Tony Clement’s statement that Joint Review Panels cover “irrelevant issues” angers Ontario First Nations

Last Monday, the government of Stephen Harper sent cabinet ministers across the country to counter that day’s anti-censorship Blackout Speakout campaign by talking up “responsible resource development.”

That move now appears to be backfiring, at least in the case of Treasury Board minister Tony Clement, whose  reported remarks in Thunder Bay that Joint Review Panels allow “individuals to use the assessment to discuss irrelevant issues that delay projects from mining to oil and gas that create jobs” have brought a swift and angry response from local First Nations.

Clement had come to Thunder Bay to promote what is called Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” an area of extensive mining exploration and development.

On a local Thunder Bay news site, tbnewswatch, reporter Jamie Smith covered Clement’s speech at a company called Coastal Steel. Smith’s report says:

Current joint-panel review environmental assessments are duplicating the process and allowing individuals to use the assessment to discuss irrelevant issues that delay projects from mining to oil and gas that create jobs.

“Before you know it it’s going to take a decade or more if the project is a viable project that we want to go ahead with it takes a decade or more to get to a stage where you can actually get it done. That’s inexcusable,” he said.

Those words are not in Clement’s speech as posted on his website. That speech simply repeats the current government line on resource development:

We need to ensure timely, efficient and effective project reviews. This will keep us competitive with other resource-producing nations.

We need a system that promotes business confidence and attracts investment while strengthening our world-class environmental standards.

Here’s what this new legislation will achieve:

• First, it will make project reviews more predictable and timely;
• Second, it will reduce duplication of project reviews;
• Third, this bill will strengthen environmental protection; and
• Fourth, it will enhance consultations with Aboriginal peoples.

To streamline and modernize our outdated regulatory system, we will take a whole-of-government approach. We want to put in place a new system of “one project, one review” that operates within a clearly defined time period…

The fact is, our new plan will strengthen environmental safeguards, including tanker and pipeline safety. And for the first time, it will provide enforcement of environmental assessment conditions under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It will also strengthen pipeline inspections and introduce tough new monetary penalties for violations of National Energy Board conditions on new pipeline projects.

(So far, no one in the Harper government has been able to explain how it is “strengthening environmental safeguards, including tanker and pipelne safety” while severely cutting the staff and resources of Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard).

According to a second northwestern Ontario news site, netnewsledger, a number of local First Nations quickly expressed their anger at Clement’s remarks about the irrelevancy of a JRP.

Chief Roger Wesley of Constance Lake First Nation took aim at the Federal Government today saying Minister Clement’s comments in Thunder Bay this week signal a new and unfortunate turn in the Government’s relationship with First Nation Peoples.

“I am worried, but also saddened,” said Wesley….

“A Joint Review Panel EA would give time for appropriate consultation and a serious look at the impacts on the land, but also on our people. Impacts to our culture, our communities, our land and way of life are not irrelevant!” said Chief Wesley….

“And as far as First Nations not having a veto, legal precedents have already been set in this country that indicate the government must seek First Nation consent if there is the possibility of serious negative impact from development on our traditional lands. They clearly do not respect their own constitution. It is a sad and frightening day when the Canadian government makes such outrageous comments.

A second northwestern Ontario chief, Sonny Gagnon of Aroland First Nation is quoted as saying:

“When a federal minister states publicly that First Nation concerns are irrelevant, everyone in this country should be worried. Today it our rights, tomorrow it could be yours. Don’t get in the way of the Government’s resource development expansion or your rights will be deemed irrelevant.”

“Furthermore the Government is using some pretty creative accounting procedures if they believe they have provided our First Nations with the finances to respond to the Ring of Fire developments.

Tony Clement has just set our Treaty Relationship back 100 years to the time when railway expansion led to the displacement and brutal mistreatment of our people, leaving a legacy of suffering.”

Northwest Coast Energy News could not independently verify whether Clement departed from his prepared text or later told reporters that a Joint Review covers “irrelevant issues.” However, now with Ontario First Nations objecting to the reports of the speech, this controversy is yet another blow to the credibility of all Joint Reviews. including the Northern Gateway Joint Review which will be here in Kitimat in couple of weeks to hear oral comments.  In the past few weeks, the Northern Gateway Joint Review has cut short its scheduled oral comment hearings in several BC communities, because those who registered are not showing up.  Reports in local media across northwestern BC say that the dropouts believe the Enbridge pipeline is now a foregone conclusion and that commenting before the JRP will have no affect on the outcome.

According to Wikipedia, the Ring of Fire is an area in the James Bay lowlands where there is growing mineral exploration. In his speech, Clement said:

The development of the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario holds the potential for billions in mineral wealth. Private sector estimates indicate that the chromite resources there could be worth as much as $50 billion. There are estimates for deposits of base metals and platinum-group metals worth as much as $10 billion. And there may also be deposits of gold, iron and other minerals in the region.