Michael Gravelle on the Far North Act


Michael Gravelle MPPQUEEN’S PARK – Leaders Ledger – The Progressive Conservatives put forward a motion to repeal The Far North Act. Thunder Bay Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle, the Minister of Natural Resources spoke during debate.

Here is what the MPP said in Queen’s Park: I’m very pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this debate and certainly to express our party’s very strong feelings that the legislation being put forward by the member of Parry Sound–Muskoka is, indeed, a very bad piece of legislation, a very regressive one.

May I say, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to hear the comments from my critic, the member from Kenora–Rainy River, related to her feelings, and presumably her caucus’s feelings, on this potential legislation being put forward.

The fact is that the Far North Act, 2010, put into law for the first time in Ontario’s history a requirement for First Nation approval of land use plans in the Far North of our province. Certainly that is one aspect that the member from Parry Sound–Muskoka has essentially brushed off as not being particularly significant, but he would just simply put that aside.

A key objective stated in that act is enabling sustainable economic development that benefits First Nations. When the Far North Act was first introduced in 2009, there were almost no land use plans or strategies in place to allow for sustainable development of natural resources or to ensure that any environmentally or culturally significant areas were protected. So this ultimately has become, I think, what will be described as milestone legislation, and it does represent an unprecedented opportunity to initiate progress and positive change in the far north of Ontario.

May I say, again, in further response to my colleague from Kenora–Rainy River, we want to work with the communities in the far north and with the members of the Legislature to find the kind of flexibility we need to make the act work even better, through either regulatory aspects or policy-making aspects of the legislation that’s in place. There’s no question that we have some great opportunities here.

This is about striking a balance, Mr. Speaker, that we do, I think, have an obligation to strive to find—something that the official opposition, the Conservatives, don’t seem to be as concerned about—a balance between economic development and between conservation, and this is the opportunity that we have. We’re talking about 24,000 people; I think it’s 36 remote communities, many of them fly-in communities. This is a unique opportunity for us to partner with the First Nations in the far north to draw from their traditional knowledge in this planning process to ensure that we get it right.

We do know—it’s certainly something we would say makes sense from the perspective of most parts of Ontario—that good planning leads to good development, which creates good jobs and a strong economy. What’s unique about the land use planning process under the Far North Act is that decision-making has been consensus-based. We are working in partnership with First Nations to determine which areas will be protected and what will be developed.

The truth is, Mr. Speaker, too, that there are five land use plans that have already been put in place—we’ve got agreements on them—some great examples that could really, really make it very, very clear that the point of view put forward by the official opposition is just so darn wrong about opportunities for development in northern Ontario.

Pikangikum First Nation completed the first community-based land use plan in the Far North in 2006. It clearly identified opportunities for mineral sector activities, commercial forestry, while identifying areas of cultural significance for protection. It also, may I say, Mr. Speaker, was one that I think set a really good example as a model.

The most recent agreement we signed was with Cat Lake and Slate Falls First Nation. Their land use plan was approved in July 2011. In this case—I could break it down for you, but I want to use my time judiciously—the determination was made by the communities that 65% of the land in their traditional territories would be open to opportunities regarding development. So the case was made, the discussions took place, and that 65% was open for development. The 35%, they determined, were areas for cultural protection.

The fact is that that very much makes the point that this process, which is under way in almost every other far north First Nation community, is about making decisions related to what works for those communities in terms of development, which then, of course, provides the absolute clarity the industry has been calling for. Again, my colleague across the way from Kenora–Rainy River made reference to how important it is for industry to have that clarity. Well, indeed it is, and once they have that clarity as to where the development is welcome, I think it provides for some tremendous opportunities.

I must say also that I had a very good opportunity—the member for Parry Sound–Muskoka was going through a list of those that he chose to define as being opposed to the Far North Act. Some of my colleagues in this House noticed that he was reading sections of letters rather than reading the full document. I can certainly speak about a number of those.

But let me just at least begin with a conversation that I had yesterday with Grand Chief Stan Louttit of Mushkegowuk Tribal Council, First Nations. May I thank again my colleagues across the way from Kenora–Rainy River and Timmins–James Bay, for helping set that up.

Yes, there is no question: Grand Chief Stan Louttit and many other chiefs that were on that phone call that I was on certainly expressed their concerns about the process by which the Far North legislation was brought forward. There is no question about that, and it would not be helpful for me to pretend otherwise.

But what they made very, very clear was that the process under which they are now engaged in terms of the land use planning process is one they want to continue to move forward on. It was a very exciting conversation for me from the point of view of recognition that, yes, indeed, we need to have some more conversations. There are some aspects of the legislation they want to discuss with our ministry and with myself as minister; I’m more than happy to do that. But what was most exciting about it was the fact that they laid the cards on the table and made it clear: “We did not particularly like the process that brought this legislation forward, but we are very pleased to have an opportunity to be engaged in a partnership with the province in a land use planning process that simply wasn’t in place before.” Again, that’s the kind of opportunity that we have to provide clarity to industry, while at the same time showing the proper respect for the First Nations. So I’m very grateful for that opportunity with Grand Chief Louttit and with the other chiefs who were on the call.

May I say, I’ve had many opportunities to speak with Grand Chief Stan Beardy, a good friend of mine, someone I’ve worked with for many years, of Nishnawbe Aski Nation. I was recently at a NAN energy conference in Thunder Bay, and I spoke about the Far North legislation. Again, I won’t stand here and say that I received a rousing ovation for my remarks, but I certainly was treated respectfully, and we agreed to carry on the conversation, as we have in the past. That has been the key, quite frankly, to us moving forward with so many other measures, including, may I say, the modernization of the Mining Act—quite a remarkable process.

Mr. Speaker, I do need to wrap up. One of my colleagues, from Thunder Bay–Atikokan, very much wants to say a few words as well.

Let me speak quickly about NOMA, the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. I met with them on March 9. I’m reaching out as best I can to all organizations. NOMA, of course, being the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association—I had a good conversation with them. I think, to some degree, the fact that we had a good hour to spend together was a factor in them making the determination that, indeed, they did not support the repeal of the Far North land use planning act, the Far North legislation. I’m grateful for that. The chambers of commerce—I wish we had more time—we’re working with them as well, and we’ll continue to work with them.

I look forward to working with my colleagues. But I certainly hope that everyone in this Legislature recognizes that this piece of legislation is a very bad one, I say to my colleague from Parry Sound–Muskoka, and it should be defeated this afternoon.

Michael Gravelle MPP

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