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Toronto, October 10, 2013 – Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner warns that the Ontario government is risking irreversible damage to wildlife and wilderness by considering major industrial development in the Far North before research is done and environmental protections are put in place. The Far North covers 450,000 km2 in Ontario and includes part of the largest block of boreal forest in the world.
In his 2012/2013 Annual Report, “Serving the Public”, Gord Miller says more than 20 companies have filed mining claims for significant deposits of chromite, nickel, copper, zinc and gold in the Ring of Fire area of Ontario’s Far North.
“The government’s long-held rule,” says Miller, “has been to establish planning controls before projects can be built. But infrastructure such as highways and transmission corridors are already on the drawing board in the Ring of Fire, and there’s been little analysis or public debate of their effect on the environment or their benefits for First Nations.”
Ontario’s Far North is recognized as being of global ecological significance. The Environmental Commissioner’s report concludes that this unique part of the province is threatened by advancing development in the absence of proper planning, especially in the Ring of Fire. There is still time to ensure that land use plans, jointly created by First Nations and the Ontario government, are in place before development proceeds. Doing this right will speed the approvals process and make it less costly for business.
“We have one chance to get things right in the Far North. It’s imperative that the Ontario government make sound choices about the Ring of Fire, and that these choices are anchored in solid knowledge of what’s going on there,” says Miller. “But the province doesn’t even have a long-term environmental monitoring program set up to collect basic information. It is squandering a chance to establish an accurate scientific baseline before significant decisions are made. Without adequate information and the right process, the government’s missing the opportunity to maximize benefits in the Far North.”
The government should strategically assess the potential environmental impacts in the Ring of Fire region. “Right now, environmental assessments are done on a piecemeal, project by project basis,” says Miller. “They do not take into account the combined effect of all the individual mines, roads, transmission corridors, airstrips, and other impacts that will have profound effects on the Far North and many First Nations communities.”
“The government has failed to clearly delineate where it is appropriate to have development in the Far North”, says Miller. “That uncertainty is both bad for the environment and bad for business. Having the government step up to be a strong player in the Ring of Fire would be a triple win for the environment, industry, and First Nations.”
Read the chapter “Ontario’s Far North and the Ring of Fire.”
Download the Environmental Commissioner’s full 2012/2013 Annual Report, “Serving The Public.”
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For more information, contact:
Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
416-325-3371 / 416-819-1673
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The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is the province’s independent environmental watchdog. Appointed by the Legislative Assembly, the ECO monitors and reports on compliance with theEnvironmental Bill of Rights, the government’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and its actions towards achieving greater energy conservation in Ontario.