This story was updated on Saturday, March 19, 2022 at approximately 10:23 a.m. to provide more details about Bill 75.
The Higgs government is taking away the right of property owners to control who goes on their land by giving mining company prospectors free access to all rural and urban private land in New Brunswick without the owner’s permission.
An amendment to the Mining Act adds language indicating that someone who brings handheld tools on private land “for the purpose of mineralogical identification or analysis, is deemed not to cause actual damage to or interference with the use and enjoyment of the land within the meaning of this Act.”
The proposed change follows a May 2021 decision from the mining commission stating that exploration can’t begin on farmland without consent, the CBC reported.
Critics say the Conservatives’ Bill 75 – An Act to Amend the Mining Act – removes the last remaining barrier preventing mining companies from taking over any private land they want to mine.
Higgs is refusing to hold any public consultations on what critics of the legislation call draconian. Bill 75 is scheduled to become law a few weeks after the Legislative Assembly is back in session on March 22. The legislation also rides roughshod over the legal right of Indigenous peoples to control development on their ancestral lands which have never been sold or ceded to the Crown.
“All the other mechanisms needed to allow a mining company to legally seize any private land and begin mining are already in place,” provincial Green Party Leader David Coon said. “The right of land owners to deny prospectors permission to be on their land is the last remaining protection private landowners have, since mining companies don’t stake claims on land they haven’t prospected for minerals.”
Coon said the Green Party voted against Bill 75 on second reading in the Legislative Assembly, and also introduced amendments to protect property owners, but the Conservatives refused to listen.
Using their slim majority, the Higgs government forced passage of the legislation on second reading and plans to do the same to make the bill law late this month or in early April.
Attempts to reach acting Liberal leader Roger Melanson for comment failed.
The fact that Bill 75 makes New Brunswick a mining company playground at the expense of private property owners has alarm bells ringing across the province.
The National Farmers Union of New Brunswick (NFU), the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick and various community groups have already lined up against the bill.
With only a few weeks remaining before Bill 75 is passed into law, only public pressure will convince Higgs to withdraw the bill. Those opposing the legislation agree that everyone who wants Bill 75 stopped should telephone the office of Premier Blaine Higgs at 506-444-5292 and be polite but firm in voicing their objections.
NFU Executive Director Suzanne Fournier said farmers were never informed or consulted about Bill 75. The Agricultural Alliance also says it was never informed or consulted. The NFU has already circulated a petition opposing the government attack on property owners.
Ominous warnings about what lies in store for New Brunswick property owners are being voiced by MiningWatch Canada. Jamie Kneen is the Outreach Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. He says private land owners here can expect a lot of activity on their land.
“Mining is inherently destructive and involves digging up huge amounts of often contaminated rock,” Kneen said. “It can lead to incredible pollution.”
“Mining is also a major threat to sensitive ecosystems, and should be off-limits to mining companies,” he said. Kneen agrees that immediate public pressure is needed to stop Bill 75.
Residents of Charlotte County in southeastern New Brunswick have particular reason to be concerned. Possible gold deposits in that county could result in one of the dirtiest forms of mining taking place there.
Low grade gold deposits are commonly extracted by digging up huge amounts of rock, and then spraying that rock with cyanide, Kneen said. Cyanide is very toxic and often finds its way into streams and water courses.
Kneen also noted that uranium mining produces large amounts of very toxic radioactive waste that is left behind when a mine closes. As well, other forms of dangerous pollution, including heavy metals, create long-term problems.
Concern about Bill 75 is also evident in Kent County in eastern New Brunswick. Kent County was the scene of a bitter battle over shale gas almost a decade ago. After a long campaign of peaceful resistance and civil disobedience, local residents prevailed, and no extraction of shale gas took place there.
“Farmers are definitely worried,” said Kent North MLA Kevin Arseneau. “Bill 75 is an abuse of power, and everyone needs to be on their guard. Laws like Bill 75 should never be passed.”
“We did our best to stop the legislation, and then to amend its worst measures, but the Conservatives just wouldn’t listen,” he said. “We can still delay it for a bit in the legislature but, ultimately, only public pressure can stop the Tories now.”
Notre Environnement, Notre Choix/Our Environment, Our Choice – a Kent County community group – has signed the NFU petition opposing Bill 75. As well, the Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians is angry about the Conservative legislation.
“We are alarmed and amazed that the current Conservative government seems to have learned nothing from the shale gas debacle that cost them an election in 2014,” said Denise Melanson, a spokesperson with the local Council of Canadians chapter. “Bill 75 raises many of the same issues for residents of our province but, unlike fracking, it isn’t limited to specific geographic areas of the province and will be in effect everywhere.”
“This Government doesn’t seem to have any real understanding of the need to preserve and protect what little remains of our farmland and natural spaces. All mining projects are energy intensive, and are always damaging to air quality, water sources and land,” she said.
“Bill 75 will only add more stress to already challenged ecosystems. We understand the need to improve our fiscal position, but expect our Government to throw everything in its arsenal at promoting green solutions to respond to the climate crisis, not to make things worse by handing over big chunks of our province for destruction.”
Dallas McQuarrie is a NB Media Co-op writer who lives in St. Ignace on unceded Mi’kmaq territory in Kent County.