THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Will the Ring of Fire lead to a new Northwestern Ontario territory? In the Ontario Legislature on Tuesday the issue of mining and the Ring of Fire was discussed. Sarah Campbell went so far as to state in the legislature, “This government must start representing our needs and interests today; otherwise, its not just Cliffs that will receive an eviction notice from the northwest, it will be the government of Ontario”.
This is the first time in recent memory that the subject of Northwestern Ontario as a separate political entity from the rest of Ontario has been raised.
It demonstrates the degree of frustration and the depth of growing anger over how the McGuinty government is treating the region.
Campbell stated in a members statement read in Queen’s Park, “While Cliffs made a business decision to process northwestern Ontario resources in northeastern Ontario, which is its right, this government has no excuse for failing in its duty to involve northerners in the process. While the government is silent on many details, it is clear that this government has made commitments without involving municipal leaders or First Nations.
“Yesterday, Chief Peter Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation made his viewpoint pretty clear. He said he’s willing to lay down his life to protect the lakes and rivers that will be jeopardized by a north-south corridor that this government seems to favour. Chief Moonias told me that not only was he not consulted, but he did not receive so much as a phone call from either the government of Ontario or Cliffs”.
This is a far cry from Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci who said, “We continue to celebrate the fact that Cliffs has every confidence in the province of Ontario, and that’s why they announced that they’re willing to make a $3.3-billion investment in the province of Ontario that will create jobs not only in northern Ontario but across Ontario”.
Bartolucci continued, speaking during Question Period to say, “Our First Nations communities suggested to us that regional infrastructure supports were very, very important and that should form part of the framework that we enter into. They suggested that social supports were very important and that they should be a part of the framework we’ve entered into. They suggested that regional environmental impacts were very, very important and they should be a part of the framework agreement that we’ve entered into. They suggested that resource benefit sharing was very, very important to them and it should be a part of the framework for discussion”.
The Minister’s positive words might be further evidence should the Neskantage First Nation, as reported on Tuesday, end up in court as their legal team stated could happen in a letter to the Minister delivered on May 15, 2012. The lawyers state, “It would appear that Ontario is already in breach of their legal duties toward Neskantaga. It will be difficult for you to reconcile this lack of prior consultation with decisions already made.”
Gregory J. Mcdade, QC states in this letter sent on behalf of his client, “We as that you confirm that no agreement in principle has been made, and that no choice in terms of infrastructure (the North-South road) has been made. My client respectfully requests that you meet on behalf of the Crown with Neskantaga, and expects that within 30 days your officials will have resolved these issues with them, or we will be seeking instructions to that further action”.
Several First Nations leaders are quietly expressing that Ontario’s actions in failing to properly consult with them over development in the region is similar to ‘declaring war’ on them. Premier Dalton McGuinty has over the past years demonstrated a reluctance to engage in heated debate over controversial issues. That trait being demonstrated throughout his government may well prove to be the issue that leads to greater conflict and reaction across the North.
Sarah Campbell may not have meant to open a debate about a separate Northwestern Ontario, but if the McGuinty Government doesn’t listen, the words and deeds they are currently using might led to that very debate becoming a major issue around the region.
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