TORONTO – A coalition of leading environmental groups applaud legislation introduced today that would enshrine Premier Dalton McGuinty’s commitment to protect at least 225,000 square kilometres of the northern boreal forest. The Far North Planning and Protection Act, if passed, would help Ontario fight climate change, protect ecosystems and ensure First Nations have control over land-use decisions as they plan for cultural renewal and economic prosperity.
The draft legislation makes progress on commitments made last year by Premier McGuinty to protect the boreal forest and improve relationships with Aboriginal people. The coalition notes that for the first time in Ontario history, First Nations will lead planning for their traditional territories. It also welcomes a commitment in the legislation to create a new body to help with implementation and coordination of planning.
“The Premier has made good on his promise to the planet, and has set in motion a plan to protect more than 50 billion tonnes of carbon,” says Janet Sumner of CPAWS Wildlands League. “The success of this initiative depends on our investment in First Nations as they plan for prosperity, culture and ecosystems.”
“World class values deserve world class legislation,” adds Justin Duncan of Ecojustice. “This draft has the right ingredients and we look forward to working with others to perfect it.”
The Coalition has set out five benchmarks to judge the quality of the new legislation:
1. Clear statement of ecological planning goals and objectives to guide selection of conservation lands
2. Establishment of community planning bodies to lead development and approve land‐use plans
3. Equal representation of Aboriginal people on a regional coordinating and implementation body
4. Adequate funding for community planning bodies to conduct their work
5. Establishment of a science advisory body to meet the purposes of the legislation
“The proposed legislation meets most of the tests for good legislation for the northern boreal,” says Rick Smith of Environmental Defence. “More work needs to be done to fully ensure the legislation will work in the real world but we are confident this will be done during the Committee hearing process this summer.”
The lack of funding commitments to support planning is a particular concern to the Coalition. In the absence of money for developing proactive plans there is a risk that communities will be forced to support development projects as the only means to get the money necessary for planning for their future.
“Plans that protect culture, landscapes and species need to be done now,” says Catherine Grant of ForestEthics. “Not only when somebody wants to build a mine, hydro dam or transmission line.”
The role of a regional planning body needs to be more clearly defined in the legislation as well, including the manner that it will involve aboriginal people.
“The promise of protection needs to become real through this legislation and it could set a standard for conservation that other provinces should match,” says Caroline Schultz of Ontario Nature. “Getting it right means the difference between development that is sustainable and that which will eventually destroy an irreplaceable region.”
Three members of the Coalition also sat on the Minister of Natural Resources Far North Advisory Council. They are pleased to see that several elements of the Council’s consensus report are reflected in the draft legislation.