Exploration is at the heart of a robust mining ecosystem. This is for a good reason: the last few years have seen declines in global exploration spend, but that appears to be catching up now. This is particularly so in the critical minerals sector, where the industry is starting to recognize that the pace at which projects advance through the exploration phase needs to increase. The best way to achieve that increase is through effective dialogue among stakeholders. On October 19, 2023, the Ontario Ministry of Mines (the Ministry) launched two public consultation initiatives seeking input on the Ministry’s proposals to improve the mineral exploration assessment work regime and the exploration plans and permits regime. These initiatives aim to streamline regulatory processes, enhance Ontario’s geoscience database and ensure competitiveness in the global mining sector. This blog post provides a summary of these consultation initiatives, offering a glimpse into the Ministry’s objectives and anticipated results.
Ontario’s mineral exploration assessment work regime
The assessment work regime is a fundamental part of Ontario’s mineral exploration process. Individuals interested in early exploration can register mining claims on available lands, which grant exclusive mineral exploration rights after obtaining the necessary permits and approvals. Prospectors who hold mining claims must actively explore the lands for minerals and they are required to report on their assessment work. These reports are made public, contributing to Ontario’s geoscience knowledge. The Ministry has identified three key themes for improving this regime: maximizing competitiveness on mining claims, increasing access to geoscience data and reducing administrative and reporting burdens.
The Ministry seeks to maximize Ontario’s competitiveness through potential changes to:
- Annual work requirements: The Ministry is considering updating the annual work requirement to reflect increasing costs associated with assessment work. Stakeholders are being asked whether the current requirement is sufficient and how changes might impact the industry.
- Grass roots prospecting double credit incentive: The Ministry is reviewing the eligibility and requirements for the double credit incentive for grass roots prospecting. Feedback is sought on alternative options, potential limitations and the impact of changes on industry members.
- Daily rate/sweat equity: The Ministry is evaluating the maximum daily rate that claim holders can submit for their own work on a claim. Input is needed on what would be a reasonable rate and whether different rates for different circumstances should be considered.
- Credits in reserve: The Ministry is considering changes to the process of holding assessment work credits in reserve. Stakeholders are being asked about options to increase the amount of work conducted, including reducing credits after a certain period of disuse.
Increasing access to, and expanding the availability of public geoscience data
To expand public access to geoscience data, the Ministry seeks feedback on the expansion of work types, including the use of technology such as AI, geoscience data and related expenses eligible for assessment work credits.
Minimizing unnecessary administrative and reporting processes for the submittal of assessment work reports
Furthermore, the Ministry aims to minimize administrative processes by considering changes to the following:
- Proof of work/expense verification: The Ministry is considering changes to the requirement of providing receipts and invoices for assessment work expenses. Stakeholders are being asked whether they support the proposed changes or have alternative ideas.
- Service standards and reporting processes: The Ministry aims to establish service standards for response times and reduce administrative burdens. Feedback is sought on reasonable response times and other ways to streamline administrative processes.
- Submittable templates for assessment work and guidelines: The Ministry is considering providing templates and changing technical standards for reporting assessment work. Stakeholders are being asked about the types of templates and changes that would be most helpful.
- Mining Lands Administration System (MLAS) improvements: The Ministry is working to improve the MLAS and seeks input on additional changes that would be beneficial for the submission of assessment work.
- Resolving issues related to boundary claims and maximizing land available for mineral exploration: The Ministry is looking for solutions related to boundary claims and the allocation of white space within grid cells.
- General amendments: The Ministry is exploring the possibility of moving work types out of regulation and into policy. Feedback is sought on this approach and the frequency of reviewing work types.
The Ministry believes consulting on the assessment work regime will assist the Ministry in developing an updated framework that will support Ontario’s efforts to increase the competitiveness of the mineral sector and support strong supply chains. It is expected that adding to the geoscience database will enhance the understanding and attractiveness of Ontario’s mineral potential.
Ontario’s mineral exploration plans and permits regime
Increased global interest in Ontario’s mineral resources, especially critical minerals, has led to a surge in mining claim registrations and exploration spending. However, industry stakeholders have voiced concerns about the current regulatory process being time-consuming, costly and challenging to navigate. To maintain Ontario’s competitiveness in the global exploration sector, the Ministry is exploring ways to eliminate unnecessary barriers to mineral supply development, better aligning with Ontario’s Critical Minerals Strategy.
Additionally, the Ministry has recognized the frustration of some Indigenous communities dealing with the numerous notifications and separate consultation processes linked to early exploration activities. In response, the Ministry has committed to enhancing administrative efficiency while ensuring that Indigenous rights are respected.
The Ministry is seeking public input on three key themes: modernizing requirements, increasing flexibility and reducing administrative burden.
Modernizing requirements for exploration plans and permits and encouraging innovation
The Ministry is considering updating thresholds for regulating early exploration activities based on technological advancements. Feedback is sought on whether the current thresholds need to be changed, how they should be changed and if alternative approaches are viable.
Increase flexibility in the plans and permits regime
The Ministry is addressing the need for greater geographic flexibility in permits, reducing the impact of delays in the permitting process. Input is needed on parameters for geographic areas, whether the current standards are appropriate and other aspects of mapping. Feedback on operational flexibility is also needed, as exploration projects can change over time.
Reducing administrative burden and increasing efficiencies
The Ministry is working on improving administrative efficiencies through digital solutions in the Mining Lands Administration System (MLAS). The Ministry is open to suggestions for further improvements to the MLAS experience. The Ministry also want to hear about any permitting application processes that should be removed or added. Additionally, the Ministry is considering establishing service standards to provide transparency about typical timeline expectations.
Interested parties are encouraged to provide feedback on these themes, as well as any other proposals that could improve the exploration sector in Ontario. The Ministry’s aim is to inform possible regulatory or policy changes in the future, with a focus on consultation and addressing Indigenous community concerns.
Ontario’s mineral exploration initiatives are vital to the province’s economic growth and global competitiveness. By seeking public input on both the assessment work regime and the exploration plans and permits regime, the Ministry aims to streamline processes, enhance the geoscience database and address concerns from industry stakeholders and Indigenous communities. Public participation in these consultations is crucial to shaping the future of Ontario’s mining sector.
The comment period for both proposals closes on December 3, 2023. Stakeholders are encouraged to provide their input and suggestions via email or mail.