For Part 1 of Mining Marshall Plan for Ontario’s Far Northwest click here: http://bit.ly/1RdhyAA
Roads, the best way to find new deposits
One of the first priorities is road transportation. Last March at the PDAC mining convention, the federal and provincial governments jointly announced roughly $800,000 in funding for four of the five isolated First Nations – Webequie, Nibinamik, Neskantaga and Eabametoong – to begin consultations on an east-west road that will connect their communities and the Ring of Fire camp to the provincial highway system. A small “baby step” of progress!
However, Marten Falls is currently not part of this initiative. While this community is the smallest populated of the Matawa Tribal Council, it probably has the most clout as its traditional territory encompasses the Ring of Fire. Although Webequie is considerably closer to the mining camp, it didn’t receive full-reserve status until 2001. Hence it is critical that Marten Falls be strongly encouraged to join the consortium discussing the road connection.
Manitoba is currently undertaking a visionary initiative to build “all season” roads on the east side of Lake Winnipeg – that has similar Canadian Shield geography as in northwestern Ontario – to connect isolated First Nations communities. The primary reason for the establishment of the East Side Transportation Initiative is to lower travel costs for essential supplies to 13 Aboriginal communities. In addition, winter roads are becoming less dependable due to climate change.
Manitoba works with the local communities to build capacity so they can benefit from the road construction and bridge building. The first 156 kilometre stretch of all season road should cost roughly $300 million and be completed by 2019.
Even though there are no mineral deposits or other resource developments to drive this project, the Manitoba government feels that the road initiative is of provincial strategic significance and will eventually build 1,000 kilometres of all-season gravel road an estimated cost of $3 billion. Manitoba has been a “have not” province for decades!
With the exception of Fort Servern and Peawanuek – both located almost on the shores of distant Hudson Bay and have very small populations – all other isolated First Nations communities in the province’s northwest, just south of the 54th parallel latitude should be connected by road as part of the Mining Marshall Plan.
A modern Aboriginal version of former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s (1957-1963) “Road to Resources” program to construct vital infrastructure to enable easier access for the exploration and development of mineral resources.
As in Manitoba, these communities should be connected to significantly lower the cost of food, building materials and other supplies as well as open up some the richest unexplored geology in the province. As most junior explorers and prospectors will say, “the best way to find a mine is build a road”.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink!
Looking at a map of northwestern Ontario, most observers would be struck by the enormous abundance of lakes and rivers located on traditional Canadian Shield geology. If there is an issue that the federal government should hang its head in absolute shame, it is the lack of potable water, not only in four of the five isolated Ring of Fire communities but throughout northwestern Ontario.
And let’s keep in mind that the Conservatives have only been in power for slightly less than a decade. The Liberals are just as guilty. In fact, I don’t see a First Nations potable water strategy on any federal party’s agenda.
Neskantaga has been on a boil water alert for an astonishing 20 years – the longest in the country – Eabametoong has not had potable water for 14 years, Marten Falls since 2005 and Nibinamik is relatively lucky as their water issues only started in 2013! Recent revelations that Indian and North Affairs Canada, over the past five years, has withheld roughly $1 billion in social services funding only compounds the bitterness.
And Canadians love to boast to the world that we send the military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to earthquake torn Haiti or cyclone devastated Philippines and provide potable water within a day or so! Or our NGOS continually solicit our donations in order to provide clean drinking water in many desperately poor African countries while our fellow Canadians on reserves suffer this indignity.
Nishnawbe Aki Nation (NAN) is the political organization representing First Nations who signed Treaty #9 in 1905, with an addition in1930, that agreed to share much of northern Ontario with Canada. According to a May 2015 news release, there were 35 Drinking Water Advisories in effect out of 49 NAN communities. And that a 2011 report found that it would take roughly one billion dollars to upgrade or replace the water and waste water needs of all NAN communities.
The federal government’s income splitting initiative that largely benefits the top five per cent of income earners in this country will cost the federal treasury roughly $3 billion a year. Now I understand First Nations are not part of the federal conservative core voting group, however, as stated previously the Aboriginal communities in the Ring of Fire and to the immediate west are sitting above roughly $270 and $340 billion worth of precious and base metals.
If all those billions of potential mineral deposits are not an incentive to at least ensure potable water in all NAN communities, what does that say about us as a society?
Grid power versus diesel
The last major infrastructure initiative that I want to discuss in this essay is the reliance of most the First Nation’s communities in the far northwest on diesel generated power.
The cost of diesel generated power is heavily subsidized by governments, costing three to 10 times more than grid-power, is very environmentally risky and significantly limits expansion and business opportunities in these communities.
Wataynikaneyap Power is an advanced First Nations-led transmission company which was originally started by Goldcorp Inc. five years ago to upgrade a major transmission line to their Musselwhite gold mine located 480 kms north of Thunder Bay.
Twenty First Nations are participating in this initiative – the two most recent communities to join in March of this year were Sandy Lake FN and Wabigon Lake Ojibway Nation – and the project has been identified in Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan.
The Ontario Power Authority estimates that grid connection would save roughly $1 billion compared to continued diesel generation! The capital cost of the project is estimated at $1 billion and will include a phase one 300 km transmission line to Pickle Lake and a phase two transmission line extension north of Red Lake and Pickle Lake to connect multiple Aboriginal communities.
In March, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved the “Amended Terms of Reference” which is a key milestone providing the framework for the necessary Environmental Assessment studies and community engagement.
Shockingly, the four Ring of Fire communities – Webequie, Nibinamik, Neskantaga, Eabametoong – could be easily connected to this initiative and are not involved. Marten Falls is located much further to the east and may need a separate grid power project.
There is a competing power project, Sagatay Transmission, that is supported by just two First Nations and the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council from the James Bay just recently proposed an initiative using Quebec power to link to the Ring of Fire. This is bureaucratic and political madness!
The Ontario government has a choice between an advanced project supported by 20 Aboriginal communities that could economically and technically include four of the five Ring of Fire communities versus a project supported by two FNs or another that hasn’t even gotten off the ground.
The fastest and most economical way of bringing power into the Ring of Fire is the Wataynikaneyap Power project. In addition, the Ring of Fire communities are currently consulting on road access routes, so why not do the grid power line route at the same time?
The Premier’s office needs to publicly support the Wataynikaneyap initiative and bring the Ring of Fire communities into the project. This is not rocket science and unfortunately a stunning indictment of government mismanagement and incompetence on this file.
Ontario/First Nations mining consultation and Treaty #9
It is absolutely critical – I cannot stress this issue enough – that Ontario must take back the “duty to consult” role with the province’s First Nations. It was a massive mistake to download the consultation process on the mining industry.
The current system has left a huge “information vacuum” that has been eagerly filled by a wide variety of NGOs, environmentalists, some dubious ambulance-chasing lawyers and other carpetbaggers giving unhelpful advice. The ensuing confrontations benefit no one, and significantly slow down resource development and the high-paying jobs and economic development the sector can provide.
In 1906-06 and with an adhesion (addition) in 1929-30, Treaty #9 was negotiated between the region’s First Nation communities, the federal government and for the first and only time, Ontario, who was a signatory to the agreement.
This treaty peacefully incorporated or annexed roughly two-third of the province’s geography. First Nations felt they were “sharing” the land while the federal and provincial governments thought of the transaction as “surrendering” the valuable resource-rich territories.
Ontario had its own treaty commissioner traveling with the federal government helping establish the terms of Treaty. This was largely due to provincial mistrust as the province didn’t think Ottawa would protect its own interests which were primarily access to the rich natural resources.
So when provincial politicians today disingenuously claim that the federal government has sole responsibility for First Nations issues, this is pure historical hypocrisy.
How to pay for Mining Marshall Plan
The Mining Marshall Plan requires billions of dollars for wide variety of strategic investments in the far northwest that will create enormous wealth and allow Ontario to prosper for decades to come.
To raise the necessary funding that will marginally impact taxpayers, Queen’s Park should increase the provincial portion of the HST tax by two cents, which will provide roughly $5.4 billion a year that could benefit First Nations communities throughout Ontario. Gino Chitaroni, President of the Northern Prospectors Association in Kirkland Lake first suggested this idea a few months ago.
Due to the enormous needs in the far northwest and the resulting huge economic payback from mineral development, the tax revenues might be split $4 billion/$1.4 billion between north and south for the first few years.
The Harper Conservatives would be furious over this tax increase as they went to great pains to bribe voters in the last election with a two cent decrease of the GST. However, since the federal government is not meeting its First Nations treaty obligations in the province – or the entire country for that matter – Ontario should have the right to take over that responsibility.
And the province has a moral obligation – many lawyers are now saying that there is also a legal obligation – to meet its treaty commitments as Ontario has greatly benefited from Treaty #9 resource development and taxes for over a century. Even with the possibility of a new Liberal or NDP government in the fall federal election, neither party has any comprehensive Aboriginal strategy that would resolve the infrastructure stalemate in the Ring of
While the main focus of this column’s Mining Marshall Plan was transportation and grid power infrastructure as well as potable water issues, to be successful, the initiative must also deal with inadequate funding for First Nations education, health care and addictions and specific programs for the unacceptably high levels of child suicide and substandard, overcrowded housing.
The mineral resource potential in the Ring of Fire and the rest of Ontario’s Far Northwest is economically extraordinary with estimates of between $270 and $340 billion worth of precious and base metals. By implementing the “Mining Marshall Plan”, Ontario will turbo-charge its entire economy and provide legitimate economic and social reconciliation and restitution to all the province’s First Nations.
Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, mining policy analyst and publisher/editor of www.republicofmining.com
Stan Sudol can be reached at [email protected]