TORONTO – On the second anniversary of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s historic Far North planning and conservation announcement, intrusive industrial developments are going forward with no plan and no oversight by Ontario’s resource management agencies. Five public interest groups are questioning why Ontario government staff are not implementing the Premier’s promise to put proper land use planning before development for this vast natural region.
Two years ago today Ontario promised to create a globally significant interconnected network of conservation lands across the Far North. The announcement was greeted with much fanfare in Canada and around the world. The plan promised to enshrine a new respect for and working relationship with First Nations, including new approaches to resource benefit sharing and a greater say in the future of their communities and traditional lands.
Two years later, however, no planning framework is in place, rapid development is proceeding, resource development benefits are not being shared and the government’s draft Far North Act falls far short of enabling a modern approach to planning that would put First Nations in decision-making roles for community and regional planning.
“Airstrips are being built without authorizations, drilling activities are intrusive, and railways and mines being planned by companies while the draft legislation fails to address conservation issues” says Justin Duncan of Ecojustice.
“This is what the Klondike gold rush looked like”, said Dr. Rick Smith of Environmental Defence. Mining claims have more than doubled in the Far North over the last 3 years, the groups note.
“Right now activities are pre-empting planning and pre-determining a path of development without First Nations and without full consideration of ecological values,” says Anne Bell of Ontario Nature.
“What started out with a bang in July 2008, has by mid- 2010 been reduced to a whimper,” says Janet Sumner of CPAWS-Wildlands League. “We are asking Premier McGuinty to fix the shortcomings of Bill 191 so Ontario’s Far North can be a model for the world,” Sumner added.
Recent polling shows that northerners want to see a responsible approach to development in the ecologically important Far North landscape and understand that economic growth, cultural and ecological protection can go hand in hand if proper planning occurs. A MacAllister Research poll shows 86% of Northern Ontario residents agree that protection of natural ecosystems such as forests, lakes and rivers should take place first, before governments give large industrial projects approval to proceed.