Matawa Tribal Council lead Ring of Fire negotiator Bob Rae answers a question during Friday's Wiicitaakewin Speaker Series at Confederation College. The former Ontario premier and Liberal Party of Canada interim leader advocated for caution from all parties involved in the Ring of Fire process, saying the legal issues can't be quickly discarded.
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You can’t snap your fingers and expect to make issues surrounding the Ring of Fire development process disappear, says Bob Rae.
Rae, lead negotiator for the Matawa Tribal Council for all things concerning the region’s mega mining project, said the recent decision by the Mining and Lands Commissioner to reject Cliffs Natural Resources plans for a road may have been unexpected, but it is something that has to be worked around.
The former premier of Ontario and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada was in Thunder Bay Friday as part of Confederation College’s Wiicitaakewin Speaker Series.
“We obviously all want to see the companies continue to take an interest in what’s going on, and take an interest in building in the days ahead,” Rae told local reporters following the session.
“But it has to be done in a way that reflects the interests of all the communities and reflects the reality that we have to work inside the law.”
Cliffs has since appealed the ruling, and has made public that its Ring of Fire projects could be in jeopardy if their plans for a 300-kilometre access road are not approved.
The commissioner ruled the proposed Cliffs road fell on mining territory staked by rival company KWG Resources, who want to build a rail route.
Rae cautions that the legality of the matter can’t be quickly thrown away by any party.
“That’s not something a government can snap its fingers and instantly solve,” he said. “It is going to require a lot of thought and consideration about how we move this thing forward.”
The other speaker at the session was Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Fontaine also works as an advisor to a host of private and public companies, including Cliffs.
“This represents an incredible opportunity for all concerned, but particularly First Nations communities,” Fontaine said. “The courts have been clear that developments such as the Ring of Fire can’t proceed without the full engagement and participation of Aboriginal people.”
During the question-and-answer session in front of the audience, Rae said it is important to remember the proposed development would have a direct bearing on the First Nations in the north.
He added people need to stop thinking it as a middle-of-nowhere project, instead telling the assembled crowd “everywhere in Canada is somewhere, and it is home to some people.”
“It’s happening in the middle of where people have lived for thousands of years, and where they’ve worked, prayed, celebrated, raised families and built communities,” Rae said to reporters after the forum.
“These are real places and they matter to the people who live there, and we need to respect that and find ways to have development that is respectful, sustainable and will actually benefit the communities where it’s taking place.”
Rae also rebuked critics who place blame upon the provincial government, claiming the government has been ineffective.
“I don’t think this is about any one level or one person dragging their heels. I think it’s about everyone understanding people have to work together and we have to reach consensus on how development is going to go forward,” Rae said.
“This isn’t about pointing fingers. That’s not a useful exercise to go through.”
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