.

That's when the new regulations come into effect that give unprecedented power to the Ontario Minister of Mines — in this case Timmins MPP George Pirie — to make decisions on mine closures, mines rehabilitation and mining exploration.  

The changes were outlined in the Building More Mines Act.

The new regulations mean the minister now has the power to make decisions that were previously only given to high-level staff members in the Mines ministry.

In order for a mine to be approved in Ontario, mine developers must provide a mine closure plan — essentially a look-ahead blueprint for the day when the mine shuts down. That plan would outline how the mine developer will return the land to a natural state, rehabilitating the land free of hazards and environmental damage. 

The new law gives Pirie the power to approve such plans, allowing him to bypass detailed and time-consuming examinations of closure plans, if he deems it appropriate. 

Critics have been outspoken against the changes, saying it gives too much power to the mines minister while taking away technical decision-making power from the non-political staff members and civil servants who previously had the power of making those decisions.

Although they represent the largest mining jurisdictions in Ontario, these changes to the Mining Act were opposed by both Sudbury MPP Jamie West and Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, both members of the NDP official opposition. 

Other critics, such as Northern Ontario’s Northwatch group, said the changes would only create uncertainty regarding the future state of mining rehabilitation and environmental protection. Northwatch was among the many groups that spoke out against changing the Mining Act during public hearings held in Timmins and Sudbury in April 2023. 

Pirie has defended the changes, saying they're necessary to speed up the process of having a mine approved for production.

"We just finished the regulations. They were worked out a couple of weeks ago, so on April 1st we'll be ready for that. Obviously, we can't take 15 to 17 years to permit a mine. A lot of people worked together to pass that bill," Pirie said in an interview with the Northern Miner last week.

He also said there is an urgency to getting new mines open as Ontario needs more new minerals to secure the supply chain for battery electric vehicles.