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Ontario poised to become community builders in the Ring of Fire

Province doubles down on Far North roads, infrastructure during PDAC week
Marten Falls aerial
(Marten Falls First Nation supplied photo)

The Ontario government is prepared to jump into the community infrastructure construction business for those First Nations already on board with mine development in the Ring of Fire. 

Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations signed a Community Development Agreement with the province at the PDAC mining show in Toronto, March 5.

No monetary figures were included in a news release but a general list of “shovel-ready infrastructure projects” deemed eligible to receive provincial support included health and training facilities, recreation centres, grocery stores, upgrades to nursing stations, commercial buildings and labour force development programs.

The Ontario government is already funding the Indigenous-led environmental assessments for the proposed north-south road network into the isolated James Bay region, comprised of the Webequie Supply Road, the Marten Falls Community Access Road and the Northern Road Link..

The province said this is all about community well-being and workforce readiness among the area Indigenous people that would be recruited to build the north-south road. 

The road, labelled by the province as the “corridor to prosperity,” would serve both the mining industry and would link Webequie and Marten Falls to the provincial highway system for the first time.

Whether the province is prepared to invest in housing and water treatment plants – chronic hot-button issues on reserve, usually left to the federal government for funding – still remains to be seen. 

Last summer, Marten Falls First Nation Chief Bruce Acheepineskum wanted these issues addressed, upfront, ahead of any agreement to support mining.

A spokesperson for Mines Minister George Pirie was didn’t address whether the province was prepared to do that.

“The communities will decide what meets their specific needs,” said Dylan Moore.

The province said this agreement further to more collective decision-making that will expedite project timelines and allow for more Indigenous participation in mining-related opportunities.

With construction underway of electric vehicle and battery cell manufacturing plants in southern Ontario, the province is anxious to create a made-in-Ontario critical minerals supply chain.

Meanwhile, Ottawa has been struggling to relaunch its environmental assessment processes that were declared unconstitutional last fall.

These days, the Ford government is taking more strident tones toward advancing mine development in Northern Ontario.

In recent Toronto radio interview, the premier accused Ottawa and Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault of impeding mine development in the Far North. Ford pledged to build a road to the Ring of Fire “with them or without them.”

His cabinet ministers further doubled down on resource infrastructure development this week during the PDAC mining show in Toronto in spite of a pending legal action by Cat Lake First Nation. The community argues there was inadequate consultation by the province and a mine proponent, First Mining Gold. The community was successful in the courts last week in stopping construction of a winter access road to the proposed mine site.