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The state of mining and mineral exploration in Ontario's Far North including mining claims (as of 2015), withdrawals from staking, advanced mineral exploration projects, and producing mines.
© WCS Canada / Meg Southee
Even though Ontario's mining sector has been in a downturn for the past two years, mining is still big business. Ontario’s mining sector directly employs 26,000 people and supports 41,000 more jobs within the mining service and supply industries. The sector made $11B in 2014 and invested $1.3B back into the province.
Mining has recently moved into Ontario's Far North. This remote region contains globally significant ecosystems and is home to many species at risk, including caribou, wolverine, polar bears and lake sturgeon. Mines in the Far North will require new roads and power sources to be viable and this will open up the region beyond just the mines themselves.
New industrial development, together with climate change, will create direct and cumulative impacts on fish, wildlife and people in the Far North. These include habitat loss and fragmentation, impacts to subsistence use (e.g., hunting, fishing, trapping, medicines), and diminished ecosystem services. Project-specific regulations and approvals under environmental assessment and community-based land use plans are too narrow and piecemeal to account for anticipated cumulative social and ecological effects of multiple mines and new all-weather roads.
To better understand how development in the Far North affects wildlife, ecosystems, and people, we conducted surveys for fish, caribou and wolverine. We've also developed cumulative effects models to consider how future mining and new infrastructure may impact wildlife and their habitats. WCS Canada provides scientific review and public comments on permits for exploration and environmental assessments. Finally, we have provided expert testimony and advice to several First Nations engaged with mineral exploration and mining companies.
Recently, Ontario's Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) invited input from industry, Indigenous peoples, and the general public on the renewal of Ontario's Mineral Development Strategy (MDS) to help guide future development and management of mineral resources in Ontario. When the strategy was developed nine years ago, Ontario's mining sector was on an upswing. The current MDS needs to consider these inevitable downturns and with this in mind, we offered four recommendations:
1. Address the role of new mines, particularly in remote areas like the Ring of Fire. Mines in the Ring of Fire require infrastructure that will be expensive to build and maintain. Current planning processes cannot address the broader implications of region-opening mines nor what happens to communities when mines close and whether infrastructure is cost-effective and suited for post-mine use. We describe one solution for regional planning in the Ring of Fire, however, renewing the MDS is an important opportunity for MNDM to address the unique challenges of remote mining in Ontario's Far North.
2. Ensure mining projects are subject to Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act (EAA). Currently, Ontario's EAA does not cover private sector projects like mining, nor does it require an assessment of cumulative effects. While ultimately reform of the EAA is required, the MDS should address how future mineral exploration and mining will meet society's expectations for robust environmental assessment.
3. Address Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) with First Nations. In 2009, Ontario's modernized Mining Act came into force. Among other updates, this Act encouraged mineral exploration activities that recognized and affirmed Aboriginal and treaty rights and the duty to consult. While consultation is required, the stronger test for Indigenous peoples, governments, and the mining industry is FPIC. Renewal of the MDS is an excellent opportunity for MNDM to consider how consultation processes with Indigenous peoples should be improved in Ontario.
4. Modernize Ontario's mining tax regime and provide more transparency. While Ontario has one of the lowest mining taxation rates in the world, industry and government maintain that mining is an expensive enterprise and current taxation regimes are necessary. Recent questions about revenues from Ontario's mining royalties and diamond royalty suggest that the renewal of the MDS is a timely opportunity to review the costs and benefits of the tax structure as well as seek input from the public and Indigenous peoples.
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Dr. Cori Lausen and a bat team have headed to the the Flathead River valley in southeastern British Columbia for a four-day BioBlitz in attempt to find out more information.