On Monday, March 2, 2020, the Government of Ontario, Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation decided to move forward with an agreement that advances the planning and developing of a proposed Northern Road Link. This will create job opportunities in Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire.
This new road would connect the proposed Marten Falls Community Access Road at the south end to the proposed Webequie Supply Road at the north end. The agreement clarifies Ontario’s support for respective First Nations to complete environmental assessments for their all-season road projects and to initiate the planning and development of the proposed Northern Road Link.
Since 2015, OSPE has been advocating for the Ontario government to invest in the necessary infrastructure that would attract investment by the private sector to the Ring of Fire. OSPE is glad that the province is moving forward with the necessary infrastructure investments in this area.
However, this announcement is only the first step towards the development of the Ring of Fire. OSPE hopes the province keeps moving forward and considers the following:
- Resource development should be sustainable.Sustainability involves considering the economic, environmental, and social needs of the community. Government must ensure corporations respect all these elements.
- Community dialogue is essential.Consultation with communities should begin at the planning stage and before mining exploration begins. First Nations communities want to be able to continue to live off the land as well as benefit from the economic development opportunities associated with the Ring of Fire.
- Challenges should be identified in advance. There are nine distinct First Nations communities in the Ring of Fire area, each with their own councils and chiefs, with limited financial resources for participating in consultations. Governments have recognized that First Nations communities may require financial assistance in order to meaningfully engage in consultations arising from the duty to consult. The provincial government must make use of the necessary resources to ensure its duty to consult and obtain agreements with all First Nations communities. At this point, only two agreements is not and should not be the end goal.
OSPE’s 2020 Pre-Budget consultation also outlines some of our recommendations regarding the need to develop the Ring of Fire.
- Develop a long-term infrastructure plan for Northern Ontario, based on direct input and consultations from northern and Indigenous communities and the mining sector.
- Ensure resource development is sustainable.
- Government should establish guidelines and frameworks that ensure corporations respect economic, environmental and social needs of the communities.
- Ensure Indigenous peoples are full partners in the development of the Ring of Fire.
- Develop a Youth Training Program, in partnership with OSPE, to teach Indigenous youth the engineering expertise and skills that will allow them to co-develop the different mining sites.
- Work with engineering programs based in Northern Ontario (Lakehead and Laurentian) to promote work opportunities to engineering students to secure a trained labour force.
Engineers have a critical role to play in this mining project—from extracting the region’s chromium to designing the transportation lines that will carry minerals to processing destinations. Engineers can help address community concerns by providing options for infrastructure development that lessens the impact on the environment and speeds up the development of a region that holds much potential for current and future generations.
OSPE will continue working with the provincial government in order to ensure the sustainable development of the Ring of Fire.