Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
CITY, regional, Ontario and national officials are almost giddy over the prospects of mining development here in Northern Ontario. All levels of government are dealing with economic challenges that result in political challenges due to financial difficulties faced throughout society. Particularly in the North where opportunities for success are relatively limited, the prospect of a new mining boom has rightly got everyone thinking about the good times to come. Well, almost everyone.
If there is one thing that business doesn’t like it is uncertainty. In another time, mining interests would stake wilderness territory, test for minerals and, if the results were good, plan a mine. They got their permissions from the province and maybe dealt with Ottawa on environmental issues.
Today, First Nations are demanding a say in where and how mines are developed and how their communities can participate and profit in mining development. And so they should. This represents an unprecedented opportunity to lift First Nations out of poverty, providing employment and economic stability. But turning this opportunity into reality is proving most difficult.
There is no template to negotiate agreements among mining companies, First Nations and governments. In fact, First Nations don’t want one. Most band councils appear intent on making their own arrangements in their own time and many resent government trying to intervene to move parties toward agreements.
Based on a new survey of world mining executives, the Fraser Institute has dropped Ontario from 13th place to a dismal 16th as a place for mining investment. There are a lot worse places on the list to try to do business of any kind but to find Ontario, with its immense resources, is actually slipping at a time when the horizon seems so bright, is worrisome.
The chief reason behind that is uncertainty. Mining executives quoted in the report were almost unanimous in some form of concern that a flurry of First Nation demands based on a nebulous legal “duty to consult” which the province seems unable or unwilling to focus into a clear and certain way to proceed leaves them with little confidence that their investments, planned or made, are secure.
This cannot continue. We look to the new Ontario government of Premier Kathleen Wynne to clarify this process to the benefit of all parties concerned.