How Ontario can get the Ring of Fire back on track – by Josh Dehaas (TV Ontario – October 4, 2018)

ANALYSIS: Doug Ford says he’ll hop on a bulldozer if necessary — but a recent court decision about the Trans Mountain Pipeline shows there’s an easier way, writes Josh Dehaas

In 2013, Tony Clement, then the federal minister responsible for northern Ontario’s economic development, described a smattering of chromite and nickel deposits in the far north as Ontario’s answer to the Alberta oilsands. Ever since, people everywhere from Timmins to Sault Ste. Marie have been buzzing about the possibility that new mining and smelting jobs will spring up in the economically depressed region.

But the location makes things complicated. The deposits are more than 300 kilometres from the nearest highway or rail line, and they’re also on or near the traditional territory of nine First Nations communities, which have to be consulted before any project can proceed.

Some are worried that the Federal Court of Appeal’s August decision about the Trans Mountain pipeline, which emphasized the importance of such consultations, will slow progress on the Ring of Fire or give First Nations a de facto veto over resource projects — but legal experts say that’s not the case. In fact, they say it may actually provide a roadmap for the Ford government to get the stalled project back on track.

To clear the way for development, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals hired former premier Bob Rae in 2013 to represent the First Nations in negotiations with the province. In less than a year, Rae had helped them negotiate a framework agreement that included plans to share the mining royalties.

After that, the process seemed to lose momentum. Nearly four years later, Wynne announced that she’d reached an agreement with three of the nine nations to begin construction on a $1 billion road. Days later, two of the three nations involved said Wynne’s announcement of an agreement had been “premature.”

During the spring election campaign, Doug Ford was quick to capitalize on the hold-ups, saying he would build a road to the Ring of Fire “if I have to hop on a bulldozer myself.”

The comment still makes Chief Bruce Achneepineskum chuckle. “A bulldozer will sink in the muskeg if you don’t know where you’re going,” he says. “That’s why you need First Nations involvement.”

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