Friday, November 22, 2013

History of Ontario Land title: Good news in deep disguise

An American mining company has pulled out of a development project in northern Ontario's "Ring of Fire" rare-earth bonanza.  It is being played as bad news in the business press, and in the political press as mismanagement by the Ontario government.  But this is hopeful news.

When the British Columbia mining, forestry, pipeline, and development industries began to grasp that the persistent refusal to take First Nations land titles and treaty requirements seriously was itself going to make most of their investment ambitions impossible, there began to be some political will for serious land claims negotiations, based on an acceptance of FN ownership and partnership, to begin on the west coast.

Now the conditions for a similar political transformation are beginning to be created in northern Ontario.  The dominant idea is still that there must be a way to make the First Nations give up, shut up, or be bought off, so that developments can be conveniently greenlighted by some office at Queen's Park in Toronto. But Cliffs' withdraw indicates that major players are beginning to understand that the insecurity of Ontario's title means that will never happen without the underlying problem being addressed.

Eventually the logical calculations will begin to be drawn: the First Nations are unlikely to accept anything short of ownership and partnership, and if the matters are litigated, it is likely that they will win that. The essential requirement for successful development in the Ring of Fire, therefore, is a comprehensive land-title settlement.  And Ontario wants successful development.
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