The following column is in response to the previous posting by Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce President Harold Wilson. This column was published on October 1, 2010. There is widespread opposition throughout Northern Ontario to the McGuinty Government’s Far North Act. That opposition includes First Nations political organizations such as Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) which represents 49 First Nation communities within the territory of James Bay Treaty 9 and the Ontario portions of Treaty 5.
Ontario Minister of Natural Resources-Linda Jeffrey
The passing of Bill 191, the Far North Act, represents an unprecedented opportunity for Ontario to work jointly with First Nations in the Far North to initiate positive change in the region.
The Star’s guest column by Harold Wilson, published on Sept. 29, contained a number of misconceptions about the intent of this legislation that I would like to correct.
The article failed to recognize the significant contribution made by First Nations in both developing Bill 191 and in the significant role they will play in implementing it.
Working jointly with First Nations on community-based land-use planning is central to the purpose of Bill 191 and the key to its success. The relationship between the people and the land should be a cornerstone for any land use planning decisions in the Far North.
The legislation passed last Thursday included more than 43 amendments addressing the concerns we heard during discussions with First Nations communities, resource development stakeholders and environmental organizations. We believe these amendments made the legislation both stronger and more inclusive.
The Far North Act confirms a leadership role for First Nations through community-based land-use planning in deciding which lands in the Far North will be protected and where development may occur. And it puts into law — for the first time in Ontario — a requirement for First Nations approval of land-use plans on public lands.
Many First Nations communities have taken the lead and are already involved in this process. One community has a completed land-use plan in place, and eight other communities are at advanced stages of planning.
As well, the fact that the Far North Act sets the stage for sustainable economic development that benefits First Nations was a vital component of the bill.
Rather than hinder development as some have speculated, the Far North Act will provide much-needed clarity and certainty about where forestry, mining and renewable energy activities may take place.
Only two weeks ago, the minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, Michael Gravelle, and I signed a letter of intent with Chief Eli Moonias of Marten Falls First Nation, and Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie First Nation. This partnership is a good example of the productive partnership that exists between First Nations and the government.
The letter of intent reaffirmed a commitment to work together on economic development and land-use planning in the Far North, including development of the mineral-rich deposits in the Ring of Fire.
Bill 191, the Far North Act, is a significant milestone on a journey that has not always been easy. We have land use planning that guides development in the rest of the province and believe this is important for the Far North as well.
I am confident this historic piece of legislation will not only balance environmental protection with sustainable economic development in the Far North, but will ultimately strengthen the relationship between First Nations and Ontario based on a shared vision and principles of joint responsibility.