The Government of Ontario has announced plans to change mining approval laws in an effort to boost domestic production of minerals needed to power electric vehicles and other technologies.
Commodities such as nickel, cobalt, lithium and platinum are considered critical to the production of EV batteries, smartphones and laptops.
They are currently sourced mostly from China, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo; however, Russia’s war on Ukraine and related sanctions have limited exports from that country.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he aims to position the province as a reliable supplier of critical minerals using a 53-page “comprehensive, five-year roadmap” backed by $29 million in government funding.
The roadmap lays out six areas of action, including the provision of financial incentives for critical minerals exploration, investments in research and development and “improvements” to the province’s mining regulations.
It is linked to the Ford government’s recently launched auto sector strategy which envisions the manufacture of 400,000 electric and hybrid vehicles annually by 2030 – powered by batteries made in Ontario using minerals extracted and processed domestically.
New mine permits
If passed, the Building More Mines Act 2023 would speed up permits for new mines to begin operating and make it easier for companies to get a permit to recover minerals from mine tailings and waste.
It would improve closure planning by having more qualified professionals available to certify plans, allow more flexibility in mine rehabilitation techniques and create more options for companies to pay financial assurance.
The changes are expected to benefit the entire minerals sector and advance Ontario’s plan to build an integrated supply chain by connecting mineral producers in the north — including those in the prospective Ring of Fire region — with the manufacturing sector in the south.
The Ring of Fire is reported to have “multi-generational potential” for the production of critical minerals including chromite, nickel, copper and platinum which are needed for clean steel and electric vehicle manufacturing.
Premier Ford’s plans have led to concerns among some indigenous groups that the government is providing miners with “easy access” to their homelands without proper consent.
Leaders of Ontario’s Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Wapekeka, Neskantaga, and Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows) First Nations — whose combined homelands cover about 60,000 square kilometres — have formed an alliance to combat the “attack” on their communities.
A First Nations spokesperson said the groups were “not going to stand for this” and that the government’s actions would only lead to further confrontations.
“[Premier] Ford is basically setting himself and his government up for a bunch of injunctions and blockades … he has paved the road for court action and possibly direct action as well,” the spokesperson said.
First Nations have named the Ring of Fire region “Breathing Lands”, which reflects the “divergent views of settler and indigenous cultures”.
It is believed to house a wetland ecosystem which is considered to be one of the world’s largest remaining intact storehouses of carbon.
A disruption of the ecosystem by activities such as mining could potentially release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.