Ontario’s minority Liberal government should back off on its plans to spend up to $700 million to explore for minerals and oil in the Grassy Narrows First Nation.
Environmental campaigners oppose the Canadian government’s decision to allow the province to look at drilling and develop aquifers as the third largest mining province in the world looks for future sources of revenue. The project has attracted hundreds of protesters in that part of Ontario. There are also allegations that the government violated Canada’s Fisheries Act.
What’s more, there are a number of different negotiations for Grassy Narrows. A Supreme Court of Canada ruling found that the Narrows are entitled to development on nearly half of their land and that they should have powers over how that land is developed. Other protests allege the province’s equalization payments from Ottawa would be tied to the Narrows’ decisions to allow companies to conduct exploration.
Quebec recently vetoed the second phase of exploration that the province’s conservative government had agreed to.
Grassy Narrows also worries that water running off mines and other industrial operations in the region would end up in Grassy Narrows Lake.
Ottawa doesn’t seem particularly happy with the efforts by Grassy Narrows to reach this agreement over mining. As one article noted in the Post, the Narrows “get a strained relationship with the federal government.”
The greater Ottawa Region, which contains 6.1 million people, already gets quite a lot of water. Ottawa is the largest metropolitan area in Canada. Last year, Ottawa poured $7.3 billion into various social and economic programs, which includes $6 billion in social assistance to people who are either low-income or don’t work. The city covers 97.6 percent of the area of Ontario.
Even without any new mines, the region has only 210 surface wells, according to the Post. And its municipal services mean it only supplies one-fifth of Ottawa’s water.
There is no shortage of water in Ottawa. Water access and health services like sewage treatment, improved environmental monitoring and others are some of the economic benefits of this home for millions.
Grassy Narrows should agree with Ottawa and help the region with its economic troubles. Instead, the Narrows are refusing to discuss solutions and suggesting that their income supports are conditional on them selling the lands to mining companies and giving up rights to their new-found wealth.
Policymakers shouldn’t shortchange Grassy Narrows by not studying the effects of the water and its basins on this community. The demands the community is making are also unsustainable as there are already numerous others in the region who are living below the poverty line.
Ontario should be protected from paying off unwanted claims to land and abandoning the Narrows from ever being fully developed for sustainable purposes.
The Grassy Narrows have stated their desire to maintain native rights. But that right only should extend to royalties that are paid to the First Nation, and not to mining companies.
The mining companies that would bring the economic benefits should also contribute to the environmental problems.
This will not help Grassy Narrows and Ottawa’s strained relationship.