Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Ontario Liberals take a hard line against First Nations community’s hydro project

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli tells a northwestern Ontario native community that they have to find $16 million to improve transmission lines

By:Richard J. Brennan

Provincial Politics

Toronto Star

The Ontario Liberal government is taking a hard line against a First Nations community in northwestern Ontario wanting financial assistance to start up a hydroelectric project.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said Thursday the small Lac La Croix native community has to find $16 million to improve transmission lines because the rest of Ontario electricity users are not footing the bill.

“Our answer is no … we cannot make an exception,” Chiarelli said.

The hard line taken by the majority Grit government seems at odd with the position put forward by Premier Kathleen Wynne, who in many speeches recognizes the contribution of the First Nations in Ontario.

Wynne said earlier Thursday that improving native relations is a focus of her government.

As for the project, Wynne said the community has not responded to a letter from the government for all parties to sit down and hash out the problems, “but make no mistake we are very, very serious about ensuring that aboriginal people in this province have the opportunity to take part in the economic advancement and well-being of the province.”

For the Lac La Croix band, the project on the Namakan River has been held up as a way to break the cycle of poverty in the remote community, but they now fear the once sympathetic Liberal government has abandoned them.

Elders say the former Ontario Hydro, which was split into Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, promised decades ago to upgrade an existing transmission line connecting it to the provincial grid.

“The government promised us that we would have up-to-date transmission lines …,” Chief Norman Jordan told the Star’s Queen’s Park columnist Martin Regg Cohn.

Chiarelli said there are more than 240 feed-in tariff projects involving First Nations and all of them are required to finance their own transmission lines in order to feed into the provincial grid.

“Every single FIT contract has a procurement for X-amount price. And every contract requires that the responsibility and cost of transmission to be on the proponent … so no provincial entity is required to pay or provide the transmission,” he told the Star.

“We cannot make exceptions. We cannot pick winner and losers.”

The hydroelectric project has been bankrolled by Toronto philanthropist Dr. Michael Dan, who has spent about $6 million on his inheritance.

The Lac La Croix pilot project to be built and operated by Dan’s Gemini Power Corp. would cost about $30 million and would take about 20 years to recoup his investment. At that point it would be turned over to the band.

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