More Attempts to Divest Governments of Constitutional and Legal Limitations

Fast-Tracking Approval of Mining Projects

  Fernand Deschamps 

Canada is fast-tracking approval of various critical minerals mining projects. The process is marketed in the name of protecting biodiversity and reducing negative contributors to climate change. This is where Prime Minister Trudeau was headed with his remarks addressed to the COP15 Summit on Biodiversity held in Montreal in December 2022. According to Trudeau, as part of Canada's effort to reach the COP15 worldwide goal of protecting 30 per cent of land and marine areas by 2030, the federal government will include close to 1 million square kilometres of land and marine regions as "protected areas." Responding to journalists' questions, he said that logging and mining projects on the land portion of these "protected areas" are not excluded as long as they are carried out in a "responsible" way.

These "protected areas" stretch along the shorelines of the James Bay-Hudson Bay area in Northern Ontario and Quebec, and along the coasts of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and northwest British Columbia. The marine part of these protected areas, beyond what is referred to as the "low water mark" linked to ocean tides, falls under federal jurisdiction. The land portion of these protected areas is generally what is considered a shared federal/provincial/territorial and Crown jurisdiction when it comes to environmental protection.

Earlier in the fall, federal, provincial and territorial governmental ministries and agencies agreed to fast-track the approval of proposed mining projects through what is called an Impact Assessment Study (IAS). Each level of government uses an IAS to produce its environmental impact study based on its own criteria and time frame.

Last October, in a speech given at the Canadian Club in Toronto, Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson said there is a clear need to find ways to develop projects "more rapidly than what we have been able to in the past." Energy and critical minerals projects need to be fast-tracked, he added. He said that what he had in mind is to coordinate federal and provincial IASs so as to shorten the period between the time a mineral deposit is discovered and the actual surface/underground extraction and initial processing of critical minerals. This is presently in the order of 12 to 15 years, he said.

A case in point is the recent approval by the federal and Ontario governments of a palladium-copper mine project located 10 kilometres from Marathon, in northern Ontario.

Map showing location of Generation Mining palladium-copper mining project (Government of Canada).

On November 30, Steven Guilbeault, Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and David Piccini, Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, announced that Generation Mining Limited's Marathon Project can proceed with the construction and operation of "three open pits to produce copper concentrate, consisting primarily of copper, palladium and platinum, critical minerals, an onsite ore processing facility, a 115 kilovolt transmission line, an access road" and other infrastructure needed to ship the ore concentrate "to a third-party facility for further downstream processing into refined critical minerals."[1]

Other byproducts to be extracted from the mine will include platinum, gold and silver. Palladium and platinum are part of the platinum group metals (PGM) that also include ruthenium, rhodium, osmium, and iridium. PGMs are very much sought after because of their unique physical and chemical properties that include: excellent high-temperature characteristics; resistance to corrosion (oxidation), including being nonreactive to weak acids; this resistance to oxidation makes them a catalyst for the electrolytic production of hydrogen; use in hydrogen fuel cells that combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electrical energy.

Already in 2012, the International Platinum Group Metals Association described their use in this way: "PGMs play a vital role at the heart of everyday living. One in four goods manufactured today either contains PGMs or has PGMs play a key role in their manufacture. These noble metals will also be central to our future choices in the fields of power generation, transportation, health care and a host of other areas." These other areas include "Electronic equipment used by the military [that] has platinum wiring and coating on the circuits which are crucial for functionality. Fuel cells with platinum catalysts are widely used in the military for soldier portable power, submarines, warships, and unmanned aerial and ground vehicles."[2]

Commenting on the announcement, Jamie Levy, President and CEO of Generation Mining said, "We would like to thank Biigtigong Nishnaabeg and the Town of Marathon for their support, along with the representatives of other regional municipalities and Indigenous communities, the public, the responsible federal and provincial government agencies, and our team of employees and advisors for their significant contributions to the Joint Review Panel Environmental Assessment process. We are extremely proud to be the first mine in Ontario to be approved through this process."

He and his company and the previous owners of the Marathon deposit had been sitting on the mining claims for more than a decade, self-servingly waiting for the "perfect financial conditions" to come along, meaning government lifting the limitations on public control of environmental assessments and what constituted protected areas.

Already in June 2012, the previous owner of the Marathon palladium-copper deposit, Stillwater Canada Inc., filed a detailed 43-page Environmental Impact Statement Report with the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.[3]

At that time the world market price for palladium was $600 per ounce, a price considered by many mining financial analysts as "undervalued." The Marathon mining project was put on hold for almost seven years until Generation Mining Limited took over a majority share of 51 per cent in the project in June 2019, at a time when the price of palladium had skyrocketed to $1,500 per ounce, and a 100 per cent ownership in December 2021, when the price of palladium hit close to $2,000 per ounce, then an historic record high of $2,982 per ounce on March 4, 2022.

To say the concerns are environmental is a farce and fraud to cover up the real aims and motivation.

Market price per ounce of palladium 2008-2022 (Macrotrends).

Generation Mining Limited's Marathon Project

The federal and Ontario governments have collaborated to fast-track the approval of Generation Mining Limited's Marathon Project to proceed with the construction and operation of three open-pit mines. The story behind the Marathon mine approval is in stark contrast to statements by media pundits that governments are not doing enough to fast-track critical mineral mining projects. In an opinion piece December 29, 2022, entitled "Shift the focus of EV strategy to critical minerals," the Globe and Mail editorial board writes: "The biggest culprit, which Ottawa acknowledged in launching a new critical minerals strategy earlier this month, is extraordinarily slow regulatory approvals.... Ottawa and the provinces should co-operate on producing a single review for each proposal rather than running concurrent ones, and on setting firm timelines for each decision.... Regulatory problems are so well documented that, if minerals are the priority that governments claim, changes should be possible in a matter of months."

To ensure that the narrow private supranational mining interests are catered to, the opinion piece concludes: "Last April, Ottawa proposed a 30-per-cent exploration credit for critical minerals. The federal government needs to determine if further tax measures are needed to compete with the array of mining incentives that the U.S. has recently advanced and, if so, have those ready for the next budget. Governments also need to prioritize projects where they can help get infrastructure built quickly."[4]

The Canadian and Quebec working people have nothing to gain by supporting such proposals that will not only further enrich big narrow private interests and run roughshod over the treaty and hereditary rights of Indigenous Peoples, but will also further integrate the economies of Ontario and Canada into the U.S. war economy.

Notes

1. "Generation Mining Announces Federal and Provincial Approval of the Marathon Project Environmental Assessment," Financial Post, November 30, 2022.

2. "25 Prominent and Promising Applications Using Platinum Group Metals," Fact Sheet, International Platinum Group Metals Association, 2012.

3. "Marathon Platinum Group Metals and Copper Mine Project -- Project information about this environmental assessment," Environment and Energy of Ontario.

4. "Shift the Focus of EV Strategy to Critical Minerals," Editorial Board, Globe and Mail, December 29, 2022.

(With files from Government of Canada, Government of Ontario, Globe and Mail, Financial Post, Generation Mining, Macrotrends)


This article was published in
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Volume 53 Number 2 - February 2023

Article Link:
https://cpcml.ca/Tmlm2023/Articles/M530028.HTM


    

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