It will be at least a decade before development in the Ring of Fire begins, predicts one strategist.
An expert on First Nations, government and corporate relations in resource development, Bill Gallagher said nothing is going to happen in the Ring of Fire until there is major progress from the province when it comes to First Nations support.
Author of the recently published “Resource Rulers” Gallagher, who is also a lawyer, highlights 150 court cases in Canada that have been a battleground over resource development and First Nations are the victor. While other provinces have caught on to the notion that nothing will happen without the backing of First Nations, Ontario is stuck in a time warp.
“The Ontario public has to get informed and get up to speed as to how much ground this province has lost vis-a-vis other provinces in dealing in a sophisticated and strategic manner in dealing with the rise of native empowerment,” he said Thursday morning after a speech during the Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Mining and Exploration conference at Lakehead University.
The fact that Nishnawbe Aski Nation hasn’t even begun to be consulted doesn’t bode well for the project so far. He’s hoping Matawa Tribal Council takes the lead but it won’t be enough Gallagher said.
“The next five years are gone,” he said estimating it will take at least that amount of time, working round the clock to get written agreements in place. “It’s delusional to think that you can do this deal with just nine First Nations (Matawa).”
Matawa’s lead negotiator Bob Rae, who kicked off the conference, said he continues to meet with provincial lead Frank Iacobucci stressing the importance of sustainable development, socially, environmentally and economically that need to be part of the overall framework agreement. As for a timeline, Rae could only say that they’re working hard at it.
“We’re moving along but we’re not negotiating in public. We’ve agreed to keep talking privately,” Rae said.
Rae said the development will happen eventually but it needs to be done right. Rushing into resource development, history shows, is bad for the environment and the people around it.
“The price has been an almost complete marginalization of First Nations people from the world of economic prosperity,” he said.
As for Cliffs Natural Resources’ decision to suspend all of its work in the region, Rae said there will always be another company that wants to develop the area. If the infrastructure is built and the issues are addressed, they will come.
“Minerals don’t go stale,” he said.
The province recently announced the idea of a development corporation to speed things up in the region but Gallagher thinks it’s a deflection from the province, which he said knew the Cliffs decision was coming. He doesn’t see any budget, resources or staff attached to the development corporation and seems similar to other government offices already in place.
“I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do that the Ring of Fire secretariat was supposed to do,” he said.
The best thing that could happen in the Ring of Fire might be to start all over again he said with consultation protocols and joint-venture agreements in place.
The conference continues Friday.