A balanced critical minerals strategy for Manitoba: OP-ED

May 31, 2024
by Ron Thiessen, Executive Director CPAWS Manitoba

This opinion piece was published by the Winnipeg Free Press on May 31, 2024.

In a world grappling with the urgent need for sustainable energy and environmental preservation, Manitoba stands at a pivotal crossroads. There is a strong demand for critical minerals to support the green energy transition. But resource development cannot come at the expense of our communities, lands, and waters.

As Premier Wab Kinew stated in February: “In order for Manitobans to be healthy now and for generations into the future, we have to protect a clean, safe and healthy environment.”

“We are prepared to develop mining opportunities in Manitoba, but it has to be done in the right way,” Premier Kinew added. “It has to be done in a way that minimizes the risk to the health of humans and the safety of the environment.”

Our pursuit of resource development must align with our commitment to safeguarding the health of our communities and the integrity of our lands and waters. This sentiment resonates deeply with the mission of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, where we recognize the imperative for responsible stewardship in the face of burgeoning demand for critical minerals.

Recently the provincial government asked Manitobans for comments on what they think a Critical Minerals Strategy should look like. We acknowledge the complexity of this challenge. It is within this context that we present our key recommendations.

CPAWS Manitoba’s full recommendations for the upcoming Manitoba Critical Minerals Strategy can be found here –

A holistic approach to land use planning is needed, where mineral development is intricately woven into the fabric of our conservation objectives.

The provincial government’s commitment to protect 30 per cent of Manitoba’s lands and waters by 2030 is not an arbitrary target, but a fundamental pillar of our collective commitment to sustainability. It is imperative that mining exploration and extractive developments are conducted in concert with this vision.

Protected areas candidates and high conservation value areas should be shielded from industrial activity until conservation planning processes are complete.

We emphasize the need to identify and safeguard high-carbon landscapes from development, recognizing both their ecological significance and their role in mitigating climate change.

Any new mining project must undergo rigorous environmental impact assessments, encompassing not only project-specific considerations, but also broader regional and cumulative impacts. We underscore the importance of establishing scientific baselines against which mitigation efforts can be measured, ensuring that no-net loss principles guide our approach to biodiversity conservation.

Central to our recommendations is the imperative of fostering equitable partnerships with Indigenous communities, grounded in principles of mutual respect and shared decision-making.

Indigenous Peoples are rightsholders and ancestral custodians of the lands upon which we tread. Their leadership and support must be sought at every stage of the development process, from inception to reclamation.

Developments must only proceed with the free, prior, and informed consent of the Indigenous nations affected. Benefits and revenues derived from critical mineral development must be equitably distributed, honoring the inherent and constitutional rights of Indigenous communities.

We advocate for a paradigm shift in our approach to resource utilization, prioritizing efficiency, and sustainability. A whole-of-government approach is essential, encompassing initiatives to reduce demand for new materials, enhance recycling efforts, and optimize energy usage.

We must leverage existing infrastructure and embrace low-carbon energy sources to power mining operations, thereby minimizing our environmental footprint and maximizing operational efficiency.

Crucially, we must hold the mining industry to the highest standards of accountability and transparency. Regulatory frameworks must be regularly reviewed and enforced, with clear delineation between regulatory oversight and industry promotion.

Environmental monitoring and mitigation must be integral components of mining operations, with stringent measures in place to ensure compliance with best practices and no-net loss principles.

The path forward for Manitoba lies not in a binary choice between resource development and environmental protection, but in a nuanced and collaborative approach that reconciles these priorities.

By embracing the principles outlined in our recommendations, we can forge a future where economic prosperity flourishes hand-in-hand with ecological integrity, ensuring a legacy of sustainability for generations to come.

As Manitobans, it is our collective responsibility to rise to this challenge. We strongly urge our provincial government to work with rightsholders and stakeholders to develop an inclusive and balanced Critical Minerals Strategy within the context of protecting 30 per cent of Manitoba’s wild lands and waters by 2030.

Ron Thiessen is the executive director of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

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