The closest community to the Ring of Fire is calling out the province for going ahead with its Ring of Fire Development Corporation.
The province announced the non-profit corporation late last week saying it honoured an election promise to establish the corporation within 60 days of taking office. But Webequie chief Cornelius Wabasse said the decision violates clear commitments the province has made to his community and he's disappointed. Confidence in the community over the regional negotiation process, started by Bob Rae for Matawa and Frank Iacobucci and now expected to enter into its second phase soon, has been shaken.
"Our community members are upset. We agreed as a community to negotiate with Ontario in good faith. This can't happen if Ontario makes decisions without our involvement," he said in a media release.
"We have been clear that we are willing to work with Ontario about Ring of Fire issues but it has to be in a true spirit of partnership. Decisions of this magnitude cannot be made by Ontario behind closed doors."
Webequie Coun. Roy Spence agreed saying that development will change his community's way of life forever. The province promised Webequie a true government-to-government partnership and also to respect the regional framework process its in with the government as part of the Matawa Tribal Council. Title, rights and indigenous laws need to be respected.
"Ontario's unilateral announcement of the creation of an economic development corporation is exactly the opposite of the kind of respectful process that we expect," Spence said in the release.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said he and Premier Kathleen Wynne spoke privately to all nine Matawa chiefs at the Tribal Council's annual general meeting in Marten Falls shortly after Wynne made the 60-day commitment to the development corporation.
"The understanding at least when we left that room was that certainly any discussions related to whether or not Matawa would become a full partner in that development corporation would be part of the regional process negotiations," Gravelle said.
"Certainly there was an awareness that this was a commitment that the province had made."
Having First Nations on board with the corporation is a top priority for the province but so is getting the federal government and industry to be full partners as well.
"No decisions have been made related to transportation infrastructure. That's the purpose of us putting together the development corporation, so that partners themselves can make those decisions," Gravelle said.
The province shares the same goals to see the Ring of Fire developed. Negotiations can be difficult at times but Gravelle said he's confident that it will work out.
"I am hopeful that we will able to work together," he said.