The Ford government’s Building More Mines Act is now law. Bill 71, an amendment to Ontario’s Mining Act, received royal assent on May 18.
The purpose of the act was to expedite permitting times and approvals to put more new mines into production more quickly.
The Ford government certainly held up its end of the bargain with its legislative expediency. Only two-and-half months after introducing the bill in Queen’s Park on March 2, Bill 71 passed third reading last week and received royal asset on May 19.
Provincial Mines Minister George Pirie’s tag line in introducing the bill on March was that “Fifteen years is not acceptable" to open a mine.
Rebuilding Ontario auto industry with electric vehicle production is one of the economic pillars of the Ford government that involves establishing a critical minerals supply chain, beginning at the mine site and flowing downstream to process minerals into battery-grade material for the electric vehicle battery making plants being constructed in southern Ontario.
The bill passed second reading in early March and was handed off to the Standing Committee on the Interior. MPPs on the panel road-tripped the bill consultation process to hearings in Timmins and Sudbury just before the Easter long weekend. The bill’s third reading was May 10 and was carried.
The passage of this bill was not without protest from the NDP, the Green Party, environmental activists and many Indigenous leaders across the North and Ontario. First Nation leadership argued they were not consulted on this coming bill, which was made public just before the start of the PDAC mining conference in early March.
Others had issues with changes to provincially mandated mine closure plans and the phased approach when it comes to financial assurance – instead of money upfront – that mining companies must set aside to ensure non-producing mine sites and properly remediated and returned to a natural state. Another argument was that the bill was a politically driven decision that put too many discretionary power in the hands of the mines minister over the judgment of the bureaucracy.
On whether large mineral projects, such as the Ring of Fire region, a nationally significant natural resources development, ever sees commercial production in a timely fashion now largely depends on Ottawa.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has said Ottawa must do a better job of working hand-in-hand with the provinces on expediting their respective environmental and approvals process for new critical mining operations.
In unveiling the federal critical minerals strategy last year, Wilkinson vowed federal regulatory agencies would work quicker and more efficiently to collaborate with their provincial counterparts to ensure mine approvals can be done concurrently and in “as fast a manner as we possibly can.”