Time to build a road to prosperity in the Far North – by Mark Quinn (Troy Media – August 13, 2013)


An all-weather road would increase economic development and provide a better quality of life

OTTAWA, ON, Aug 13, 2013/ Troy Media/ – Over the last decade Canadians have become increasingly aware of a number of First Nation communities that have been in serious crisis.

The plight of communities like Attawapiskat, Pikangikum, and Kashechewan are well known in the national media but what is less well known is that they are all in the same region, Northern Ontario.

These communities are three of the approximately 30 First Nation communities in Ontario’s Far North. Most of these communities have much in common and are facing remarkably similar challenges. The Far North – comprising some 42 per cent of Ontario’s landmass (approximately 420,000 square kilometers)  – has more in common with the arctic than with the rest of the province. Consider the following:

• it has virtually no community infrastructure;
• there is little access to the hydro grid in the region;
• these communities are dependent on diesel generators for power; and
• the cost of transporting diesel to these communities is staggering and further contributes to air and ground pollution.

For these isolated communities, the main mode of transportation for the provision of goods and services is winter roads. With the changes in climate, the availability of winter roads is reduced; in some years by up to 20 per cent, which means community supplies for the entire year must be hauled north in a two-to-three month window of time. Perishable goods must be flown into these communities by air, making some basic necessities (e.g., milk) four times more expensive than in the south.

To get a better sense of the servicing cost in this area, consider First Nation healthcare. Most communities have a nursing station, but the majority of the region is serviced by the zone hospital in Sioux Lookout, which is responsible for 31 communities in an area larger than France.

Not surprisingly, transportation is one of the largest costs of the healthcare system. Most importantly from a First Nations and a legal perspective, this entire region is a Treaty area, assuring First Nation rights to a traditional livelihood. Treaty 9 (1905-06) covers the majority of the region; a small section in the northwest is covered by Treaty 5 (1908).

Although First Nation lands are under federal jurisdiction, it is important to recognize that Treaty 9 is one of the few Treaty areas where the province is an official signatory. This is an important fact because Crown land south of the 60th parallel (excluding the Yukon, Northwest Territories & Nunavut) is provincial jurisdiction and reserve land is under federal jurisdiction.

First Nation traditional activity often conflicts with provincial surface use of Crown lands. In 2010, the Ontario government passed the Far North Act, as a precursor to the Ring of Fire development. The legislation essentially froze development in half the area north of the 51st parallel.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.troymedia.com/2013/08/13/time-to-build-a-road-to-prosperity-in-the-far-north/

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