The Far North Act, Economic Development and the Aboriginal Future – by Livio Di Matteo (November 1, 2011)

Livio Di Matteo is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Visit his new Economics Blog “Northern Economist” at http://ldimatte.shawwebspace.ca/

The aboriginal population of Northern Ontario is growing at a much faster rate than the non-aboriginal population and faces a number of economic and social challenges.  Along with education and the acquisition of human capital, another source of future economic welfare improvement must be the employment opportunities associated with resource development in Ontario’s north. 

The Ring of Fire will likely be one such opportunity. However, the prospect of other future resource discoveries and associated economic development is now much diminished as a result of the Far North Act passed by the McGuinty Liberal government a year ago. This is unfortunate given the forecast increases in future demand for resources from the developing world – in particular, the Asia-Pacific region.

As a result of the Far North Act, some 225,000 square kilometers of Ontario’s far north will be off limits to resource development – an area that is roughly twenty percent of the province’s land mass.  While this action has ostensibly been done with the aim of protecting a large chunk of Ontario’s environmental heritage, it has not been welcomed by northern Ontario’s First Nations. 

The Chiefs of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation headed by Grand Chief Stan Beardy unanimously opposed the Act, though in the aftermath of the October 6th election have stated they will continue to strive for a positive working relationship with the new provincial government. 

The opposition Progressive Conservatives have announced they intend to fight to have the Far North legislation repealed. In a report in Kenora’s Daily Miner and News, Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle called the opposition’s approach “not particularly helpful,” saying his next move is to explain the importance of the act to Ontarians.  “I think the opposition is displaying a significant and deliberate misunderstanding of the Far North Act itself,” he said. “This is beneficial, allowing us to move forward on unprecedented land use plans with First Nations. For the very first time, the First Nations land use plans are embedded in law. This will, I believe, provide the clarity that industry needs in the Far North.”

This is going to be a contentious issue though how much the provincial government is willing to backtrack on the legislation is open to debate.  Given the messianic zeal with which the provincial Liberals have approached environmental and energy issues –even to the detriment of their electoral performance in this region – it is unlikely that they will retreat.  Nevertheless, they may be open to modifications if not for the repeal of the legislation.  For some additional discussion and analysis of this issue, you might want to visit Stan Sudol’s Republic of Mining web site for this story. Ontario Far North Act: Reducing Aboriginal Poverty through Parks or Mines?

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