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First year as mines minister had accomplishments, frustrations.

First year as mines minister had accomplishments, frustrations

"A minister is part of an overall picture. Hopefully by having been there a year or two, you end up having done something for mining."

Nearly one year after accepting the portfolio, Mines Minister Hugh O'Neil believes he has made a mark as the provincial government's advocate for the sector.

"I see my role as an advocate for the industry," O'Neil said during a telephone interview with Northern Ontario Business. "I've tried to raise the image of mining with the government, because sometimes governments don't see mining as being important even though it provides between $8 billion and $9 billion for the economy and about 85,000 jobs in Ontario."

O'Neil's advocacy efforts have become increasingly important in the wake of a number of funding changes at the federal level. In the past year, the federal government has scuttled both the CEIP (Canadian Exploration Incentive Program) and preferential tax status for flow-through shares - moves which O'Neil says are wreaking havoc on the mining sector across Canada.

"The main problem facing the industry is the cutbacks in the federal programs," the MPP from Quinte said. "It has greatly curtailed the amount of exploration."

The loss of the federal incentives has necessitated an increase in the amount of funding provided by the provincial government. In his latest budget, provincial Treasurer Robert Nixon announced an additional $30 million for exploration programs. Of that amount, $25 million is earmarked to enhance both OPAP (the Ontario Prospectors Assistance Program) and OMIP (the Ontario Mineral Incentive Program). The balance of the funding will go towards a section of OMIP which will encourage exploration in designated areas.

Despite the influx of provincial funds, O'Neil admits more incentives are required.

"The funds are very beneficial to exploration, but they will never fill the void left by the loss of the federal funds," he said. "Both (provincial) programs have been well received by the industry, mainly because they zero in on individual prospectors."

O'Neil suggested that the sector "does not have the support of the Prime Minister" and that both the mining industry and the provincial governments must undertake a massive lobbying effort to recoup some of the lost incentive programs.

He added that the federal government's reluctance to discuss the renewal of the Canada-Ontario Mineral Development Agreement (COMDA) has the potential to further decrease exploration efforts in the province. The funds are utilized for mapping and survey programs, and the results are made available to prospectors and exploration companies.

"Grants such as ones for geophysical studies are intended to encourage companies to get out and increase exploration activity," he said.

O'Neil points to the increased provincial funding for mining-related programs as one of his greatest accomplishments as mines minister.

"I've been able to get an increase in the provincial budget for mining, so now the money is going where it should be going," he boasted.


O'Neil admitted there is little he can do about the mining industry's mounting costs resulting from regulations imposed by other ministries.

Mining officials, particularly those from smaller companies, have criticized the provincial government for imposing such regulations as the Ontario Employer Health Tax. The officials complain that the regulations make mineral production costs too great for some smaller or marginal operations.

"The only thing we can do is make the rules as simple as we can," he said. "There's no doubt the other costs do cause some problems, but the only thing we can do is try and make it as easy on the companies as we can," he said.

With the advent of computerization, mining officials have expressed concern over the lack of skilled workers joining the sector, while existing workers are concerned over their ability to keep pace with the changes. However, O'Neil said the concerns are unnecessary. He points to mining programs in place at Queen's University, Cambrian College and at the Haileybury School of Mines as proof there will be skilled workers available as the sector moves into the next century.

"The programs allow for the constant upgrading of the skills of people who have been in the industry for a number of years," he said. "There's always going to be room for a prospector with a shovel."


Initially, O'Neil's appointment to the portfolio drew criticism from Northern Ontario members of the industry. The majority of the complaints focused in on O'Neil's roots in the southern portion of the province and his apparent lack of knowledge of the industry.

O'Neil was the minister of Tourism and Recreation prior to taking over mining from Sean Conway.

According to O'Neil, the stigma lasted only "two or three weeks" after his appointment. He credited his experience as minister for Industry, Trade and Technology, as well as the knowledge he gained while serving on a number of mining-related panels as factors in his acceptance by the industry. He also undertook a hectic travel schedule which increased his visibility in the mining sector.

"There's lots to learn, so I've tried to do a lot of travelling. I've visited the mining centres four or five times during the year," he said. "I'd like to think that I've built up a rapport in the north in the past year and if the feelings (of alienation) are still present, I will be disappointed."
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Title Annotation:Hugh O'Neil; Ontario Ministry of Mines
Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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