$1.6 billion funding announced to connect FN communities to provincial power grid

Representatives from the Ontario and federal government came to Thunder Bay, Ont. Thursday afternoon to announce funding for the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line Project which is expected to connect remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario to the provincial power grid.

The project will connect 16 First Nations to the provincial power grid

Representatives from the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario made a funding announcement of $1.6 billion to the transmission line project that's expected to connect 16 First Nations communities to the provincial power grid. (Jeff Walters / CBC)
Today, a big step was taken to bring cleaner and reliable power to 16 remote communities in northwestern Ontario. It involves a big financial commitment from the province...and the CBC's Jeff Walters was at that announcement. 9:01

Representatives from the Ontario and federal governments came to Thunder Bay, Ont. Thursday afternoon to make a funding announcement for the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line Project which is expected to connect remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario to the provincial power grid.

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault along with the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, Jane Philpott, announced an investment of $1.6 billion dollars to connect 16 First Nations in Northwestern Ontario to the electrical grid. 

"We are putting the money up front and then the federal government is coming in and back filling that money, " Premier Wynn told CBC News, "so the province is putting up over $1.3 billion in order to facilitate the project ... in order for the project to get going, someone had to take the risk."

Wynne said in order for the project to get going, the province has decided "to put the money on the table."

Federal Indigenous Services minister Jane Philpott said, "The federal government is proud to support this historic Indigenous-led transmission project, this project became a reality because of the leadership of Wataynikaneyap Power and the federal and provincial commitment to work with First Nation communities to improve health and socioeconomic outcomes."

This model shows the 16 First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario that will get connected to the provincial power grid. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

In August of last year, $60 million in funding was given to Wataynikaneyap Power to build a 117-kilometre grid line from Red Lake to Pikangikum First Nation, which is scheduled to be completed late this year.

Thursday's announcement of $1.6 billion will not only help remote First Nations communities have access to clean, reliable and affordable energy, but it is also estimated to create "769 jobs during construction and nearly $900 million in socioeconomic value," according to Margaret Kenequanash, the CEO of Wataynikaneyap Power. 

She said after 26 years in the making, Thursday's funding means the project is expected to be completed in five years.

"This project will redefine the relationship and the landscape of how business must be conducted with the First Nations through creating a sustainable First Nation equity position overall," Kenequanash said.

The Wataynikaneyap Power project is the largest and most far-reaching Indigenous-led transmission project in the history of this province, according to Kenora MP, Bob Nault.

During the $1.6 billion funding announcement, Kenora MP Bob Nault (r) said this investment will bring new economic development opportunities, while Wataynikaneyap Power CEO Margaret Kenequanash (l) said the Thursday's investment is the culmination of years of on-going negotiations. (Bob Nault / Kenora MP)

Owned by 22 First Nations, Nault said Wataynikaneyap Power "played a critical role in leading this project."

The project, which is expected to be completed in two phases, will start in early 2019 by upgrading the electrical system with a new line to Pickle Lake.

Once the first phase is completed in late 2020, Nault said the construction to connect all the remote First Nation communities north of Red Lake and Pickle Lake will start.

"When complete in 2023 ... it will mean thousands of people will no longer have to rely on dirty diesel fuel to meet their energy needs," Premier Kathleen Wynn said, "it will mean cleaner air and a healthier place to live right now and in the future."