March 1, 2023
Premier Doug Ford's government will propose on Thursday changes to the laws governing approval of mining projects to boost Ontario's production of minerals essential to electric vehicle batteries and other technologies, CBC News has learned.
The changes would speed up permits for new mines to begin operations and make it easier for companies to get a permit to recover minerals from mine tailings and waste, according to background documents that government officials provided to CBC News.
Minister of Mines George Pirie plans to introduce the amendments to the Mining Act in the legislature on Thursday afternoon.
"This is all about securing the supply chain for critical minerals," Pirie said in an interview. "If it's going to take 15 years to permit a mine, we can't secure that supply chain."
"Critical minerals" is the biggest buzz-phrase right now in Ontario's $11-billion-a-year mining industry. The term covers such minerals as cobalt, lithium, nickel and platinum, each critical to high-tech products and all in high demand. Much of global supply is found in such countries as China and Congo.
The provincial and federal governments are aiming to leverage Ontario's supply of critical minerals to attract investment in electric vehicle production.
"We've got a generational opportunity here because we've got the critical minerals in northern Ontario to match with the manufacturing might in southern Ontario," said Pirie. "We just want to be able to create the conditions to build these mines quicker."
The Ford government released its strategy for critical minerals in March of 2022, and the Trudeau government followed suit last December. The federal government's strategy called for speeding up regulatory decisions on mining projects.
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The proposed amendments to the Mining Act "would increase certainty for business planning and generate investment in northern Ontario," says a government news release to be issued later Thursday.
One way the changes would speed up permits for new mines is by simplifying the approval of mine closure plans.
Mining companies must submit a closure plan as part of their application to open a mine. The proposed changes would allow companies to start construction on the basis of a conditional closure plan.
"There will be no change to the stringent environmental process that we have," said Pirie. "The duty to consult [with Indigenous communities] will not be changed. None of that's being affected."
Mark Winfield, professor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University, says mining projects in Ontario already receive special exemptions that allow for quick approval.
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"I find it difficult to imagine how the approvals process for mines could be more streamlined than it already is," said Winfield in an email to CBC Toronto. "I would be particularly sensitive to things that let them further off the hook on liabilities for mine closure and clean-up."
The proposed changes will be posted on Ontario's environmental registry for public feedback until mid-April.
The amendments to Ontario's Mining Act are being introduced just days ahead of one of the industry's biggest global gatherings, the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention in Toronto.
The Ford government's auto sector strategy envisions auto makers in southern Ontario building 400,000 electric and hybrid vehicles annually by 2030, powered by batteries made in the province, using minerals extracted and processed in northern Ontario.
Originally posted on CBC