OTTAWA — Plans to provide road access to remote Northern Ontario First Nations and spur development of the Ring of Fire mineral deposits are in limbo after a government-funded consultation failed to produce a clear consensus on how to proceed.
A community study that cost $785,000 in combined provincial and federal funds has concluded that Ottawa and Ontario have not provided enough information for First Nations to make a clear decision on how to proceed.
“A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision for a community road or road corridor option cannot be made at this time,” states a section of the report that summarizes the conclusions and recommendations. The Globe and Mail obtained a copy of the three-page conclusions section but has not seen the full report. The four communities involved – Webequie First Nation, Eabametoong First Nation, Neskantaga First Nation and Nibinamik First Nation – have not made the report public. It is not clear whether the section obtained by The Globe is a draft or final version.
Proponents of developing the Ring of Fire – a vast mineral deposit about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay that is currently inaccessible by road or rail – argue that government spending on transportation infrastructure would spur billions of dollars in private-sector development and could also benefit remote First Nations in the region that currently lack year-round road access.
First Nations leaders have expressed an openness to discussing options but have also voiced concern about the environmental and social impacts of development.
The lack of progress on the file comes as the federal Liberal government is under public pressure to improve conditions for remote First Nations communities.
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