Norm Miller on Far North Act

Norm Miller MPPQUEEN’S PARK _ Leaders Ledger – The Far North Act eliminated 225,000 square kilometres from economic development opportunities for northern communities’ and First Nations’ benefit, or about 25% of Ontario’s total land mass and 50% of the north.

The north is not just some empty wasteland. There are towns and villages and First Nation communities—more than 30 communities. According to census information, more than 36,000 First Nations people live in the area now defined by the Far North Act.

I’ve had the pleasure to visit some of those Far North communities. I once spent a day with Grand Chief Stan Beardy and went to the most northerly community in Ontario, Fort Severn. I call tell you that Fort Severn has some challenges. When I was there, the school was closed. There’s high unemployment. There are problems with drugs.

On that same day—they wanted to show a struggling community and one that was doing better. The one that was doing better was Webequie, and it happens to be right in the middle of the Ring of Fire, where this huge new chromite discovery, nickel discovery, has been found. There, it was bustling. There was all sorts of economic activity—First Nations people involved in drilling and other activities to do with the mine—and some hope, is what I would say. Quite a contrast.

It’s easy for Mr. McGuinty to draw a line and say, “Forget about that place,” but what about the people that live in the north? Governments should be concerned with creating an environment that offers northerners the same kinds of opportunities that we expect in southern Ontario. Imagine if you tried to do that in southern Ontario: declare half of southern Ontario off limits—no agriculture, no housing, no industry. There would be a revolt here. The Far North Act is simply bad public policy.

It is possible to responsibly harvest renewable resources, particularly trees. Engineering technology makes it possible to mine responsibly. The green economy is not possible without the use of minerals and metals. Wind turbines, solar cells and hybrid vehicles are not possible without mining. The mining industry is the largest employer of First Nations people in Ontario—safe, productive, well-paying jobs. There’s a wealth of resources in the north, but with the Far North Act, we’ll never know what’s there.

This province was built on a legacy of mining and forestry, and it could do so again, responsibly. There are tens of thousands of jobs that could be realized in the north, but not if Mr. McGuinty continues to sever off huge tracts of Ontario and then subject them to economic ruin. What is the logic for arbitrarily deciding that 50% of the north is off limits to forestry, mining and other activities?

Patrick Moore, in the book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout, talks about protecting areas. He says, “Of course it is important to maintain large areas of land as parks and wilderness, and make them off limits to industrial development for factories, managed forests or farms. The World Wildlife Fund, one of the” world’s “largest nature protection groups, states that 10% of the world’s forests should be protected from development. I would have no problem with 15% or even more in some cases.” He is not saying 50%, as the Far North Act says.

He goes on to talk about the importance of forestry:

“There is the same area of forest in both the US and Canada today as there was 100 years ago; in fact, the area of forest has been growing in recent years. This is despite a tripling of population and an even larger increase in the consumption of food and wood products. About 85% of timber production in the US is from private lands. Those millions of … landowners could easily remove the forest from the land and grow crops like corn or cotton or raise cows for beef. But they choose to grow trees because they know they will get a good price for them to pay their taxes, send their children to college and live a good life. Because landowners choose to grow trees, the land remains forested, providing habitat for other plants and wildlife, pulling carbon from the air, protecting soil from erosion and making the landscape beautiful. Rather than illustrating the common belief that forestry destroys the forest, it is truly a win-win solution for the environment and the economy, maintaining the land in a forested state while providing an income for the owners.”

He goes on to say, “One of the great ironies of the ‘environmental’ movement today is that it claims to support all things renewable on the one hand while at the same time ignoring or rejecting the fact that wood is far and away the most important renewable resource. Environmental activists place huge importance on solar panels made from aluminum, silicon and gallium arsenide when in fact the most important solar collectors on earth are the leaves and needles” of our plants.

I bring that up simply because, in my opinion, the reason that half of the north is off bounds for development is because the current government is so much in bed with the environmental lobby groups based here in Toronto.

By the way, you can’t make those solar panels unless you have mines to provide the aluminum, silicon etc.

Why should half of northern Ontario be off bounds for northern communities to benefit? It’s not just Toronto and the GTA that drive the economy of Ontario. Let’s give all the regions of Ontario the same choice to make a contribution, grow opportunities and improve living conditions.

There have been many, many different people on record opposing Bill 191, and I would like to get some of them on the record, starting off with a letter I just received from Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. He writes:

“The Nishnawbe Aski Nation … Chiefs-in-Assembly passed resolutions condemning Bill 191 (Far North Act, 2010). These First Nation decisions were ignored by the provincial government of the day. The fundamental problems with the Far North Act, 2010, include the following: (1) provincial control of the land use planning process; (2) the precondition of an interconnected protected area of at least 225,000 square kilometres; (3) the provincial power to override any land use plan; (4) the provincial power to establish provisional protected areas; (5) the lack of guaranteed funding for land use planning; and, (6) the immediate freeze on most forms of modern resource development. NAN First Nations do support mutually beneficial land use planning without preconditions and respectful of treaty rights.”

I’m pleased to receive that letter from Grand Chief Beardy. I agree that there should be some land use planning in the north. I’m not opposed to that.

The forestry industry—this is the Ontario Forest Industries Association—is on record as saying:

“The OFIA has never supported Bill 191. More specifically, the OFIA has never supported the government’s societal and political objective to permanently protect over 50% of the northern boreal region.

“There is no scientific rationale to support the permanent protection of at least 50% of the northern boreal. The decision to permanently protect at least 50% of the area, or 225,000 square kilometres, was a unilateral, political decision made by the government of Ontario to satisfy southern special interests.

“In fact, the concept of permanent protection does not even line up with some of the government’s own stated objectives and is based on incomplete information, notably when it comes to forests and carbon sequestration.

“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sustainable forest management, including harvest and renewal activities, can contribute to mitigation of climate change to a greater extent than protecting forests.”

I won’t have time in the short time for private members, but the Ontario Prospectors Association are on record as saying: “The Ontario Prospectors Association believes the Far North Act put forward by the McGuinty Liberal provincial government will cripple exploration and related economic development in Ontario’s boreal forest.”

The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association: “NOMA has been clear in expressing our view that the uncertainty created by the Far North Act is a hindrance to business investment and economic growth in northern Ontario and we will continue to advocate against this legislation.”

Howard Wilson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, states: “It is left to us in the business community and the First Nations, together with municipal and other regional organizations, to make the cause against economically damaging policy that would devastate our future.

“We at the chamber are the voice of business and this Far North Act is a threat to business development to our city and region.”

The Prospectors and Developers Association states: “It is our recommendation … that Bill 191, the Far North Act, be withdrawn…. The PDAC contends that Bill 191, in its present form, would deprive all the citizens of Ontario, particularly the First Nations communities that make up most of the population of the Far North, of the economic benefits that responsible mineral resource development can provide.

“Bill 191 fails to provide First Nations with an appropriate and clearly defined role in the land use planning process.

“Bill 191 seriously compromises the ability of the minerals sector to operate in the Far North by reducing the land base available for exploration by 50% or more, relegating the minerals sector to a peripheral role in land use planning, and damaging investor confidence in mineral exploration activities in the region…. We should not start with prescribed limits that are not based on science, and are not based on the needs of the people. Indeed, land use planning in the Far North should begin with widespread geologic mapping and mineral exploration.”

The Northwestern Ontario Prospectors Association states: “I believe the Far North Act removes too much land from exploration and without the approval of the very people who live there, being the First Nations people…. It seems unwise and unfair to remove such a large piece of Ontario from the possibility of generating wealth for both the First Nations and the coffers of the Ontario government.” As prospectors, “We go out with a hammer and a packsack, and the footprint on the ground is minimal.”

The Whitewater Lake First Nation state: “We are … in the desperate situation of being almost totally engulfed” by a provincial park. “This has completely stymied our efforts to get involved in modern terms of economic development such as mining, forestry and hydroelectric projects. We cannot even get a road into our community….”

“Ontario is prepared to put aside 50% of the far north for caribou, polar bears and wolverines; however, Indian reserves do not even amount to 1% of the area. Whitewater Lake has nothing. Why the disparity in treatment?”

Mr. Speaker, there are many more quotes from chambers of commerce etc. that are opposed. I simply say the reason I’m opposed is this taking of 50% of the land mass of northern Ontario away from the benefit of the people of the north, in particular, and all Ontario; I strongly object. It will hurt northern Ontario and hurt the entire economy of the province of Ontario.