Canadian Manufacturing

Transfer mineral rights to First Nations, Fraser Institute suggests

Think-tank argues mineral rights transfer could avoid land claims issues, better attract private investment



CALGARY—Providing aboriginal groups across Canada with mineral rights could avoid land claims issues and better attract private investment in the mining sector, according to a Fraser Institute report.

The think-tank said land claims disputes and First Nations consulting pose the biggest challenges to private investment in Canada’s mining sector, often leading to “endless rounds of negotiations” that lead nowhere.

“Mining development in Canada is fraught with uncertainty related to First Nations land claims and requirements that miners consult with First Nations,” Kenneth Green, senior director with the Centre for Natural Resources at the Fraser Institute, said in a statement.

“Providing First Nations with private ownership of mineral rights will create a framework grounded in property rights and common law that would bring clarity to negotiations between First Nations and miners over project development.”

Mineral rights in Canada belong to individual provinces but can be leased to miners, allowing them to develop the resource.

Miners must first negotiate within the Crown-based ownership system, however, making development of mining opportunities in First Nations jurisdictions “particularly challenging.”

In the United States mineral rights are privately owned.

Comparing mineral laws and policies in Canada and the U.S., the Fraser Institute said land claims disputes are “less of a deterrent to mining investment” south of the border because “secure private mineral rights provide both sides with more secure and clearly defined bargaining power.”

The think-tank said Canada could improve its attractiveness for mining investment by following the U.S. model and allowing private ownership of mineral rights, and particularly if mineral rights were given to First Nations, leaving negotiations to take place between aboriginal groups and private firms without provincial involvement.

“The ownership of mineral rights is the biggest difference in mining between Canada and the United States and one of the greatest impediments to investment in Canada,” Green said.

“Mining investment is inherently international, and if Canadian policymakers wish to maintain or improve Canada’s competitiveness in attracting mining investment, they should consider reforming Canada’s mineral leasing system and introducing private ownership of mineral rights, particularly for First Nations.”

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