Unlocking the food chain
Mining can have a big payback to the communities where it operates. Many provincial and territorial governments recognize the potential benefits and are in stiff competition to attract exploration dollars.
As part of this effort, several jurisdictions have drawn up modern mining policies (see B.C.’s New Mining Plan in CMJ December 2005), with Ontario being the most recent. Northern Development & Mines minister Rick Bartolucci released his ministry’s discussion paper, Mineral Development Strategy for Ontario, at the Ontario Mining Association annual meeting in Sudbury in September 2005. Public responses to the paper were received by the end of November. CMJ interviewed Minister Bartolucci about the strategy in late December.
The strategy was actually the brainchild of the Ontario Mineral Industry Cluster Council, created in November 2003 by the ministry as a think tank representing various organizations with an interest in mining. One of the first suggestions by the council was that it was time for Ontario to take a leading role in developing a forward-looking policy for the development of mineral deposits.
Top ministry officials have been consulting with stakeholders and then drawing their best ideas together. Deputy minister Sue Herbert is the leader. The new assistant deputy minister, Christine Kaszycki, is co-ordinating the effort. Much of the work has been done by John Malczak, senior policy advisor.
Initially they researched what was happening in other jurisdictions, particularly Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta, Manitoba and Chile. Said Bartolucci, “I know other jurisdictions look to Ontario for advice and for guidance. We look at other jurisdictions, and if we can learn from them, that’s great.”
The four key objectives that they came up with are:
* promoting long-term sustainability and global competitiveness;
* supporting modern, safe and environmentally sound mining;
* clarifying and modernizing mineral resource stewardship; and
* promoting community development and opportunities for all.
When asked which is the most important of the objectives, Bartolucci said, “Because I come from a mining community, Sudbury, I understand the importance of strengthening northern rural and remote communities. The mining industry’s a very local industry. The natural resource is in the ground in a jurisdiction. That resource is explored. Hopefully, the mine is developed. There’s the extraction of the ore, the smelting, the refining, etc. That community grows. As that community grows, Ontario grows. As Ontario grows a healthy mineral industry, the mineral industry grows. It becomes a competitor globally. So it’s a whole food chain, but it has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is with the local community.”
The ministry is now looking at the public’s recommendations. It will use them to revise its strategy, and then go back to the public for more consultation. Bartolucci expects to release the final document before the end of 2006. The working paper can be found at www.mndm.gov.on.ca/mndm/nordev or by calling Saba Khayat at 416-327-0619.
The president of the Ontario Mining Association, Chris Hodgson, is in an interesting position to critique the strategy, as he held the minister’s portfolio under the previous government. We reached him for comment in late December.
“The whole concept is a good one,” said Hodgson. “The four pillars of the strategy are very consistent with the strategy of the OMA mandate and our strategic plan.”
The OMA’s Nov. 30 submission was generally supportive of the working paper, but included a list of 16 recommendations.
“To promote long-term sustainability and competitiveness… One of the things that we mentioned in our response is that miners are price-takers,” said Hodgson. “We can’t control the price we sell our product for, so we have to look at our input costs. If you want to keep mining in Ontario, we have to make sure we’re competitive, so I thought it was excellent that the strategy leads with that.
“The other is, to keep promoting the idea to strive for continuous improvements around safety and environmentally sound mining, because it’s our social licence to operate. We want to make sure that not only are our employees safe but the community as a whole is protected.
“To clarify and modernize Ontario’s mineral resource stewardship…–basically the permitting. Tell us what the rules are. Get clarity around what’s on the table, and what’s not on the table. From exploration right through to mine openings, let’s get some performance standards–time-lines for permitting and approvals. One of the uncertainties right now is the cost of permitting in terms of time. Companies are investing in other jurisdictions that might not have as stable a political environment as Ontario, but they can hedge those type of things. They can’t hedge the uncertainty of when they’re actually going to be able to get a return on their investment due to delays for approvals. It could take years; they don’t know. The ministry is working on this. Minister Bartolucci has taken this on as a task, and Sue Herbert, the deputy, has just appointed Candys Ballanger-Michaud who is heading up a team to take a look at this issue.”
Hodgson has found no serious gaps in the discussion paper, saying that the ministry did a good job of listening to the various stakeholders, and identifying all the issues. Of course, there are still conflicting views of how to resolve those issues that will have to be dealt with in the final document.
The OMA’s recommendations include the introduction of Good Samaritan legislation, to encourage industry’s environmental and rehabilitation efforts at orphaned and abandoned mines. “But the most important recommendation, probably, is that mining is a solution-provider,” said Hodgson. “It allows not only our standard of living, but our quality of life as well. We have to stress to the public at large the importance of mining. Then the question is, if mining is necessary for a better world, where do you want it to exist? If you want it to exist in Ontario, then we’ve got to make sure we’re competitive with other places on the globe.”
Hodgson added, “The Mineral Development Strategy really needs to be part of an overall industrial strategy, with the same standards and policy infrastructure. Any strategy that’s going to be adopted has to be bought-into and accepted by all ministers, because mining crosses a number of ministries. We want to make sure this is accepted by Cabinet as a whole; that when the final recommendations are accepted by Cabinet that they’re also internalized into these ministries and given equal weight in their policy-decision-making framework.”
The OMA’s recommendations can be found at “OMA presents mineral development ideas” under the “News & Events” section at www.oma.on.ca.