QUEEN’S PARK – Leaders Ledger – I’m not going to mince words. This is a very bad bill. If there was ever any doubt that the PC Party and its members do not understand or care about northern Ontario, this bill puts a firm exclamation point to that fact.
In this bill, the Conservatives are basically saying to the north, “We in southern Ontario know better than you.” Why are they saying that? Because First Nations are saying, “We don’t like the Far North Act, but we don’t want it revoked without a replacement,” and our municipalities are saying the same thing. In fact, the president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association went public with his concerns about this bill in the Chronicle-Journal on March 18.
Ron Nelson, president of NOMA, was quoted as saying, “NOMA does not support Bill 44, Far North Repeal Act, 2012, but neither do we support the Far North Act in its current form….
“We remain concerned that the process for developing the Far North Act has created a divisive and uncertain environment that is contrary to the intent of the legislation.”
But despite this, the Conservatives push on because they think that they know better. If passed, this bill would be a disaster for northwestern Ontario— and the northeast.
While the Far North Act itself is flawed and the way it was introduced is wrong, it does lay some groundwork and some processes that will lead to the eventual development of the Ring of Fire.
We in the NDP think there’s a better process than the act that’s currently in place. We believe that, through consultation with mining companies, First Nations and people living in the north, we can develop a plan that speeds up development significantly and leaves First Nations happy and mining companies happy, and equally important, it leaves people in our region employed. This is why earlier this afternoon I tabled the following motion:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should immediately move to implement a consultative process in the north to consider changes to the Far North Act. The review shall include, but not be limited to, the following:
—elimination of the provision in the act that allows the government to arbitrarily overrule land use plans and allow development whenever the government determines that development is in the “social and economic interests” of Ontario;
—adequate funding of First Nations land use planning;
—implementation of provisions that allow for the creation of a joint body that would be composed of equal numbers of First Nations members and government of Ontario officials. This joint body would advise on the development, implementation and coordination of land use planning in the Far North, as well as perform any other advisory function to which the First Nations and Minister agree;
—serious consideration of the innovations similar to those included in Quebec’s Plan du Nord such as a coordinating body for public investments in the Far North and an effective resource revenue-sharing model which provides for the sharing of revenues between First Nations and the Ontario government on all resource-related projects in the Far North; and
That new legislation be introduced to replace the existing Far North Act upon completion of this consultative process.
So the point that I’m trying to make is that scrapping the Far North Act and not replacing it with something better stalls these processes and leaves a legislative void in its place.
Instead of a system that could work better, this proposal would see us have no system at all, and mining will be stalled indefinitely until a new system is developed and put in place, at which point the mining companies and First Nations will need time to meet the requirements of a new set of regulations, assuming, of course, that there are new sets of regulations. If there aren’t and if we’re left with a situation that would be not unsimilar to the Wild West, I can guarantee that there will be no development at all. If the Conservatives are considering doing this and if they’re considering the scrapping of this act in an appeal to the mining companies, they’re way off base.
If you speak to mining companies, they essentially want three things. They want to know where they can explore and how they can go about it in terms of working with First Nations, and they want the government to assist with developing key infrastructure to make this happen. This bill addresses none of those things, and it would be a truly regressive step that would put us years behind where we currently are.
What the people in the north are saying is that we don’t like the act, we don’t like how it was imposed without meaningful consultation, much like this Conservative bill, but we don’t want it scrapped without anything being put in place. We want something better.
Replacing the Far North Act is what my party campaigned on, and it’s what we plan to do because we know a system can be found that works. A great template for that system currently exists in northern Quebec. There, the province’s Plan du Nord was developed in consultation with mining companies, First Nations and other interested parties. It laid out a clear system for development, and now the region is booming.
We firmly believe that this can serve as a model for a new Far North Act, and we intend to work with northerners to develop it. This is what the north wants.
Frankly, this is even what Don Drummond wants. Even he gets it. If you’ve listened to the Conservatives during many of their debates in this House, you’d think that Mr. Drummond was the Leader of the Opposition. So why, when the Conservatives suggest that we should adopt everything that Mr. Drummond recommends, would they do something that would jeopardize the economic development in the Far North when Mr. Drummond clearly spells out the important role that the Ring of Fire will have in our economy and the need for First Nations to benefit? Which is it? Because the Conservatives are clearly contradicting themselves.
Every day they speak to the importance of us implementing everything that Mr. Drummond recommends, yet there seems to be a double standard when it comes to their agenda. They keep saying that they want to lead, but they’re not presenting any ideas. Instead of presenting an alternate vision of their own, they’re saying their plan is nothing. They have no plan, and that is evidenced most poignantly from this proposed repeal of this act.
By contrast, New Democrats have a plan. We have a vision for the north—one that includes economic prosperity for everyone living in the north, where good-paying jobs are plentiful, where First Nations communities are respected partners in development, and where environmental interests are balanced with the need for economic prosperity.
Sarah Campbell MPP
Kenora Rainy River