The proposed Far North Act, 2009 will, if passed by the Legislature, set out a process for community-based land use planning that:
- Establishes a leadership role for Far North First Nations in land use planning
- Supports protection for at least half of the Far North in an interconnected network of conservation lands
- Allows for sustainable economic development of the region’s natural resources
- Recognizes the environmental, social and economic interests of all Ontarians.
Encompassing more than 450,000 square kilometres, the Far North represents about 42 per cent of Ontario’s land mass. It is generally defined as all lands north of a line running from the Manitoba border in the west to James Bay in the east, several hundred kilometres north of Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Cochrane. It is north of the area currently licensed for commercial forestry.
The Far North is home to more than 24,000 people who live in 36 communities. First Nations people represent over 90 per cent of the area’s population and live mainly in remote, fly-in communities.
The Far North contains the largest intact forest in Canada and the world’s third largest wetland. The trees, soil and peat of this vast boreal landscape act as a globally significant carbon sink by absorbing approximately 12.5 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year. The region provides essential habitat for more than 200 sensitive species, and nesting grounds for millions of migrating birds.
The proposed Far North Act would apply to public lands in the Far North but not to First Nation reserves or to federal lands, private land or municipal lands.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PROPOSED ACT
Land Use Planning Objectives
- Provide a significant role for First Nations in the planning process.
- Protect areas of cultural value and the region’s ecological systems and functions by including at least 225,000 square kilometres of the Far North in an interconnected network of protected areas.
- Maintain biological diversity, ecological processes and ecological functions, including carbon storage and sequestration
- Enable sustainable economic development that benefits local First Nations.
Far North Land Use Strategy
A Far North land use strategy would be developed with the involvement of First Nations. The strategy would guide preparation of community-based land use plans and include:
- Far North policy statements on matters of provincial interest
- Geospatial and mapping information about ecological, natural resource and cultural values
- Policy, scientific and technical guidelines to support land use planning.
Far North Policy Statements
The Minister of Natural Resources, with approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, would be responsible for issuing policy statements relating to:
- Cultural and heritage values
- Ecological systems, processes and functions, including the storage and sequestration of carbon
- The inter-connectedness of protected areas
- Biological diversity
- Areas of natural resource value for potential economic development
- Electricity transmission, roads and other infrastructure
- Other matters the Minister considers to be of provincial interest to land use planning.
All Far North policy statements would be reviewed at least every 10 years.
Community-Based Land Use Plans
Community-based land use plans would be developed by First Nations, individually or collectively by neighbouring communities, working jointly with the Ministry of Natural Resources. These plans would establish land use designations and permitted uses, including protected areas within a planning area identified by First Nation communities.
The planning areas would be administrative areas that are in part based on First Nation traditional-use areas, but which would not serve to define them. Community-based land use plans would include jointly developed terms of reference, a draft plan and a final plan.
Community-based land use plans would be approved by local First Nations through a Band Council resolution, and by the Minister. Plan reviews, no more than every 10 years, and amendments to planning areas as necessary, would follow similar processes.
Development Activities During Land Use Planning
Specific activities would not be allowed to proceed until a community-based land use plan is in place. These activities include:
- The opening of a new mine
- Commercial timber harvest
- Wind power and waterpower facilities
- Oil and gas exploration and production
- Construction of electrical transmission facilities and lines or new all-weather roads associated with them
- Construction of all-weather roads
- Other activities that may be prescribed by the Minister of Natural Resources.
Development or activities would be permitted if the Minister determines it is predominantly for community use, or if the Lieutenant Governor in Council determines it is in the social and economic interests of Ontario and takes into account land use planning objectives.
There are several circumstances under which construction of electrical transmission facilities and lines, as well as all weather roads associated with them, would be allowed to proceed in advance of a community-based land use plan. These include:
- If the construction is consistent with Far North policy statements
- If the Minister determines there is sufficient ecological information for the area
Construction must also have the support of affected First Nations through a Band Council resolution.
Other activities that would be allowed to proceed before a community-based land use plan is completed include:
- Existing, approved land uses or activities, and new land uses or activities that are incidental or complementary to existing uses or activities
- Mineral claim staking and exploration
- Feasibility studies or assessments, including wind testing
- Environmental clean up activities.
The Minister would have authority to determine additional activities that may proceed before a community-based land use plan is in place. These other activities would have to contribute to First Nations community needs and take into account land use planning objectives, or be predominantly for community use.
Development Activities After Land Use Planning
Once a community-based land use plan is approved, decisions regarding public land use, resource allocation and disposition, and all forms of new development, would have to be consistent with the approved land use plan.
The Lieutenant Governor in Council would have authority to make exceptions to permit activities or development not consistent with a land use designation, after taking into account land use planning objectives and determining that development is in the social and economic interests of Ontario.
Existing tenure and approved land uses and activities, including existing mining claims, would continue to be recognized.
The Minister of Natural Resources would have authority to establish provisional protection for specific areas before community-based land use plans are completed. This would be done at the request of First Nations or under the Minister’s own initiative, in consultation with the Minister of Northern Development and Mines.
In this event, the Minister of Natural Resources would ask the Minister of Northern Development and Mines to withdraw areas identified for provisional protection from claim staking under the Mining Act. The process and criteria for establishing areas for provisional protection would be established by regulation.
Establishment of Protected Areas
Protected areas would be identified in community-based land use plans and would prohibit activities as specified in the proposed legislation. The Minister of Natural Resources would have authority to establish classes of protected area designations and set out land uses and activities permitted within each class.
Administration and Implementation Tools
The Minister of Natural Resources would establish one or more bodies to advise on the development, implementation and coordination of land use planning. The Minister would consider the role for First Nations in establishing and participating in any such body.
The Minister of Natural Resources would have authority and regulation-making powers to administer the proposed legislation, including authority to:
- Specify categories of land use designations in a planning area
- Regulate protected areas
- Prescribe activities that require a community-based land use plan
- Set out processes for making amendments to community-based land use plans.
Opportunities would be provided for further public involvement, including the posting of key components of the Far North land use strategy. There would also be opportunity for public input into drafts of community-based land use plans.