Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Citizens’ Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
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Below the Surface

Bruce H. Moore, Director
International Land Coalition
Rome

Let me begin by congratulating the civic minded teams of people for their diligence in promoting an open and transparent public examination of the impacts of the uranium cycle. This inquiry is an example of democracy at its best - it is citizens, using evidence they have gathered, to call on their elected officials to represent, defend and further the public good.

I am pleased to bring the views of the International Land Coalition before this inquiry. You should know that the International Land Coalition is an alliance of United Nations Organisations, the World Bank, the European Commission, civil society organisations, researchers and academics who are working together in over 50 countries to support secure and equitable access to natural resources, especially land. The International Land Coalition is the major global convenor on land policies based on being an international knowledge network on land issues.

On the surface, global demand for minerals, is rich with promises of jobs for workers and bull markets for investors. However, the story below the surface is different. Worldwide, growing numbers of local land owners and indigenous peoples are loosing their land and resource rights to the powerful forces of international mining, energy and forestry, frequently under outdated legislation or the “questionable” granting of concessions to extractive industries. These situations are not confined to developing economies, as illustrated by a preliminary review of the uranium inquiry in south eastern Ontario by the International Land Coalition.

Frontenac Ventures, using the information available to our coalition, bases its position on four factors; namely: (i) the law provides them with sub-surface rights; (ii) a uranium mine will contribute to economic growth; (iii) today’s mining practices are safe; and, (iv) nuclear power is carbon free, thus offsetting the risks of climate change.

The Canadian case, based on a law from the 1800s, raises the same question that has come to the surface in resource conflicts elsewhere. Is the law legitimate? Cases, involving laws as old as in this case, raise fundamental issues of legitimacy versus legality.

A legitimacy versus legality approach to public policy, places responsibility on governments to harmonize old laws with the new, both within and across ministries. Governments are expected to ensure that their laws are both coherent within their jurisdiction and consistent with international agreements to which they are a party. Based on international standards, further inquiry into this Canadian case is likely to reveal that the 19th century mining law is at best in need of reform to bring it into compliance with related federal and provincial laws of the 21st century. And, it appears, again from the available information, that it is more likely to be found in need of “zero-based” re-development.

Around the world, legislative reform of the natural resource sector is undergoing rapid reform in respect to environmental protection, nuclear safety, and the downstream natural resource and watershed effects, resulting from chemical leaching, including mining residues.

Canada requires environmental impact studies as a pre-condition to providing international assistance abroad. It follows that Canada, should follow its own example at home – in this case by suspending prospecting pending a full legislative, regulatory and juridical review of this situation and the establishment of forward looking laws to govern resource prospecting and extraction. It is on the public record that Canadian mining companies have flawed international reputations that continue today from the concerns in the 1970s and earlier.

In this Canadian situation, communities may become divided over the economic promise of mining. However, experience elsewhere has shown that community division is often rooted in misinformation or lack of empirical evidence. Studies have shown that mining generally results in only low levels of employment due to its highly technical nature. The real increase in jobs is not where the mine is located but where the minerals are used. Road building and infrastructure are one time investments and trucking generates few jobs. On-site jobs can quickly disappear due to the high price volatility of minerals. In the context of mining in Canada, a 2001 study found that taxpayers subsidised the mining industry by $ 13,095 per job created, funds that could stimulate more promising and lasting local opportunities that are free of environmental and health risks.

Mining is not neutral, it affects the entire territory. Mining on average takes 20 years to come on stream and may be postponed or cancelled if mineral values change or competition from richer deposits or lower labour costs makes other mining locations more attractive. For these twenty years other opportunities are likely to suffer. In a highly valued recreational area with a strong property market, as in the case of this eastern Ontario region of Canada, property values are likely to decline thus lowering the tax base. The current and growing number of full-time residents , seasonal property owners and vacationers has been progressively expanding the local economy for over twenty-five years. There are strong indicators for this growth to continue. The possibility of uranium cycle development puts this known and environmentally safe future at risk.

Globally, governments are increasingly basing their policies and actions on the principles of free, prior and informed consent. To an outside organisation, the current failure by the Ontario and Federal government to engage with this growing network of concerned citizens is a sad statement on government accountability. This citizens inquiry is a further attempt to put the resource rights of citizens above those of corporations. It is to be hoped that the government will soon declare its position.