Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is signaling she's ready to walk away from joint talks with nine First Nations affected by the Ring of Fire mining development and proceed individually with any chief who will work with her.
The message was sent from the Premier in a May 10 letter addressed to the chiefs. It comes after a meeting among them in Toronto on May 1.
In the letter Wynne tells chiefs they "should not squander" her 2014 commitment to spend $1 billion to help build a road to the chromite and nickel deposit in the James Bay lowlands.
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"We have not achieved much of the progress on road and infrastructure development that we had hoped for under the RFA [regional framework agreement] over the past three years," Wynne wrote.
'Weeks, not months'
"While I continue to hope progress can be made, I am prepared to continue to advance discussions with those First Nations that would like to pursue transportation infrastructure through our bilateral process," the letter continues."We need to see meaningful progress in weeks, not months, and I look forward to being updated in the very near future."
The letter is a sharp contrast to the principles of the agreement signed between Ontario and the First Nations in 2014 . The deal speaks of "the willingness and commitment to strengthen that [government-to-government] relationship, including through respect for and good faith intention to reconcile differences".
There's also a clause about creating and implementing "mechanisms that achieve culturally sensitive, inclusive and meaningful opportunities" for First Nations to be involved in the Ring of Fire development.
Wynne's key concern appears to be the First Nations' push to work through concerns about jurisdiction and governance of the road and the broader mining development are slowing down the Liberal desire to spend money on a road.
A separate negotiation table has been established between the First Nations and the province for those talks.
"These discussions need to continue in parallel to the RFA negotiations and in particular, progress on transportation infrastructure," Wynne wrote.
Neskantaga First Nation has repeatedly raised concerns about Ontario unilaterally issuing mining permits on its traditional lands.
A recent study, jointly funded by Canada and Ontario, provided inconclusive results about the viability of all-weather road access for remote First Nations in the Ring of Fire region.