Ontario has lagged behind other provinces – namely Quebec and British Columbia – when it comes to its dealings with First Nations, said Bob Rae.
The former Premier of Ontario became the chief negotiator for the Matawa First Nations – representing nine Native governments – last year.
In his first role outside of the political arena on Parliament Hill, Rae has worked to develop a framework that would form the basis for a partnership between the Ontario government, the Matawa First Nations and the companies seeking to profit from the Ring of Fire.
Prior to a March 6 speech at Laurentian University, Rae said that Quebec and BC have have been much more open than Ontario to sharing management decisions with First Nations and granting authority to regional governments.
“If you look at the kinds of agreements that have been signed in other provinces you see very clearly that you're looking at a way of not simply consulting with First Nations, but of giving First Nations the ability to take real responsibility for the building and management of infrastructure, the making of economic and social decisions, and participating fully in decisions affecting the natural environment,” Rae said.
Rae said those provinces have had more open discussions with First Nations because they were not encumbered with the numbered treaties that have coloured Ontario's history with Aboriginals and meant that First Nations gave up any claims to the land, at least in the government's eyes.
Land claim negotiations in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon have also led to more significant sharing of power and responsibility between First Nations and the territorial governments, Rae said.
According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Ring of Fire is expected to generate $25 billion in economic activity across numerous sectors in the province over its first 32 years of development. In the same period, the Ring of Fire would generate an estimated $6.7 billion in government tax revenues.
The Ring of Fire is also expected to generate 4,500 to 5,500 long-term and well-paying jobs.
“In the past, development has happened without the participation of First Nations and without really addressing their needs or the concerns that First Nations communities have,” Rae said. “It's important for this development to take place on a different basis.”
While he could not share a timetable, Rae said work on a regional framework to develop the role the Matawa First Nations will play with the Ring of Fire development is coming along well.
Rae said he and the First Nations have set out four main objectives for the framework: improvements to road and telecommunications infrastructure; a new economic relationship with all levels of government and the companies in the region; environmental protection; and an agreement to increase investments in health care, education and training.
At the early stages for the Ring of Fire there has already been progress with regards to First Nations education, Rae said. Around 700 to 800 First Nations people in the region have been put through various education and training programs funded by the Ontario government and the companies with projects in the Ring of Fire.
Noront Resources, which has several Ring of Fire claims, has partnered with Matawa to provide training to locals so they can work in the local mining industry once resource extraction gets underway.
Rae said treating local First Nations as equal partners will be the only acceptable way to move ahead with the Ring of Fire.
“In my view, there's no practical alternative to this approach,” he said. “We need to make sure we get it right.”