TORONTO – Former Liberal leader Bob Rae says natural resource projects such as Ontario’s massive Ring of Fire aren’t a “magic bullet” to eliminate poverty in remote aboriginal communities.
Rae told a conference on Saturday that several approaches are needed — including jobs training, education and governance — to help the resource-rich but underdeveloped areas raise themselves up.
“If you want to see conditions of real underdevelopment, and see what the impact is on people and families, on children and on adults, you do not have to go very far,” he told the crowd.
The former MP recounted his experiences from a trip to northern Ontario trip that he returned from on Friday, which included a visit to the community of Marten Falls First Nation. Rae said roughly 300 people live with intermittent electricity, $8 cartons of milk and no Internet access.
Marten Falls lies within the 5,000-square kilometre boundary of the Ring of Fire, a mining project that the Ontario and federal governments hope will attract billions of dollars in private investment to extract valuable minerals such as stainless-steel ingredient chromite.
But Rae said money from the massive proposed mineral project can’t be counted on to fix the community’s woes.
“The way this situation is now described in the north is to say, ‘we have the magic bullet, it’s called the Ring of Fire,’” Rae said.
“It’s seen as the solution — (that) we now have the answer to underdevelopment. But everyone has to understand that this is not the magic solution to poverty, because you’ve got to get people ready for jobs and for work,” he added.
“You’ve got to create the conditions under which people are able to participate in the workforce,” Rae said, adding the effort could include targeted loans to help aboriginals launch businesses in traditional trades and crafts.
Rae stepped down from federal politics this year and is acting as chief negotiator for Matawa First Nations Tribal Council in talks with the province over Ring of Fire development. Marten Falls is one of the nine communities in the council.
He said that while Canada has the experience and know-how to help impoverished communities abroad, it should start applying that knowledge domestically.
“Think of about what you know… of how what we’re doing in Canada compares to what we’ve learned (internationally) over the last 60-70 years about what works and doesn’t work,” Rae said in his speech.
He said resource developmental money that floods into aboriginal communities can’t be counted on to “trickle down” to improve the lives of average residents.
The northern Ontario communities he’s visited are not against the Ring of Fire plan, but are worried about its negative effects, Rae said.
“They’re expressing strong concerns about how do we protect the water. How do we protect the heritage that we have.”