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Industry waiting for more details on decision to preserve forest

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Fort Frances may be too far south to bear the brunt of the Ontario government’s announcement last week to preserve large areas of northern wilderness and reopen the mining act, but the impact of these changes remain unclear for local industry.

“I can’t speak for all of industry, but certainly for AbitibiBowater, the announcement . . . as I understand, is primarily north of the undertaking,” noted company spokeswoman Sue Prodaniuk.

“So really, it doesn’t have any immediate impact on any of the current licences, and therefore from Fort Frances’ perspective, there really is no immediate impact,” she noted.

But the announcement was scant on many details, said Kim Tyler, president of Canadian Arrow Mines Ltd., adding often the devil is in the detail.

The provincial government plans to hold consultations in the next 10-15 years with northern communities, First Nations, scientists, and industry to create boundaries for what will be more than 225,000 square km of protected boreal forest above the 51st parallel.

The government also announced the mining act will be revamped so that consultation and accommodation with aboriginal communities are required for any future mining development in the north.

“Something that’s going to take 10 or 15 years to decide on what to do seems a bit unusual,” said Tyler.

If there appears to be risks and the possibility of having the rug pulled out from under them, the investment community will want to pull their money and run away, he warned.

The government may be focusing on areas farther north than Fort Frances, but that doesn’t’ mean we won’t be affected, he stressed.

“The investment community, not being that sophisticated, won’t make a distinction between the 51st parallel and the 50th parallel, or the 49th parallel,” noted Tyler.

“They just think it’s somewhere up north, and this is going to have an impact.

“At the same time, I wonder at the wisdom of putting more pressure and stress on Canada’s core,” said Tyler. “That’s what’s made this country, mining and forestry made it.

“It comes hard on the heels of the tremendous stress on the manufacturing sector in Toronto and the auto industry right now where people are losing their jobs there.

“So it just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, from where we sit.”

While consultations for mining and forestry are needed with First Nations, agreed Tyler, business to community consultations, like what Canadian Arrow Mines Ltd. has done with Treaty #3 are more productive for both business and First Nations than government involvement.

Others, such as the Ontario Prospectors Association, see this legislation as a good thing.

“I think [the changes] will affect all exploration in the province because we’ll have to deal with whatever First Nation groups are saying is their traditional land use areas,” said OPA executive director Garry Clark.

“I don’t think it’s a negative,” he stressed. “I think that if we can get some legislation that is fair and balanced, then it’s a lot more certain than one of trying to figure out what’s happening in each area.”

Consultations with First Nations are good policy and do occur, noted Clark, pointing to the process already in place with Treaty #3.

But there’s been no real direction within any provincial legislation for how this is done, he added, so bringing in legislation and policy will mean stabilization and certainty in the long run.

“We’re fairly happy with the fact that something is going to be defined,” said Clark. “We’ve lived in a bit of a vacuum for quite a while.”

“From our point of view, one of the most important things from this announcement is, for the first time, the premier has actually scoped out what will be reviewed in the mining act,” said Peter McBride of the Ontario Mining Association.

“Instead of opening up the whole act, which would take a long time to go through, they’re going to be focusing on claim staking, communications with land owners, and First Nations,” he noted.

“So that’s, we think, more constructive.”

OMA members are mainly mineral producers, not companies doing exploration work, said McBride, so production hasn’t been—and won’t be—affected by last week’s announcement.

“For this whole protected area . . . it’s going to be a long process, as the government itself has said, to determine what areas will be protected and what will be more open for development,” noted McBride.

“We work with the government, so we’ll be at the table to see what we can get from that, and to participate in that.”

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