Sudbury

Ontario government reviewing, possibly repealing Far North Act

After 9 years, the Ontario government is reviewing the Far North Act with the goal of reducing the red tape and restrictions on what they consider important economic development projects in the north.

Some First Nations say they were never properly consulted

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said he was not in favour of the Far North Act when it was introduced in 2010. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

After nine years, the Ontario government is reviewing the Far North Act with the goal of reducing the red tape and restrictions on what it considers important economic development projects in the north. 

In 2010, when the act first came into effect, the Liberal government hoped it would protect some of the lands in northern Ontario.

However, many First Nations have been vocal in their dislike of the legislation, saying that they were never properly consulted in the first place.

On Monday, the provincial government announced it will be reviewing and seeking input on repealing the act.

The proposal has been posted on the Environmental Registry for a 45-day consultation period.

It is inviting Indigenous communities and other stakeholders to share their thoughts on the Far North Act and how to collaboratively open the north for business.

First Nations, environmentalists react

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation issued a statement on the review.

"We strongly oppose the Far North Act and are encouraged that Ontario is taking a second look at this controversial legislation. The Act was enacted without meaningful consultation to legislate our territory under the control of the province and threatens the inherent, Treaty and Aboriginal rights of our people," said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

However, a not-for-profit environmental group is worried about losing any semblance of a process to determine the appropriate  use of land and water in consultation with First Nations and the Ontario government.

Anna Baggio is the Director of Conservation Planning for the Wildlands League. (Supplied)

"What is going to be the role of community land use planning, will it still survive going forward? That's not clear to me," said Anna Baggio, the Director of Conservation planning for the Wildlands League.

Baggio said she's concerned that repealing the act will take away some powerful leverage that First Nations in the north currently have. 

She said she understands why some First Nations want to see the act repealed, but with no plans in place for when it is repealed, she worries that the land will lose all protection.

"Certainly some of the other ambitious objectives that talked about enshrining some ecological and cultural values, those will all be gone if the act is repealed," she said. 

She's concerned that the provincial government is only viewing the Far North Act as a restriction to economic development. She said she hopes to see some meaningful consultation with the First Nations moving forward if the act is repealed.

"If the rules around development from a provincial standpoint are just going to be the mining act, that doesn't really give communities a lot of options in terms of having a say in their lands. So are communities just going to have to fight like they've always done to have a say in their lands?"

However, Finance Minister and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli says the review is needed.

"We think this will open up large areas of northern Ontario while still retaining the approved land use plans that have been done. This will open up opportunities for exploration, for logging, for growth in the north." said Fedeli.

Fedeli was the Mayor of North Bay when the act first came into effect.

He said he never agreed with it and one of his most frequent criticisms of the previous government was its decision to create the Far North Act.

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