In seeking out concentrations of expertise in Canada, it is difficult to ignore the extractive sector. Given the (good and bad) history and size of this sector, and the lack of global rivals in the density of expertise (other than Australia), should international assistance not leverage this expertise to achieve a lasting impact in developing countries?
Moose Cree has spent years using their laws to keep the river safe from resource development. But Ontario has yet to reciprocate and still keeps the watershed open for industrial activities such as mining under provincial laws. This is a recipe for conflict. Moose Cree's efforts to safeguard this river date back to 2002 when the community informed then MNR Minister Jerry Ouellette of the need for permanent protection. The minister rejected that request. The community persevered. Over the next 14 years they would face down mining and forestry companies.
Perhaps the biggest change that mine developers will see with the new government is the Liberals' determination to reverse the Conservatives' streamlining of environmental approvals by skipping the federal approval process, if the project had already met environmental approvals at the provincial level.
Last week, the Yukon Court of Appeal heard arguments about the future of the massive Peel River watershed, and about the meaning and application of modern aboriginal treaties. Will this land be mostly protected from development, as the planning commission decided after extensive aboriginal consultation? Or will it mostly be used for resource extraction, as the Yukon government wants? So soon after the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, will First Nations interests again be sacrificed for the economic gain of others?
Besides destroying a nine-kilometre creek and endangering salmon and the neighbouring community of Likely, the catastrophe damaged the mining industry's reputation. One year later, the Mount Polley mine is operating again, this time with a conditional permit and no long-term plan to deal with excess tailings.
The expropriation of land for mining projects can have the greatest impact on women. Women need land to grow food to feed their families or for subsistence farming which can be an important source of income. Lost access to land via land grabs means that women's livelihoods become more precarious, thus causing greater economic dependence on men.
Mining is important to human well-being, but the current economic system means it's often aimed at maximizing profit with little regard for people or the environment. It's one area where Canadians can make a difference. Canadian mining companies haven't always had a great record for environmental and social responsibility in communities where they operate -- but public scrutiny and pressure may be helping to change that.
If Ring of Fire development is to be successful, the question should not be whether the development is happening fast enough. It should be whether the process is taking place based on a foundation of recognition and respect for Webequie First Nation and the other Indigenous nations who call this land home. No longer can our Treaty be ignored and violated. New agreements cannot be reached while existing ones are treated as if they don't exist.
Recently, Canada's Parliament introduced the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act, which could have a huge impact on people around the world experiencing the "resource curse." Too often, poor communities have no say in the extraction of resources from their land and receive little information about the scope of these projects, the revenues they generate, their timelines and potential impacts. The Canadian government has an historic opportunity to make a low-cost contribution to fighting corruption and improving the lives of thousands of communities around the world.