Roads from riches in Ring of Fire – by Rick Millette (Timmins Daily Press – March 1, 2015)

Rick Millette is a Senior Executive Director/Ring of Fire at Northern Policy Institute.

What is the one thing that would make living in Ontario’s far North communities better? If you asked that question to seven people knowledgeable about the North, you might very well get seven different answers. Clean drinking water. Functional sewer systems. Quality education. Improved health services. Reliable electricity. Healthy food at affordable prices. Better housing.

To a large degree, this wish list stems from the fact that Ontario’s far North communities are accessible only by air for most of the year. These challenges rarely exist for communities with road access.

Astronomically high costs are attached to anyone or anything that has to fly to these places. If the weather cooperates, a winter ice road might provide a month or two of access in every year. There have been poor weather conditions in recent years attributed to global warming. If the pattern continues, winter road construction and use will be progressively problematic.

So what is the one thing that would make living in the far North better? Answer: a network of year-round roads. While there are correlations to improving the quality of life at all levels through road access, none illustrate the benefits more strongly or tangibly than food and fuel.

Webequie is the First Nations community closest to the Ring of Fire and about 260 kilometers by air from Pickle Lake. A few weeks ago you would have found the following prices for basics at the local store: $4.50 for a quart of milk, $6.00 for a loaf of bread, $42.00 for 10 kilograms of sugar. If you wanted a friend in Pickle Lake to do some shopping for you and ship the goods by air, the shipping cost per pound is $1.32 including fuel surcharge and HST. So, while you might find a 10-pound bag of potatoes for $4.00 at a Pickle Lake grocery store, it would cost you another $13.20 to ship it to Webequie.

Gas is in the range of $2.60 per liter. That makes it expensive to run snowmobiles and small equipment but it’s the diesel fuel and heating oil costs that really hurt. These two fuels are needed for keeping community electrical generators running 24/7/365 and for the oil furnaces that keep homes, schools, clinics and band offices warm through long cold winters that consume fuel at horrific rates.

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