Cheryl Chetkiewicz, PhD, is a conservation scientist at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. Justina Ray, PhD, is president and senior scientist at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. Richard Lindgren is a staff lawyer with the Canadian Environmental Law Association and represents citizens’ groups on environmental issues.
Newly elected Premier Doug Ford has declared that resource development within northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire mining area will be a priority for his government. However, from an environmental planning and First Nations perspective, this may be more easily said than done.
Mineral deposits in the Ring of Fire lie beneath globally significant carbon-rich peat lands in the Far North of Ontario. The enormous economic potential of the chromite and nickel deposits has sustained industry and government buzz since these deposits were discovered over a decade ago.
While there has been intensive exploration and some limited impact-assessment work, little progress in developing these deposits has occurred to date.
The previous Ontario government signed a Regional Framework Agreement with nine Matawa First Nations in 2014 to address revenue sharing, infrastructure and monitoring, and it committed $1 billion to develop an all-season transportation corridor to access these remote deposits. Slumping mineral prices and fractured industry and government relationships with Matawa First Nations have contributed to a lack of consensus on the ownership and use of road routes.
Now that the new provincial government has been sworn in, the challenge will be not only to meet campaign promises to prioritize resource development, but also to address First Nations’ values, interests and rights, and to ensure that the immense ecological value of this area is not compromised.
First Nations and their traditional territories deserve a world-class environmental assessment, yet neither current federal nor provincial processes are up to the task of delivering one in this unique and remote subarctic region.
For example, the narrow focus of separate assessment processes for various roads and transmission lines cannot address overall impacts to the region at large, and will do nothing to stave off the inevitable cumulative effects that will arise when the Ring of Fire is open for business.
For the rest of this article: http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/july-2018/sustainable-plan-ontarios-ring-fire/