Nova Scotia's Mineral Resources Act doesn't got far enough, groups say

Nova Scotia's law amendments committee met Monday to hear from environmental groups worried that a new bill doesn't do enough to prevent mining on privately protected lands, or address concerns about quarries.

Proposed legislation aimed at supporting responsible mineral resource management

On Monday morning, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Sierra Club Canada Foundation were among the groups who voiced concerns about the proposed Mineral Resources Act. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's law amendments committee met Monday to hear from environmental groups worried that a new bill doesn't do enough to prevent mining on privately protected lands, or address concerns about quarries.

Bill 149, or the Mineral Resources Act, was written to support responsible mineral resource management in the province. It was introduced in the House of Assembly by Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines on April 14. 

The Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Sierra Club Canada Foundation are among the groups concerned with what is missing from the bill. 

Protecting the protected

Of the 5.5-million hectares of land in Nova Scotia, about 18,000 is privately protected by the Nature Conservancy and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust collectively. 

Both groups want Bill 149 to include a rigorous assessment process for how mineral rights are granted and how those decisions impact land trusts in Nova Scotia. 

The trusts have "discreet, ecological values," said Craig Smith, the conservancy's program director.

"The ability of the minister to simply grant mineral rights for exploration or active mining over our property doesn't make any sense on so many levels," he said. 

"So what we're talking about is bringing this out, into the light, and creating a process that everyone can understand and everyone can see clearly." 

Now's the time

Nova Scotia Nature Trust executive director Bonnie Sutherland said most people aren't aware that these lands don't have any legislative support when it comes to mining. 

"There's sort of an assumption, I think, on the part of the public, landowners and government that that's a given," Sutherland said. 

"The former minister of the environment, Mark Parent, was actually at law amendments today acknowledging that it didn't even occur to him that land-trust protected areas are not protected against mineral development." 

Land trusts have been identified by successive governments as critical for protecting land in Nova Scotia, according to Nova Scotia Nature Trust executive director Bonnie Sutherland. (Submitted by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust )

Sutherland said the Nature Trust have been "a very strong partner to the government" for over 20 years. 

'It doesn't address quarries at all'

The Sierra Club Canada Foundation acknowledges the proposed legislation does accomplish some good, including public engagement before land exploration and reclamation. But the group is concerned by the growing number of quarries in the province. 

"We're very disappointed," said Gretchen Fitzgerald, director of the club's Atlantic chapter. "[The Act] doesn't address quarries at all." 

According to a 2014 survey of recent quarry activity in Nova Scotia, production has grown steadily since 1925. 

The total area currently and recently used for pit and quarry activity is 5,863 hectares. In 2012, around 12.5 million tonnes of crushed rock and sand was produced, compared to around five million tonnes in 1985. 

The Sierra Club is also concerned by the minister's ability to take land under the proposed legislation through a vesting order — a legal tool forcing the transfer of land against the will of the owner.

By not mentioning quarries in the act, two problems for Nova Scotians are created, she said. 

"It creates a vacuum for community members. They don't know what's going on," Fitzgerald said. "It also does create an incentive for industry to create small quarries that are not going to be assessed."

With files from Jean Laroche