“[Ontario’s] Far North Act: Blueprint for the future?” – Toronto Star September 24, 2010 Editorial Comment on McGuinty Liberal’s “Far North Bill”

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion. This editorial was originally published on September 24, 2010.

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By detailing illegal airstrips and abuse of the claims system by mining companies, the annual report of Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller made a compelling case this week for stronger legislation to control northern development.

As if on cue, then, on Thursday the Ontario Legislature passed the Far North Act, despite opposition from the Conservatives and New Democrats. The act preserves half the region — an area about the size of Great Britain — and seeks to develop the rest sensibly with land use plans subject to approval by local First Nations.

But Miller’s report also serves as a warning that the government’s work is far from finished. “This government rightly prides itself on progress it has made in passing legislation to protect the environment, but actions on the ground often undermine it,” he said.

There are the illegal airstrips, for example; the government has shut down two already. And there is the grandfathering of ever more land for mining uses before local communities have had a say.

The government ought not to allow this to continue. Now that the Far North Act has been passed, Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey should immediately turn her attention to ensuring that local communities have the resources they need to approve comprehensive land use plans as quickly as possible.

The act provides the necessary tools to reconcile three competing interests in our north: the environment, resource industries and First Nations. But it is the actions on the ground now that will determine whether the spirit of the act is carried out.

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