Millions in mine and forest revenues coming back to northern Ontario and the province promising more to come
Deal for cities and towns in the works, while First Nations received $24M in resource revenue last year
At the groundbreaking for a new gold mine near Gogama, Premier Doug Ford didn't say very much about his promise to give northern Ontario a bigger cut of the money the province makes from its natural resources.
He pledged to share mine and forest revenues with northern communities in the 2018 election and says his "all-star" minister of Northern Development and Mines Greg Rickford is working on it.
"He has a strong plan moving forward to have resources shared among Indigenous communities," Ford says
The plan would actually see cities and towns get a share of the money mining and forest companies send to Queen's Park, as well as cover First Nations and Metis communities that don't already have an agreement with the province.
"The kind of plan that respects what goes on in towns and Indigenous communities, the wear and tear on their roads and the need for infrastructure and water-wastewater treatment," Rickford says.
"This is a campaign promise very important to the premier."
Rickford had said the plan would be unveiled by the end of 2020, but is now saying it will be released in the "not too distant future" along with a revamped Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
Some 31 First Nations already have a revenue sharing deal with the Ontario government, including the Mushkegowuk and Wabun council communities in the northeast.
The province would not get into specific figures, saying only that the first round of payments last year saw $24.8 million go to First Nations who had signed on.
Wabun executive director Jason Batisse says more than half of that money went to the six communities in his tribal council, who signed that five-year deal with the previous Ontario Liberal government in 2018.
It sees 40 per cent of the provincial royalty from an existing mine and 45 per cent from a new mine go to neighbouring First Nations.
Batisse says usually that's determined by which First Nations have signed an impact benefit agreement with the mining company, which normally includes annual payments to the community over and above their cut of provincial revenues.
The agreement also sees 45 per cent of the stumpage fees collected from forest companies working in the area split evenly among the six Wabun communities.
"It's best we just avoid the conflict and the conversation, because we'll never get through it," says Batisse.
"It's too hard to do the math and figure out 'If it's you more than me, then what does that look like."
Chief Chad Boissoneau says the new mine is ushering in a new golden age for the 200 people of Mattagami First Nation.
He says he and his council can now build new housing without borrowing money from a bank, reinstate some health benefits clawed back by the federal government and provide post-secondary education to all who want it.
Boissoneau says he does remind himself that this new found prosperity is only because someone found gold in their territory.
"There's a lot of what ifs there and a lot of different ways of looking at this," he says.
"Unfortunately some communities are just not located in an area where the industry is heavily involved."
It is also good times for the Flying Post First Nation, which was displaced from its traditional lands near Timmins over a century ago.
Chief Murray Ray says the community just received $14 million in a provincial land claim, is waiting on a similar settlement from the federal government and the first cut of Ontario resource revenues amounted to more than a third of the annual funding they get from Ottawa.
"Pretty good chunk is what I can say. We went from being the poorest of the poor to now, we're doing OK, man," says Ray, adding that most of the money will pay for education for the 240 band members.
"What we've gained is more than what we've lost."
The other northern Ontario resource revenue sharing agreement in the news in recent years was signed in 1850.
Indigenous leaders have been arguing in court that the Robinson-Huron Treaty set out annual payments to their communities based on the sharing of the land, which have not increased in decades.
Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers says in the spirit of the treaties, these resource revenue negotiations should start at 50-50.
"Canada believes Indigenous people gave away everything. And whatever they provide back to Indigenous people is a gift. It's not. It's a legal obligation," he says.
Sayers says because so many First Nations are "living in poverty" and need to lobby the federal government to pay for basic community needs, "they'll jump at sometimes meagre amounts of revenues."