Bob Rae on his new gig as chief negotiator for the Matawa Tribal Council
Talks between First Nations and the Ontario government regarding development in the remote Ring of Fire area are set to start soon, now that both sides have appointed lead negotiators.
In May, the Matawa Tribal Council, which is made up of nine First Nations communities that would be most affected by potential development in the Ring of Fire, announced that lawyer and politician Bob Rae will be their chief negotiator. Rae was the leader of the federal Liberal party until mid-April, and premier of Ontario from 1990-1995. He will step down as MP for Toronto-Centre at the end of July, freeing him to work on the negotiations full time.
Earlier this month, the province named its own chief negotiator — retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci.
While commodities prices have seen a big pullback since 2011, it might actually be a good time for such negotiations — the scope of which is yet to be defined, but will likely include investments in education and health, as well as infrastructure, and will clearly take time to conclude.
The biggest project in the Ring of Fire is the $3.3-billion Black Thor chromite project, held by Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF-N) . Primarily an iron ore and metallurgical coal miner, Cliffs’ stock price and earnings have been hard hit by a rout in iron ore.
In June, Cliffs announced it was temporarily suspending the environmental assessment (EA) work on the feasibility-stage Black Thor project due to a court challenge to the EA process (brought by several Matawa First Nations communities), uncertainties regarding land surface rights, and unfinished agreements with the province regarding infrastructure in the region.
However, Rae says all the parties are still talking — and that whether it’s ultimately by Cliffs or another mining company, there will be mines developed in the Ring of Fire, and First Nations issues need to be addressed.
Rae talked to Mining Markets about the preparations, and how he got involved, and what happens next.
Mining Markets: How did you get approached about this job with Matawa Tribal Council as mediator?
Bob Rae: I got a call from one of the lawyers who was advising one of the chiefs in the Ring of Fire, he phoned me several months ago to say that they’d had a meeting in January and they’d discussed the possibility of some kind of regional process to engage with the government of Ontario and potentially with the federal government and others about the regional planning process and mining development in the traditional territory of the First Nations of the tribal council. We talked about it and what was seen to be involved, what the current state of play was in the discussions and he asked me if I was interested and I said I would be interested, but only after I stepped down as leader of the Liberal party in the middle of April. Subsequent to that, I met with the chiefs and discussed what they had in mind and we’ve continued the dialogue since then.
MM: Why did you accept it — what was so interesting about this job to you?
BR: Well I had been considering a lot what I would do after I was no longer the leader of the (federal Liberal) party, and aboriginal issues have long been a real interest of mine — I’ve worked on them and in that area for quite some time and this struck me as a unique opportunity to engage in one of the big issues that we’re facing as a country and as a province. And as time went on, it became clear that I would have to devote more time to it and I wasn’t going to be able to do that and be a member of parliament at the same time.
MM: My understanding is that these negotiations are pretty unique and like you said, it’s something that the Matawa Council requested. So what exactly will you be negotiating for them?
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