Opposition critic Norm Miller says government policies hinder mining
by Greg Klein
Is Ontario’s Liberal government out of touch with the exploration and mining sector? Certainly there’s been widespread criticism from a range of sources. Early-stage explorers say they’re unfairly burdened by new regulations. A formidable entity like Cliffs Natural Resources took shots at the province when suspending the Ring of Fire’s largest project. Most recently, Northern Graphite TSXV:NGC CEO Gregory Bowes said bureaucratic delays put his company at a competitive disadvantage. On July 12 ResourceClips.com spoke with an admittedly partisan source, Norm Miller, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ official opposition critic for Northern Development and Mines.
As a mining jurisdiction, Ontario once held first place in the Fraser Institute survey, Miller says—conveniently for him, when his party was in power and current leader Tim Hudak was minister of Northern Development and Mines. Now the province ranks 16th, down from 13th last year. “I think the delays Northern Graphite faces are part of the reason,” he says.
He’s heard this from other companies. The privately held Ontario Graphite, which says it plans to start mining in Q4, is located in Miller’s riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka. “They had similar challenges getting their permits and it was getting critical for them at one point,” he says. “They came to me as their MPP to try to speed the process up.”
As for the Ring of Fire, Miller says there’s been little progress since the Liberal government promoted the region’s opportunities in the March 2010 throne speech. A month earlier, Canadian Press quoted then-premier Dalton McGuinty saying, “Why wouldn’t we take full advantage of this multi-billion-dollar economic opportunity? Why wouldn’t we ensure that our northern communities, our mining sector, our first nations benefit from the thousands of new Ontario jobs this will create?”
New regulations on early-stage exploration require a minimum 30-day public comment period, in addition to requirements to consult and accommodate natives. Miller says he attended a Northwestern Ontario Prospectors Association meeting in which the new law dominated discussion. “That was the big thing people wanted to talk about. There were big complaints from people trying to comply with the new early exploration plans and permitting process…. They were saying, ‘It wasn’t broken before, why mess with what was working?’”
In an e-mailed defence, a Northern Development and Mines spokesperson told ResourceClips.com the changes “improve how early exploration activities are carried out by introducing a graduated approach to consultation with aboriginal communities, surface rights owners and the public. The new rules also increase certainty and provide the clarity that the mining industry needs in order to make informed investment decisions.”
But some companies are taking their investment decisions elsewhere. Does Miller think the Liberals will revise the regs? “Who knows?” he responds. “I think it’s very safe to say that if we form a government we absolutely would.”
His party will have more details to come, he adds. “We’re going to come out with a white paper in the next few months on northern resources. I think our attitude is very different from the current government. Even former premier McGuinty made some comment about essentially moving the economy away from resources, not recognizing just how important that is to Ontario’s economy. It’s not just the financial hub for mining in Toronto, it’s a huge, important industry for our province and the country.”
Having said that, Miller doesn’t think mining will be a primary election issue outside of some northern constituencies. The Liberals currently hold 48 seats, six short of a majority. Five vacant seats go to byelections on August 1, all in southern ridings. “For us, jobs and the economy are big election issues and obviously mining is a lot about jobs and the economy,” Miller says.
He emphasizes, “I think the government needs to realize how important mining is, not only to northern Ontario, but to the whole province and the whole country and work on welcoming mining and putting a priority on making things happen.”
Of course that’s always been the case, according to the party in power. The Northern Development and Mines e-mail also stated, “Ontario continues to hold the title of the leading jurisdiction in Canada for exploration and production of minerals. Ontario also continues to be ranked among the top 10 investment jurisdictions in the world and is a leading global producer of platinum, nickel, cobalt, gold, silver, copper and zinc. The Ontario government continues to work with industry and other ministry partners of the provincial and federal governments to improve regulatory efficiency without compromising environmental responsibilities or global competitiveness associated with mineral development.”
Some previous stories about Ontario: