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George Pirie, Ontario's Minister of Mines, in Sudbury, Ont.Gino Donato/The Globe and Mail

Ontario is proposing changes to its mining legislation that would speed up mine approvals, as pressure mounts on the province to deliver on its ambitions to produce critical minerals for the nascent Canadian electric car industry.

The potential amendments to the provincial Mining Act, introduced on Thursday, would address an issue that has been causing concern among policy makers across the country. The federal government said late last year that it was working with the provinces and territories to reduce red tape in the sector, after conceding that mine approvals take far too long. Developing a mine in Canada can take up to 25 years.

Ontario Minister of Mines George Pirie echoed this sentiment in a news release on Thursday. “This process is too time consuming and costly, leading to project delays and lost opportunities for Ontario’s mineral exploration and mining sector,” he said. “We need to get building.”

The Ontario government’s proposed changes would make it easier for companies to obtain permits to mine metals from tailings, allow companies to defer up-front payments on plans to close mines, and loosen restrictions related to the rehabilitation of shuttered mine sites.

The province said in its release that the new measures would not compromise environmental standards, and would not interfere with the government’s constitutional duty to consult Indigenous communities on mining projects.

Over the past few years, the Canadian and United States governments have pushed to establish North American supply chains of critical minerals used in electric car batteries, such as lithium. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ensuing natural-gas price spike in Europe last year, showed that relying on hostile foreign powers for key resources is risky.

National security experts are concerned about the dominance of China in the production of many critical minerals. Relations between Canada and China have deteriorated in recent years, and The Globe and Mail has reported that Beijing attempted to influence the outcomes of the past two Canadian federal elections.

In an interview, Mr. Pirie noted that the process of shutting down a mine in Ontario is often arduous. Doing so can cost many hundreds of millions of dollars, and under the existing rules companies must tear down infrastructure such as power lines right away. In some cases, when shuttered mines have been restarted by new owners, power lines have needed to be rebuilt not long after they were demolished.

“We do some crazy stuff with closure plans,” Mr. Pirie said.

Before joining the provincial government last year, he spent decades in the mining industry, including a stint as chief executive officer of Placer Dome Canada, which was once one of the country’s largest gold companies.

When asked what other help might be coming for the mining industry, Mr. Pirie said measures to stimulate exploration are coming. He declined to provide details.

Developing the Ring of Fire critical minerals district, in the province’s far north, is a top priority for Mr. Pirie. But it is unclear if the measures announced Thursday will meaningfully advance the project, which has sat undeveloped since its discovery in 2006, in part because of the languid pace of regulatory approval in Canada.

At the moment, there are six provincial and federal environmental studies examining the impacts of roads into the minerals district, and some are years behind schedule. In 2019, the federal government ordered a seventh environmental study, which will look at how mining would affect the entire region, but that one hasn’t begun yet. The federal and provincial governments will need to issue one more permit each before mining can begin.

If the Ring of Fire receives all its permits and its proponents meet their current deadlines, it likely won’t start production before the end of the decade.

Luca Giacovazzi, the CEO of Wyloo Metals Pty Ltd., which owns the most promising assets in the Ring of Fire, welcomed the provincial government’s proposed changes, particularly the measures related to mine closings.

But he expressed frustration with the slow pace of regulation in Canada, and said he hopes that this country can take a leaf out of Australia’s book. He pointed to the Nova-Bollinger nickel and copper mine in Western Australia, which went from discovery to production in just four years. Mr. Giacovazzi said a major reason regulation moves faster in that part of Australia than it does in Canada is that mining there is handled by the state government, with no federal interference.

“It’s just a clearer, more certain process that’s more defined,” Mr. Giacovazzi said.

Outside the Ring of Fire, Ontario has made progress in advancing some critical minerals projects. Late last year, the province and the federal government approved the construction of a new palladium mine in northwestern Ontario. Toronto-based Generation Mining Ltd.’s GENM-T project will feed metals to the North American and European automotive industries and help build market share in an industry dominated by Russia.

Ontario, which is a manufacturing base for many of the world’s biggest automakers, also landed its first battery metals plant last year, when Stellantis NV and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution announced plans to build a facility in Windsor, Ont. The province competes in the electric vehicle industry not only internationally, but also fiercely with Quebec.

As part of its strategy, Quebec has invested directly in some lithium projects, such as Nemaska Lithium, a privately held company that is building a lithium mine in the province.

Mr. Pirie declined to say whether Ontario would also consider investing directly in battery metals companies, but he acknowledged Quebec as Ontario’s “biggest competitor.”

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