Meet the Minister
CMJ: What affect is the opening up of the electricity markets having on mining companies in the province?
JW: The rates haven’t increased for everyone. I’ve heard from many smaller companies but certainly not the big ones, in my seven months. One of the reasons you didn’t hear a huge outcry from a lot of the big companies was they’ve gone out under the free market and made their own arrangements. With the announcement we made to cap the electricity rate at 4.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, which was the old average price prior to the opening on May 1st, the Minister of Energy is now consulting on how to lower hydro bills while enhancing supply and competition. This will clarify how large electricity users can achieve the best and most competitive rates.
CMJ: What is your government doing to support the mining industry?
JW: We’re doing a lot. On the taxation side, we have been moving for a number of years to lower the mining tax to 50% of what it was. It will be down to about 10% in two years. We’re also lowering the mining corporate income tax. We’ve been giving breaks in terms of a tax holiday for people who want to do mining and mineral exploration in the Far North.
Hopefully soon I’ll have the opportunity to officially launch our ClaimsMaps III and ERMES internet applications, two different series of maps which [assistant deputy minister] Dr. John Gammon’s people have taken through to completion. Using the mineral exploration tool, you can go in and obtain information on claims by Internet. They’ve got pretty much the entire province mapped, and clearly show those areas where there is mineral potential. The department is very excited by it, and they feel that it’s one of the best in the world in terms of the amount of information.
Of course the on-line information is a long way from the old days (not too long ago) when claim stakers used to have to visit our offices in person or use the fax. The department prides itself in putting that information on-line as fast as it comes in.
CMJ: What are you doing in land access issues that could remove parts of the province available for exploration and mining?
JW: The government announced Ontario’s Living Legacy in 1999, which created 378 new parks and conservation reserves across the province. As these new OLL sites are regulated, we are working with our colleagues at the Ministry of Natural Resources as well as with both exploration industry and environmental organization representatives to ensure that claims already staked will be excluded from OLL site boundaries and that any overlaps are eliminated.
There was a bit of disappointment in the prospectors and mineral exploration community, which questioned if all the areas were fairly identified in terms of mineral potential prior to the lines being drawn in the Lands for Life process. We’re still constantly monitoring that situation.
We’re very strict to make sure that information from the mineral potential mapping tool will be made available on a going-forward basis. In high-potential areas we will ensure this tool is used in considering land uses so that the future economic potential of our mineral resources can be accessed to enhance jobs and the quality of life.
CMJ: What is the best way to deal effectively with the environmental problems of abandoned mine sites?
JW: This government’s strategic approach to managing the environment relies on strong partnerships, both across ministries and with the businesses, community groups and citizens who make conservation and pollution prevention a daily concern.One example of where this approach is working is our $27-million, four-year Abandoned Mines Rehabilitation Program announced in 1999. In the first three years of the program, work has been undertaken at more than 45 abandoned mine sites. In addition, the Ontario government is the only jurisdiction in Canada to have completed an assessment of all known abandoned mine sites on Crown and privately-owned land.
The program offers a win-win scenario because you not only reduce potential public and environmental mine hazards, you also enhance the economic potential of these lands by returning them to productive use.