HOME REGION: Niagara
UNIVERSITY: BA, economics, University of Western Ontario in 1990; MA, economics, University of Washington in 1993.
POLITICAL CAREER: first elected as Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament in 1995 in the riding of Niagara South; re-elected in 1999 in the Erie-Lincoln riding
FIRST CABINET POST: Minister of Northern Development and Mines on June 17, 1999
CHAIRS: Policy Advisory Council on Education; Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.
RECREATION: avid reader; amateur sports (has coached basketball, badminton, soccer and swimming)
Q: What are you doing to learn about your new role as Mines Minister?
A: I have spent a lot of time travelling across northern Ontario, and will have been to 40 communities by the end of 1999. My goal is to become a mines minister who has been in the field and has seen first-hand what I have to know.
I have been at different stages in a mine’s life. I had the chance to go out in the field with some prospectors and geologists to a location outside Sudbury where they had found platinum. That was something that had come out of our Geological Survey: the clues about its potential. I also met the junior company that acquired the property and that worked out a deal with a South African major. Hopefully it will be a mine some day, so that is promising.
At the other end of the spectrum I have been to some abandoned sites, most recently at Elliot Lake where I toured the old Rio Algom and Denison uranium sites there to look at how the mine-site rehabilitation is coming along. What was interesting in our helicopter run was we had photos of how it looked 20 years ago, and it’s amazing the difference. There is more work to be done, but I think it can stand as an example for rehabilitation.
As well, on the mining side I have got to meet with the OMA [Ontario Mining Association] on a couple of occasions, and the PDAC [Prospectors’ and Developers’ Association of Canada], the Ontario Prospectors’ Association and executives of the majors Inco, Falconbridge and Placer Dome.
What was a great experience, too, was, shortly after becoming minister I had the opportunity to go to Charlottetown for the Mines Ministers’ Conference. It’s an honour to represent Ontario there, as a leading jurisdiction for mineral production in Canada. It’s very interesting interacting with the other mines ministers as well as Mr. Goodale on the federal side. There was also very good interaction with the players in the industry. They gave us their advice on how to support sustainable growth in the industry.
Q: What is your impression of the health of the mining industry in Ontario?
A: Obviously we’re affected by the international decline in metal prices and as a result the declining mining activity. I think there’s some lights on the horizon. The prices for gold and nickel have climbed back a bit. We’d like to see them higher; when they’re down it has a significant impact on existing mines in Ontario.
Q: What initiatives are you using to promote mineral exploration in Ontario?
A: The Geological Survey is implementing Operation Treasure Hunt. We’re laying the foundation for new mine sites in the future. We’re investing $19 million in the largest geological survey in the history of the province, maybe even in the country, to outline where the potential is across Northern Ontario.
[“Operation Treasure Hunt” is a two-year, $19-million program of geological surveying in areas prospective for minerals, that started in 1999. Most of the work-including airborne geophysics, surface geochemistry, aggregate surveying, data compilation and data management-is being delivered by the private sector under the management of the Ontario Geological Survey. The intention is to trigger increased exploration and mineral discovery.]
After we do the survey, the next step is to make the information available to our clients through the release of maps, reports and data. This information is provided in hard copy and electronic forms so that the widest number of users possible are able to examine the potential we have in Northern Ontario. Further information regarding the details of Operation Treasure Hunt is available through our Ministry Internet site.
In Charlottetown [at the Mines Ministers’ Conference in September 1999] one of the themes was to re-evaluate governments’ policies of selling off bank gold reserves. Canada, as the fourth largest producer of gold, can send a message here. The other thing that I passed on was to ask the federal government to examine the tax incentives like flow-through shares to promote mineral exploration. I am pushing for support incentives to encourage investment and exploration.
I am currently working with the OMA to review the tax burden that producers face. Once we balance the budget I am thinking of lowering the taxes on the industry. To date, we have frozen all taxes and fees and have frozen Ontario Hydro [electricity] rates.
The deregulation of the hydroelectrical industry will be received well by the mining industry, because this will make their electrical costs more competitive.
Q: What are your initiatives for regulating the industry?
A: As a regulator, we enforce the Mining Act on mine closures, companies file mine closure plans with us, and we ensure that companies have sufficient financial assurance in place for the rehabilitation work.
There is legislation before the House now to streamline the mine closure process, to cut red tape. The Red Tape Bill will make the process more transparent, so everyone will know our expectations and how to meet the standards. Companies will also know how much financial assurance they will have to set aside to return the site to a natural state.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund has provided funding to MIRARCO, a mining innovation centre located on the campus of Laurentian University.
[MIRARCO, or Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corp., is a not-for-profit corporation founded in April 1998 through the collaboration of Laurentian University and the private and public sectors. It has developed the Mining Innovation Centre at Laurentian in Sudbury, Ont., the aim of which is to convert pure research data into real commercial applications in mining, and to adapt technology relevant to other industrial sectors.]
Q: Is downsizing affecting your department?
A: When we came into office [the Progressive Conservative government was elected in 1995 and again in 1999], there was an $11.3 billion deficit; we had to control our expenditures. Under ourselves, the NDP and the Liberals, there were reductions of government expenditures on the mining side.
But, spurred on by the policies of this government, the revenue in this province has increased and that’s enabled us to invest in programs like Operation Treasure Hunt and the new Mine Rehabilitation Program as well. [Last summer, Hudak announced the four-year, $27 million Mine Rehabilitation Program to restore former mining lands to productive use.] The investment today is going to go a long way setting up a foundation for growth in the mining sector.
We are shifting our concentration now to the management of technology and telecommunications-trying to get the maps onto the Internet, to help reduce costs and also to be ready for the technology that exists at this time.
There were no changes to our Survey and staff this year. We are concentrating on making the best customer service possible.
Q: Could you explain the “Mines Ontario” concept?
A: “Mines Ontario” is a concept of alternative service delivery, as opposed to the government giving all the services. Service providers are not directly under a Ministry, but are accountable to a Ministry. In the case of Mines Ontario, funding for the services would come from the mining tax.
It would be more flexible than the government, because it wouldn’t need a long approval process. Mines Ontario would be the agency to deliver the programs of the current Mines and Minerals Division. Potentially it could deliver the Geological Survey, enforce the Mining Act and oversee the Mine Rehabilitation Program. This concept is based on similar models in Ontario, such as the TSSA, an agency that ensures the safety of amusement park devices and elevators.
I am currently evaluating if I want to proceed to the government with this legislation. I am consulting with stakeholders such as the OMA, the OPA and the Minister’s Mining Act Advisory Committee, which includes a variety of stakeholders from industry specialists to environmental organizations. I am gathering advice to see whether we might want to pursue the concept further.
Q: What would you like to achieve as Mines Minister?
A: In a nutshell I want Ontario to be described as having the best mineral potential and the top position as regards its policies to support a sustainable mining industry. We still have a ways to go to achieve that. We have established Operation Treasure Hunt, and a way to communicate where the treasures lie. We are examining the taxation and red tape burdens. We have set a theme of demanding action from the federal government, for example a tax code to support exploration, and examining the central banks’ gold selling policies, that will send a message.
We are working to achieve greater stability in land tenure, for example with respect to working with the First Nations. We are encouraging greater co-operation from the mining companies and the First Nations groups so there is a place for both.
The two divisions [in the Ministry] of Northern Development and Mines work well together. We’ve invested record amounts-$202 million-in highways that will translate into a more competitive mining industry. Also, we are reducing taxes on consumers and businesses as a whole, and bringing in competitive hydroelectricity. These things will all make the mining industry more competitive in the future.