January 14 Deadline to Comment on Ontario’s Far North Act Changes

PolarBearsinGuelph

Staff from the Ontario government in Toronto have hit the pavement to consult on important changes to the province's Far North Act

 

Welcome back from your holidays! While you were (hopefully) having a much-needed rest, folks from the Ontario government in Toronto were still moving forward with "consultation" on proposed changes to the Far North Act... and guess what? Comments are only being taken until January 14th, 2021. If you or your community are interested in submitting comments, here is a primer to help you get started.

Changes, You Say?

You may recall that in early 2019, the Ontario Government announced its plans to repeal the Far North Act, 2010  in its entirety. Many First Nations spoke out identifying concerns with the proposal, including a desire for First Nations and Ontario to work collaboratively on a new land use planning framework. On May 10, 2019, the Ontario Government announced it was withdrawing its proposal to repeal the Act, and instead planned to “refocus the Act with proposed amendments to provisions that may hinder economic development and [enhance] provisions that encourage collaboration with First Nations in the Far North regarding land use planning” (ERO 013-4734).

 

Those proposed amendments have finally come back around. On November 30, 2020, the Ontario Government posted proposed amendments to the Environmental Registry of Ontario for a 45-day comment period (ERO 019-2684). Ontario claims the proposed changes “refocus the Act, while retaining provisions that allow for joint land use planning with all First Nations in the Far North.

 

Reflecting on the first decade of the Far North Act, 2010, how well has it been working for your community?

 

What’s Changing?

There are three major changes proposed:

  1. Amending S. 5 (Protection Objective) to remove the dedicated protection of “at least 225,000 square kilometers of the Far North” in an interconnected network of protected areas specified in community-based land use plans. This means approximately half of the land mass in the Far North, which was initially protected by the 2010 Act despite calls for more protections from First Nations, will now be “opened up” for development.
  2. Amending S. 7 (Joint Body) and ss. 7(1) to 7(7) to now require “at least 7 First Nations” to support the establishment of a Joint Body, whereas each First Nation could negotiate Joint Bodies individually under the current Far North Act, 2010. Unlike other proposed changes, Ontario has been particularly vague as to what is actually changing in these sections.
  3. Deletion of S.12 (Development if no community land use plan) in its entirety. This means current protections against development (mining, oil & gas, electrical generation facilities, for example) that are in place until a community based land use plan is complete will cease to exist. Development activities that “support economic growth” would be allowed to proceed even if proper First Nation planning has not yet occurred.

 

How will these changes affect First Nations?

Reduced Environmental Protections: First, this is yet another piece of legislation that will claw back environmental protections to lands and waters. While it primarily affects First Nations within the Far North, everything is interconnected, and its impacts will be felt throughout the watershed. The shift from protecting a minimum land mass of 225,000 square kilometres threatens to fragment environmental lands and features, with the potential to impact habitat in a significant way.

 

Development Before Planning: Second, for First Nations within the Far North, it will increase the amount of development that can happen within your territory before community-led planning occurs. Planning is meant to be proactive on your own terms – not reactive based on the agendas of others.

 

Review Process Impossible During COVID: Third, the world is in the middle of a global pandemic and your First Nations are being disproportionately affected. You are prioritizing the health and safety of your members. You have made difficult decisions to protect your communities. And you’re especially not holding community meetings about proposed changes to the Far North Act, 2010. The proposed changes are being rolled out at a highly inconvenient time for First Nations to meaningfully engage in the review process.

 

What You Can Do

The proposed amendments have been posted for comment until January 14, 2021.

Here are three things you can do:

  1. Get up to speed and read about the proposed changes to the Far North Act, 2010
  2. Prepare comments that identify your community’s comments or concern about the proposed changes and submit by the January 14, 2021 deadline
  3. Reach out to your local MPP to voice your comments or concerns about the proposed changes

If you require any assistance or would like to talk about how the proposed changes may affect your First Nation, please reach out! We’d love to talk more about how you can assert your self-determination and Treaty and Aboriginal rights in this legislative process.

 

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