Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
Let’s all say a prayer for former federal Liberal leader Bob Rae and former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci. These two individuals, so highly regarded in their respective fields, are stepping into the ring of negotiations to help clear a path for the development of the Ring of Fire.
It’s a colourful name applied to a huge swath of land some 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, which is home to massive deposits of minerals, and with it, wealth. Although prospectors and mining companies have been pecking away at this virgin region for many years, it has been the arrival of Cliffs Natural Resources and the discovery of a massive deposit of chromite that has really drawn attention to the bounty of the James Bay lowlands.
As the estimates of development and wealth started to soar, so did the interest of neighbouring aboriginal communities. The result has been a frustrating and sometimes dangerous confrontation between First Nations interests and those of the companies wishing to set up a base there.
It’s a simple set of questions when you unravel the rhetoric. Do exploration and mining companies and their investors and the Canadian public at large deserve a compensating share of the wealth the ground will yield?
Do neighbouring First Nations communities deserve to be compensated for the intrusion on their land and to share in the economic prosperity that will come of future, large-scale mining activity?
Yes. But, as they say, the devil is in the details and that is the stage that has been set for Iacobucci and Rae.
To the credit of Matawa Tribal Council and the government of Ontario, they have made wise choices in who will carry their banners. Rae has a rich history of public life, political leadership, impeccable academic credentials and the gift of a quick mind.
And one would think he will need all of these many skills as he negotiates with Iacobucci. This Canadian legal superstar has been tasked by the province to focus on environmental protection, monitoring, planning and development, revenue sharing as well as social and economic supports for First Nations as they relate to future mining. It’s hard to imagine using the word “focus” on a slate of work as sweeping as this.
It’s also worth noting that Iacobucci is much familiar with the treatment of aboriginals in Ontario. He was recently the author of a very detailed and unflattering report on how aboriginals are disadvantaged in the province’s jury system. He is quoted as saying he feels passionately about the involvement of First Nations in decisions surrounding development in their communities and ensuring they benefit from the economic opportunities. . . from the Ring of Fire.
So perhaps this will be a collegial discussion rather than spirited negotiations which by their nature are inclined to be adversarial.
Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines, is looking forward to seeing the input from the province’s lead negotiator and we must say, the rest of the community is similarly interested. The issues need to be addressed and settled. There is an old axiom about contracts and negotiations: Nobody should walk away feeling like they won. Everybody has to bend to get a deal that works for all.