The Ontario government announced earlier this year that it would repeal an outdated environmental protection review process for companies that want to expand their operations.
The new process will allow mining operations to proceed without going through what is called the “social review,” an investigative process where concerned citizens hold up companies’ efforts to expand operations based on the potential damage they may pose to the environment.
On July 10, the Ontario Mining Association (OMA) submitted an application to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for two mining permit renewals. In granting the applications, the government inadvertently granted the mining companies permits using a map.
Instead of using modern information about mining sites in the Ontario Geographic Information System, the Ontario government used an old survey map that was deemed obsolete in 2016 and estimated the area to be mined to be as small as nine kilometres across.
The OMA’s president, Christopher Baker, was enraged when he learned about this from former Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cabinet minister, Michael Gravelle, in March. Mr. Baker said “lack of credible industry data about the actual land is a fundamental problem of Canada’s land use planning regime.
“Suppose a new mine had been approved by the previous Liberal government under this system. It would have been up to the government of the day to revoke the permits if they should have known that it wasn’t even an accurate representation of the site.”
The four mining companies affected by the Ontario mistakes had been operating in the province for more than 25 years.
In July, the government sent the companies a letter stating it would not let them renew the permits if the geographical map did not change.
Ontario had taken a major step towards aligning itself with other jurisdictions such as Alberta, Quebec and British Columbia, which have significantly improved their regulation of mining.
“By using poor information, the Minister and government of Ontario have shown a lack of respect for their responsibilities to Canadians and Indigenous Peoples. An appropriate review of whether mining projects are safe and responsible is essential to the responsible development of any resource.”
The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry wrote to the mining companies to advise them of the error.
The minister told the mining companies that any applications to renew the permits will be processed as required before the first Canada Day of 2019.
The Minister’s letter explained that the Minister is committed to implementing a new process for mining permit renewal and that he intends to ensure compliance with environmental protection legislation.
The letter was delivered via private courier to the companies’ representatives in June.
Despite the new processes being launched by the Ontario government, the mining companies hope this will not be the end of their difficulty with the mining ministry.
There are three proposals to produce lithium, a semi-critical metal, for mineral companies. For over 25 years the companies have been operating without any regulation in place to regulate how they mine lithium and how they ship the resulting products.
However, the proposed changes that the Ontario government plans to implement will create new regulations that could delay the projects indefinitely.
Because of the many unnecessary regulations put in place, companies are being deterred from investing in Ontario by putting up major capital investment and human resources into mines that are slow to be processed.
“This is not the end of the story,” said Mr. Baker. “This will not be the end of the fight. I will continue to use my position and influence as president of the OMA to make sure that Ontario mines operate safely and responsibly. We still have difficult and pressing problems that need to be addressed.”
Matt Marchildon is the Ontario Regional Director of the Ontario First Nations Environmental Coalition.