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Letter to the Editor: Federal regulatory oversight of mining strengthened under the Conservatives

Submitted by Pierre Gratton, President and CEO, MAC
October 26, 2015

MAC responded to an editorial that appeared in the October 21 edition of the Northern Miner, which inaccurately portrayed the federal regulatory environment for mining. Specifically, it stated that the federal regulatory reform of 2012 under the Conservatives has allowed mining projects to skip the federal approval process. 

Letter to the editor: Federal regulatory oversight of mining strengthened under the Conservatives

Regarding last week’s editorial entitled What to expect from a Liberal government in Canada, it mistakenly describes the Conservative government’s environmental reforms as they relate to mining, prompted perhaps by reading inaccurate news reports, of which there have been many over the years.

Regrettably, this has become a common misunderstanding shared by NGOs and other media in thinking that regulatory oversight of mining diminished under the Conservatives when, in fact, the opposite is true. The fact is, mining projects dominate the workload of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and more projects are subject to federal environmental assessment today than they were before the Conservative government’s reforms. Amendments to the Fisheries Act are the same story; the mining sector continues to be subject to this statute, although other resource sectors not so much.

A key concern for the mining sector is whether any future reforms take into account the reality of current, significant federal regulatory oversight for mining projects. We do not expect to skip federal approvals, but we do expect project reviews to be timely and efficient.

As the new government examines the effects of the previous government’s regulatory reforms, we will be sure to tell them what was not done, what still needs to be done, and what steps are needed to make sure we have a regulatory regime that is balanced, fair, protective of the environment and also efficient to ensure that Canada’s mining sector can continue to contribute to our country’s prosperity.

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Editorial: What to expect from a Liberal government in Canada

Miners in Canada should see greater environmental, CSR scrutiny

By: John Cumming

The stunning return of the Liberal Party of Canada to majority status in the federal election held Oct. 19 surprised most people in Canada, who had expected at best a surge to minority government from third place behind the ruling Conservative Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party of Canada.

Instead, Canadians woke up to a new political landscape, with voters having taken the middle ground by rebuking the worn-out, pro-big-business Tories but not wanting to roll the dice on the more left-leaning, inexperienced NDP.

Shown the door were the two most recent ministers of natural resources: Conservative Greg Rickford lost his seat in Kenora, Ont., to Liberal Bob Nault, who had a close race with the former provincial NDP leader Howard Hampton; and previous Minister of Natural Resources and current Finance Minister Joe Oliver lost his seat in Toronto. Nault was quick to give some credit for his victory to First Nations communities in the the Kenora region, who mobilized to support him.

Indeed, one theme of the election was the growing political strength shown by aboriginal communities in Canada, with a record 10 indigenous people elected as members of Parliament, up three from 2011, and with a shift to Liberal from Conservative and NDP.

What should miners expect from a Liberal government?

With regard to corporate taxes, the Liberals have pledged to keep them at current levels and retain the 15% flow-through credit for mineral explorers. Most of the taxation changes will come at the personal level. For example, Canadians with taxable income between $44,700 and $89,400 will see their federal income tax rate fall to 20.5% from 22%, while those making more than $200,000 will see it rise to 33% from 29%. ‌

Perhaps the biggest change that mine developers will see with the new government is the Liberals’ determination to reverse the Conservatives’ streamlining of environmental approvals by skipping the federal approval process, if the project had already met environmental approvals at the provincial level.

The Conservatives saw the two-stage approval process as an expensive and time-consuming duplication of effort, while the Liberals and NDP saw it as necessary oversight, with the federal government not being subject to the more parochial political pressures sometimes applied to provincial regulators.

Another change miners might see is an improved relationship between the federal government and aboriginal communities in Canada, who need to be on-side for many resource development projects to proceed in remote parts of Canada. But it’s hard to generalize on the topic, as relationships can vary from community to community across the country.

The new Liberal government has pledged to allow members of the federal civil service to speak out and attend conferences, in contrast to the much-resented muzzling of federal scientists and related bureaucrats under the Conservative regime. (Here at the Miner, in the early years of the Harper government, we’d repeatedly get federal scientists eagerly offering to write op-ed pieces or serve as expert interviewees, only to have them come back months later frustrated and embarrassed upon learning they were not permitted to talk to us. As the years passed, the emails and phone calls from federal scientists stopped completely.)

It’s hard to say if the Liberals’ pledge for a new round of massive spending on infrastructure will benefit miners (beyond aggregate miners), as most of the plan relates to public transit, social housing and green infrastructure.

Another development we might see is the retabling in a new form of the private member’s bill by then-opposition Liberal MP John McKay (who was just re-elected) to strengthen federal government oversight of the corporate social responsibility activities of Canadian mining companies operating overseas.

In naming a cabinet, we strongly recommend that newly elected Liberal MP Maryann Mihychuk in Winnipeg be considered for Minister of Natural Resources. Mihychuk is a professional geoscientist and businesswoman who served with distinction as Manitoba’s Mines Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in the early 2000s. More recently she has been director of regulatory affairs for the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada, as well as a consultant to mining firms such as Hudbay Minerals and Carlisle Goldfields, among her many mining endeavours.