Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee, for the opportunity to speak here today.
The Mining Association of Canada, MAC, is the national organization representing Canadian mining. We represent all major commodity types of mining in Canada, including base metals, precious metals, iron ore, uranium, diamonds, metallurgical coal, and mined oil sands.
Our industry is active across all of Canada, and I want you to keep in mind a couple of points as I go through my remarks today.
First, while exploration activity covers a wide area, it tends to have minimal impact. Once a mine is developed, the impact is more significant, but it is across a very small part of the land base. Second, there are clear opportunities to use land held by mining companies around active mine sites to help achieve wildlife goals, including the recovery of endangered species, as not all land in mining leases is used for active mining operations.
Our members strive to contribute to building a strong, sustainable, and internationally competitive industry. An important means for us to do so is through our Towards Sustainable Mining initiative, or TSM for short. TSM is a set of performance indicators that require mines to report on social and environmental performance in several areas, including biodiversity, and then have those results independently verified and publicly reported.
As past of TSM, we espouse our values for conservation of biodiversity and species protection. Among our TSM indicators are three indicators focused on biodiversity conservation. Part of our commitment here includes respecting protected areas, including world heritage sites and parks, and working with communities to identify important biodiversity aspects that need to be managed.
Once we have done that, some of the indicators we measure are about setting good practice standards for biodiversity conservation. Examples of what is considered good practice include making a public commitment to biodiversity values by each company at the facility or mine site level. Companies are also obliged to engage with key communities of interest, including government, aboriginal communities, and conservation organizations, to understand what elements of biodiversity are important for them to conserve. Examples of these would include endangered species, keystone or indicator species, and culturally significant species. Once those are identified, the facilities are obligated to put in place mechanisms to assess the impacts of their operations and implement mitigation and compensation measures to address those impacts. Then there are public reporting obligations that go along with that. All of this can be found in our annual TSM progress report.
I want to highlight a couple of examples out of many, and some of the things our companies are doing around conservation.
First, in 2014, Teck Resources purchased approximately 7,150 hectares of private lands in the Elk Valley and Flathead River Valley as part of conservation efforts, representing one of the largest conservation investments in British Columbia history. This protected land provides important habitat for numerous species, such as grizzly bear, wolverine, badger, elk, lynx, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, westslope cutthroat trout, and bull trout. This land is also culturally significant for the Ktunaxa first nation and local communities.
Another B.C. example is New Gold's New Afton mine, which has been working with the University of Guelph and Thompson Rivers University to deploy innovative genomics tools for DNA mapping and bar-coding. Through this work, they have managed to identify a minimum of five new species of spider, which have now been added to the provincial registry. This has also helped them build a tool for a more accurate and timely assessment of the quality of their reclamation work to allow them to make adjustments in quicker order.
Another example is the Diavik diamond mine and the Ekati diamond mine, which have been using a similar DNA approach to map and monitor grizzly bear populations in the north.
MAC was involved in the very early days of the development of the federal Species at Risk Act, and it continued to be involved through participation in the Species at Risk Advisory Committee up until its disbandment in 2014. We support the government's efforts to conserve species and SARA's objectives to foster stewardship and collaboration on the ground.
We do, however, have a few concerns about the way in which SARA has been implemented and some of the potential impacts on our industry.
We are seeing several mining projects facing SARA-related barriers during the federal environmental assessment process. The narrow application of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 means that mining projects are held to account for cumulative effects on species and habitat caused by ongoing non-mining activities that are not subject to the same environmental assessment standards and not prohibited by SARA, because they are on provincial crown land.
SARA obliges projects undergoing federal assessment to comply with SARA and all relevant species recovery strategies, but without long-term compliance and permitting mechanisms, it is not clear how a proponent can demonstrate compliance.
There's a need for effective policy tools that would allow Environment and Climate Change Canada to recognize mitigation measures for proponents, which would allow projects to proceed through EA. For example, finalizing the critical habitat effective protection policy would be helpful. Implementation of conservation agreements, as laid out in section 11 of the act, is one of the few options under the act with a potential to reconcile the challenges of EA and, at the same time, recovering species, using tools beyond the protection of critical habitat.
In order to realize the potential of these agreements, one of the most important actions that could be taken to facilitate project approvals would be developing a template for conservation agreements using CEAA decision statements as a place to enshrine mitigation measures for affected species.
We're also concerned about the capacity of the government to effectively implement SARA.
For example, Environment and Climate Change Canada's efforts to work through the backlog of outstanding recovery species and action plans in the absence of adequate capacity is spreading resources too thinly to realize the effective recovery of species.
Strategies are often released without the necessary research being completed, particularly in identifying and defining critical habitat. There's been an overreliance on the protection of critical habitat, when it is defined, regardless of the actual threats to the industry, and it's imperative that the recovery planning processes be supported by sound science and that decisions be informed by the best available information. As one example, during a recent review that we conducted of recovery strategies for three bat species, we found that a statement related to the potential threat of the mining industry came from an anonymous reference on a web blog comment forum, and the statement proved to be erroneous.
Recovery strategies are developed without regard to the practical costs or implications of socio-economic needs, local communities, or other species. Those burdens on rural communities are without evidence that the current recovery strategies are affecting species recovery. As more recovery strategies are developed, it is becoming evident that a species-by-species approach can create pitfalls in cases where species share ranges but have different habitat requirements. A good example is the contrasting assessment of the impact of fire suppression on caribou and the olive-sided flycatcher. We expect more of these conflicts as more strategies are developed.
We would very much like to see the reinstatement of the species at risk advisory committee. We feel it's an important multi-stakeholder body that can help inform the practical application and implementation of SARA. We also further encourage the government to continue to work with provincial and territorial governments, as this is a shared area of jurisdiction.