McGuinty Government Introduces Far North Planning Legislation

The province of Ontario has introduced new legislation that is the first step in the fulfillment of Premier McGuinty’s ground-breaking promise of last summer.  The proposal, to protect half of Ontario’s far northern Boreal forest, has had a ripple effect across the country with neighbouring provinces making similar vows to ensure that our irreplaceable Boreal forest remains intact.

On June 2nd, the government introduced a bill to enable protection and planning in Ontario’s Far North.  The proposed Far North Act will guide the way as the province moves forward into the unchartered territory of co-ordinated land-use planning in Ontario’s Far North.  The proposed Act is a good first step on the part of the Ontario government but Earthroots has concerns that there are some critical oversights.
 
First, Earthroots is concerned about the lack of an explicit role for Aboriginal people in guiding the development of a regional strategy for the Far North.  The Act states that First Nations will lead community planning but we believe First Nations should also play a key role in regional planning.  As it sits, First Nations participation in regional planning is up to the discretion of the Minister, which we fear may lead the way to an erosion of First Nations participation in the process.

Ideally, the Act would require an independent planning body that is separate from the Ministry of Natural Resources and comprised of equal representation of First Nations people and government.  Without a planning body, Earthroots is concerned that regional considerations will not be incorporated into individual community plans and that the same problems we have been seeing in the Far North will persist; uncoordinated planning with serious long-term implications.

The Act also fails to outline a specific role for science in the identification of a network of permanently protected conservation lands and development thresholds in areas where industrial activity will proceed.  The planning process must be subject to a clear scientific process that takes into consideration all ecological values.

Earthroots is also dubious that the government has not allocated any funds to this work.  The Far North planning process will be a costly, time-consuming procedure.  The government needs to ensure it follows through with its word and allocates the necessary resources to getting the job done effectively - Earthroots is concerned that the lack of funding may signal that this Act is an effort to appease the people of Ontario and that they may not actually deliver on their promise.

Although we are heartened to see this legislation introduced, as always, the devil is in the details.  There are some essential aspects that need to be improved upon before Earthroots can truly get behind this initiative.  We are fully supportive of co-ordinated land-use planning in the Far North but we do not want to see this Act become a ticket for industry to develop mines, forestry operations, hydro-corridors and the like, across the region to the detriment of the people and natural systems that call our Far North home.  

The Far North contains the third largest wetland in the world, the last remaining intact forest in Canada, and the security of our country against climate change.  We cannot gamble with this opportunity; we must get it right, the first time.

For more information please click here to view the posting on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).  The government will be accepting comments through the EBR until August 4th, 2009 - this is your chance to speak out for increased protection in Ontario's Far North!

If you have any questions please e-mail Carly Armstrong, Earthroots Northern Ontario Campaigner, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.