Sudbury MPP Jamie West and Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, both New Democrats who represent two of the largest mining constituencies in Ontario, have voted against Bill 71 for changes to the Ontario Mining Act.
The vote for Bill 71, Building More Mines Act, was held and passed at Queen's Park on May 10.
In response, Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie has roundly criticized the Ontario opposition New Democrats and Liberals for "saying no to economic prosperity" for mining communities in Northern Ontario.
One of the reasons for changes to the Mining Act, according to the government, is to speed up the process of building new mines by allowing the ministry to accept a mine closure plan after a mining permit has been granted for a new mine.
Up until now, a mining permit could not be granted for a new mine until such time as a full closure plan was submitted along with financial guarantees for financing that plan.
In his comments after Bill 71 was passed, Pirie said Ontarians want to see new mines opening.
“Ontarians re-elected our government with a plan to get it done by building a supply chain that connects critical minerals producers in the North with the manufacturing might of the south. By passing this legislation, our government has made it clear that it cannot take 15 years to build a mine if we are going to secure the critical minerals we need."
Some of the approved changes for Bill 71 include allowing the mines minister — Pirie at the moment — to exercise the rights and powers of the director of exploration and the director of mine rehabilitation.
This is a dangerous precedent, West said. He spoke out during Bill 71 committee hearings held in Sudbury and Timmins earlier this year. He said the bill would give too much discretionary power to the minister of mines, which could be used for purely political purposes.
West said the roles of the director of mine rehabilitation and director of exploration are civil service functions that exist to make sure that all environmental and administrative laws are being adhered to, and should not be open to political interference.
Another concern the New Democrats have brought to light is that changes to the act do not fully provide meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities.
Pirie responded, in a way, this week, ignoring the NDP’s specific criticisms and framing their opposition to Bill 71 as an opposition to economic growth rather than opposition to politicizing the opening of new mines.
“Unfortunately, the NDP and Liberals said no and voted against this bill. They said no to jobs for Northern and Indigenous communities. They said no to economic prosperity for communities in their own Northern ridings. And they said no to securing the critical minerals we need for the electric vehicle revolution," said Pirie.
As the final vote was called in the house Wednesday, 78 were in favour and 30 voted against.