By GORD YOUNG, The Nugget
Talks between the Ontario government and First Nations in and around the Ring of Fire are progressing well despite the challenges faced by companies trying to develop in the region, says Bob Rae.
The former federal Liberal leader and provincial Premier, who is now lead negotiator for the Matawa Tribal Council representing nine First Nations nearest the Ring of Fire mineral deposit, said hurdles including the recent move by Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. to indefinitely suspend all work on the project, haven't slowed his efforts to ensure First Nations benefit from any development.
“We haven't missed a step,” said Rae, noting his talks are with the province. “This discussion needs to happen if a mining company decides it's going to invest tomorrow or next week or next year. We gotta be ready for that.”
The Ring of Fire is estimated to contain $60 billion in undeveloped minerals. But costly infrastructure is needed, including road or rail access to the region. And the province has been calling on its federal counterpart to contribute funding.
Cliffs, a major player in the potential development, announced the indefinite suspension of its operations associated with the project in November. And the province has since announced the establishment of a development corporation aimed at bringing together private and public parties to address the infrastructure needs.
Guest speaker at a Canadian Institute of Mining lunch at the Davedi Club in North Bay Thursday, Rae said negotiations with the province are currently focused on a framework agreement, which is nearing completion, as well as the environmental assessment process, infrastructure needs, revenue sharing and improving the social and economic conditions on reserves.
He said the government has a legal duty to negotiate and consult with First Nation communities. And Rae said today, across the country, there is a determination among First Nations to have their rights and positions respected by governments and companies.
“Historically, we all have to admit that a lot of development has happened without very much consultation or discussion and without any substantial benefit to the First Nation communities,” he said, noting there's a growing recognition that the economic interests and environmental concerns of the First Nations need to be taken into account.
At the same time, he suggested there has also been a change within First Nations communities, where there is now a recognition that there are real benefits to development and real costs to be continuing to live on the margins.
“Living on the margins is just not sustainable,” he said.