THUNDER BAY – Premier Kathleen Wynne is warning nine First Nations chiefs progress on the Ring of Fire needs to happen “in weeks, not months” and they "should not squander" her government's $1 billion infrastructure commitment.
Wynne penned a letter to the chiefs of the Matawa First Nations earlier this week following a meeting held on May 1, the third meeting between the two parties since last October to attempt to spur the potentially lucrative mining development forward.
“My government announced $1 billion to support infrastructure into the Ring of Fire three years ago and if we are going to deliver on that we can delay no further,” Wynne wrote in the letter, which was sent to local media by the premier’s office on Friday.
“We should not squander the opportunity to build all-season roads and set the stage for future social and economic growth for communities that are supportive.”
Mention of that $1 billion was noticeably absent from the provincial budget unveiled late last month, though acting Northern Development and Mines Minister Bill Mauro insisted the money is still available.
In the letter, the premier referenced the regional framework agreement signed by the province and the First Nations signed in April 2014, saying “the time has now come” to make decisions on connecting the communities to all-season roads.
Wynne also cautioned the chiefs she is going to work individually with any of them that are willing to come to the table.
“We have not achieved much of the progress on road and infrastructure development that we had hoped for under the (regional framework agreement) over the past three years,” Wynne wrote.
“While I continue to hope progress can be made, I am prepared to continue to advance discussions with those First Nations that would like to pursue transportation infrastructure, through our bilateral process.”
Last October, a new table was established at the request of the chiefs to address jurisdictional issues such as road ownership and governance, permitting and land management. Wynne said that group has been making progress and that an “immediate, interim approach for mineral exploration permits is now being considered.”
Reached by telephone on Friday, Mauro said the letter is not intended to represent a take it or leave it approach.
“We feel like we’ve reached a point where we can make a decision hopefully on a road and the work that’s been committed to under the regional framework and under the joint jurisdiction working table can still continue in parallel,” Mauro said.
“Making a decision on a road would not kick that work sideways. All of that will continue but let’s try to get something in place to allow us to work on a transportation corridor.”