NORTH BAY – Former Liberal leader Bob Rae says the Ring of Fire has high quality natural resources and shows great potential “but it’s how we take advantage of this potential that counts.”
Rae was in the city on Jan. 9 as the keynote speaker for the Northern Gateway Branch of the Canadian Institute of Mining’s annual meeting and luncheon held at the Davedi Club.
Rae is currently negotiating with the Province of Ontario for First Nations communities that will be impacted by the Ring of Fire development project, a contract he started last summer.
As such he represents nine different communities and says they have concluded discussions about the regional framework around the proposed Ring of Fire. “I can’t be more specific than that, but we are making really good progress.”
He told the mining company representatives at the meeting that First Nations communities, and others in the Ring of Fire area “should be able to benefit economically through resource revenue sharing.
“I’ve never met a Northerner yet who didn’t feel that while the development was taking place here, the benefits were not coming back. First Nations feel that same way. They know you can’t rely on the government to produce the cheques, because those cheques just get smaller and smaller, they don’t get bigger.”
Wanting not only a part of the financial benefits, but to be included as part of the development team is not a new expectation for First Nations.
Rae pointed to treaties from the 1850s where partnerships of this nature were included, but said that when development discussions started “the First Nations were told to go home, this isn’t your business.”
He said, “companies need to understand how people are being affected by development as well as the environment,” and pointed out that this “isn’t some new-fashioned idea being brought in by politicians . . .and it’s not about being pro or anti development (of natural resources). It’s about what kind of development, how we do it right and get it better and how everyone can benefit.”
While Rae acknowledges mining has been a part of life in Ontario and “the keystone of development for 150 years,” he said the issues being brought forward by First Nations here “have been talked about in every country of the world. The need to protect air, land and water quality are global issues.
“By the very nature of the activity, mining takes place in rural and remote areas where people have been leading traditional lifestyles for generations. What we are developing now are international protocols.”
Rae said the law has changed Canada.
“There was a time when it was the view of the government and industry that there was no real aboriginal title or rights beyond treaties and agreements and if a company wanted to move ahead on development all you had to do was talk to the province.”
But “regulations have become more rigorous,” he said, “and the courts have stated that there is a duty to consult and accommodate the interests of the First Nations.”
Topics needing to be addressed as Ring of Fire development plans are discussed include many infrastructure improvements.
“Five of the communities are outside the grid and dozens of others are not included in the electricity infrastructure of the province,” said Rae. “There’s also a digital divide, and educational divide and five communities that are without road access.”
He did not shy away from the living conditions of First Nations saying, “the social and economic conditions are terrible.”
Rae said addiction, suicide, and mental health issue could all be positively impacted by increased economic development. “Every local community should be able to benefit economically through resource revenue sharing.”
He says the partnership with First Nations is one “we never really got right, and we see the consequences of that failure all around us.”
But he also recognized that mining operations “survive on hope and promotion. No one in this room controls the marketplace and we know that investment is based on the ability to make money. (In the Ring of Fire) we have a tremendous opportunity to improve the conditions under which we are able to make that money and improve the prosperity of all of Northern Ontario.”
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