Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
MINERS have tried. The Ontario government has tried. Now it’s the federal government’s turn to search for a way through the minefields hampering development of Northern Ontario’s highly-promising Ring of Fire mineral deposits. Ottawa appears to have given up hope that players already at the table can agree on how to proceed. Many discussions to date have been acrimonious as mining groups, First Nations and provincial representatives grappled with staking rights versus treaty rights. Exploration teams have been ordered off land claimed by First Nations.
The province has tried and, in most cases, failed to facilitate agreements on issues that fall under its jurisdiction. There are notable exceptions but the success stories are fewer than the harsh disagreements over who can do what, where and when.
Prime Minister Harper this week assigned Tony Clement, Minister for the Federal Economic Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor) to broker environmental, industrial, transportation and other issues alongside the expectations of First Nations. He must respect court decisions around the duty to consult those communities and be mindful of the fact this isn’t solely his responsibility.
While both senior governments have aboriginal, infrastructure, resources and northern development departments, Queen’s Park governs the central issue of land use while Ottawa bears responsibility for lands under treaty. In this case, it’s much the same land.
This is not to say that Ontario has failed its responsibility. It has been trying to negotiate with First Nations in and around the Ring of Fire, some of which are on board with the opportunities for jobs and revenue-sharing while others dig in their heels for a variety of reasons, some of them obvious, others perplexing.
Figuring out that recalcitrance and getting all parties looking and then moving in the same direction at once is Clement’s new assignment.
As a partner he has Thunder Bay MPP Michael Gravelle heading Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. Gravelle’s own abilities at finding compromise can work together with Clement’s federal clout as Ottawa’s point man on this development that is so important to Ontario and Canada.
Clement quickly consulted Gravelle, who enjoys respect from most First Nations leaders and who said he’s anxious for the two ministers to work together.
Clement also met with Matawa First Nations leaders Wednesday and largely positive comments that came out of that session are another good sign that this development might just, finally, be on track.