Ontario is “risking irreversible damage to wildlife and wilderness” by rushing to develop mines, roads and power lines in its fragile far north. That’s the warning from Gord Miller, the province’s environmental commissioner, who has singled out the stalled Ring of Fire project for special attention in his annual report to the provincial legislature.
In a Thursday release highlighting his Ring of Fire concerns, Miller says Ontario’s “long-held rule” has been to establish planning controls before projects can be built.
In the case of far northern mineral activity, however, “infrastructure such as highways and transmission corridors are already on the drawing board” and “there’s been little analysis or public debate of their effect on the environment or their benefits for First Nations.”
Miller maintains there is still time “to get things right” in the far northern region by ensuring that land-use plans, jointly created by First Nations and the Ontario government, are in place before development proceeds.
He calls for an environmental monitoring program that would “establish an accurate scientific baseline,” as well as a strategic regional assessment of environmental impacts that would take into account “the combined effect of all the individual mines, roads, transmission corridors, airstrips, and other impacts that will have profound effects (on) the far north and many First Nation communities.”
Miller’s comments echo a public relations campaign launched recently by the folks at CPAWS – Wildlands League to press their demand for a thorough, region-wide environmental assessment of the Ring of Fire mineral zone.
In the latest issue of Wild Notes, the group explains why it believes the region is of vital environmental importance to the world. outlines development efforts to date, brings readers up-to-date on key issues and lays out its case for a region-wide assessment.
“Development can be allowed only with a clear, solid plan that keeps the environment intact and thriving, and benefits the region’s human inhabitants,” the newsletter says. “For that, we need to learn much more about what’s actually there, then, create a blueprint that accounts for the impacts of all the potential projects over the entire region.”
The newsletter acknowledges that recent events have slowed development to “a stroll,” but it warns that delay does not mean the death of the mega-project, and further efforts are needed.
It notes that negotiations between Ontario and First Nations in the Ring of Fire are currently under way.
Led by former federal Liberal MP Bob Rae, chief negotiator for the Matawa First Nations, and former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, representing the province, the talks are expected to address environmental protection and monitoring; regional infrastructure planning and development; resource revenue sharing; and social and economic support.
While the organization is “cautiously optimistic” about those talks, “we must ensure they’re fully informed of the issues,” the newsletter says.