Doug Ford’s repeal of the Far North Act won’t gain the respect of Indigenous communities


Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski seen at the Conservative government’s swearing-in ceremony on June 29, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Late last month, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government confirmed that it plans to repeal the Far North Act, seeking to reduce “red tape” and increase “business certainty” in the Ring of Fire – a mineral deposit located near James Bay. While Premier Doug Ford is not the first to think he has found a key to unlocking the resource potential of Ontario’s north, this strategy is sure to backfire.

Ontario’s far north is inhabited almost exclusively by Indigenous peoples with ancestral homelands in the area covered by Treaty 9. It is a vast landscape of swampy boreal forest, a gigantic carbon sink that is also home to rare creatures such as the woodland caribou and the wolverine. Except for the De Beers diamond mine near Attawapiskat, there has been almost no industrial scale development in the whole region, which is why mining the hyped-up nickel and chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire region will require major new roads and other infrastructure.

When the Liberals first introduced the Far North Act in 2010, they did so over the objections of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). The plan was to “protect” 50 per cent of the boreal wilderness, while “partnering” with First Nations in decision-making and revenue-sharing so as to facilitate mining. But while celebrated as an ecological victory, the scheme was actually designed to manage the increasing volume and credibility of claims to Indigenous governance authority in the region. Ontario, in the years prior to the act’s passage, had been forced to pay off mining companies to settle litigation alleging that Ontario was failing to facilitate access to companies’ mineral assets in the face of Indigenous resistance.

With the Far North Act, then, Ontario was trying to maintain the facade that it alone has the jurisdiction to make land-use decisions in Treaty 9 territory. Under the scheme that Mr. Ford now wants to scrap, remote First Nations are given funding to create community-based land-use plans that map out in detail the historical and contemporary uses of various parts of their territories. Communities can identify areas of significant value such as burial sites, fishing areas or traplines, and may designate areas as open for – or closed to – mineral exploration. But, in the end, the Minister decides whether to approve the plan; final authority remains with the province to make a decision in the “best interests of all Ontarians.” MORE

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Ford government proposes to scrap controversial law placing ‘restrictions’ on development in northern Ontario

‘Livelihoods are at stake’: Senate under pressure to overhaul controversial Bill C-69

Industry lobbying senators for changes to proposed environmental assessment laws


Opponents of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline protest outside a Liberal Party fundraising event in Vancouver, B.C. Industry groups representing virtually every natural resources sector in Canada are warning the government’s environmental assessment overhaul needs a major overhaul. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

The federal Liberal government’s controversial overhaul of environmental assessment legislation has united virtually every major natural resources industry association in opposition — and they’re asking the Senate committee studying Bill C-69 to make some fixes to avoid threatening the viability of key sectors of the economy.

Amid the barrage of criticism, the government itself has recognized it may have to agree to some tweaks to get the legislation — expected to be one of the last major pieces of the Liberal agenda to pass before the fall election — through the Red Chamber.

Speaking last week at an event for Canada’s mining companies — one of the few sectors that has offered support for the elimination of some federal and provincial regulatory duplication in Bill C-69 — Trudeau thanked miners for their “measured” approach to the legislation.

“Quite frankly, [a] number of thoughtful submissions and amendments to that, to improve it, [came] from this industry,” Trudeau said.

Since the Senate began its study of Bill C-69 last month, however, industry representatives from the oil and gas, hydro, nuclear and uranium sectors have appeared before the energy committee with a long list of suggested amendments. Rather than a few tweaks, these industries are proposing major rewrites. MORE