Current Problems

Business and Reconciliation (92)

Lawyer says First Nations will fight Ontario government’s proposed mining changes

March 3, 2023

MiningWatch Canada advocate wonders ‘what’s left to cut?’

Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie says changes to the Mining Act are meant to encourage new development. (George Pirie)

CBC News: The Ontario government’s proposed changes to mining regulations are drawing concern among mining critics and advocates for First Nations.

Kate Kempton represents the northern Ontario First Nations of Attawapiskat, Ginoogaming, Constance Lake and Aroland. In 2021, Attawapiskat, Neskantaga and Fort Albany signed a moratorium on new developments in the Ring of Fire mineral deposit, though other First Nations have expressed support for developing the deposit.

Kempton said the First Nations “are not going to stand for this” and that the government’s actions will only lead to further confrontations.

“Doug Ford is basically setting himself and his government up for a bunch of injunctions and blockades. He’s paved the road for court action and possibly direct action as well,” Kempton said. On Thursday, Mines Minister George Pirie introduced amendments to the Mining Act, meant to make the process of building new mines easier and faster for companies.

The changes include weakening closure-plan requirements, meaning the government could allow mines to open before they have finalized plans to rehabilitate former mine sites.  Other proposals are to make it easier to get permits to recover minerals from tailings or other mine waste, such as the bacteria-based extraction of metals from tailing that’s being developed in Sudbury. The bill would also give more powers to the mines minister directly.

Climate change argument misplaced: lawyer

Kempton said this change is part of the government’s push for a critical minerals strategy, which is often billed as a way to boost capacity for battery production for devices like electric vehicles. However, she said EVs are a distraction from more meaningful solutions, such as reducing car-dependency and overconsumption. “Touting this as a climate change, you know, electric vehicles initiative, is absolute, pure propaganda. It is correct that electric vehicles may assist in curbing climate change. They’re not the definitive answer,” she said.

Kate Kempton represents several northern Ontario First Nations who say they won’t stand for Ontario’s proposed mining rule changes.(

The Ring of Fire area is especially sensitive, she said, since it’s within the Hudson Bay Lowlands—the largest peatland in North America. Peat, a soil-like substance made up of partly-decomposed plants, is a major carbon sink. It’s estimated the Hudson Bay Lowlands store up to 35 billion tons of carbon.

“If we’re reducing the scrutiny and assessment and investigation of what the impacts might be, we’re setting ourselves up for catastrophe with no warning,” Kempton said. She said it didn’t have to mean an outright mining ban, but rather there should be extensive checks and consultation in place before development could occur.

Activist says regulations already weak

MiningWatch Canada’s national co-lead, Jamie Kneen, said privately owned mines in Ontario are already exempt from provincial environmental assessment rules. He said he was concerned that the government was continuing to pare back its regulations.

A bearded man in a button-down shirt and blazer speaks at an indoor public event.
Jamie Kneen is the national co-lead for MiningWatch Canada. He says Ontario’s mining regulations are already thin. (Submitted by Jamie Kneen)

“What’s left to cut? What can be possibly speeded up more than it already is without just completely obliterating public engagement and consultation with Indigenous peoples?” he said.

Kneen said he wasn’t optimistic that public feedback would change the government’s proposals, citing its history on the Greenbelt and Highway 413. He called the loosening of requirements for clean-up bonds — money set aside to rehabilitate former mine sites — a “recipe for disaster,” potentially leaving the public to pay for mine clean-up.

“The problem here is that we just can’t take the Ford government at its word for these things. If they say that they’re going to maintain environmental standards, well, they haven’t on other things, so why would we believe them on this one?” he said.

The proposed changes are listed on the Environmental Registry of Ontario. The public can leave comments on the changes until April 16.


Warren Schlote, Reporter

Warren Schlote is a reporter at CBC Sudbury. Connect with him via email at, or on Twitter at @ReporterWarren.