Ontario must stand up to fossil fuel companies – its own share of tar sands

The marbled murrelet is currently under threat from a proposed saltwater mine proposed in one of its habitat areas. It is now thought that the project would destroy the critical habitat of the bird, exposing it to distress and disruption and ultimately losing its viability in the long run

The Ontario government should do everything it can to protect the delicate Marbled Murrelet population from road kill from a proposed gold and copper mine on Ontario’s northern Grassy Narrows First Nation reserve, rather than leaving the decision to a private company.

Within days of our journalists being allowed to report on the situation of the Marbled Murrelet, which faces serious threats, including loss of its historic, nomadic territory, the province is considering allowing a company to apply for a permit for a proposed mine in the northern Ontario reserve, as a first step toward its eventual use by the company. The provincial government is willing to allow Taseko Mines to access the territory, but only after the company has released a comprehensive list of “good faith” measures to protect the bird’s threatened habitat.

The Ontario government has far more important actions to focus on. For example, it recently announced it will soon be paying $1.3bn to settle claims that the province knowingly neglected to save the planet’s tundra from pollution. Ontario also is the only province in Canada that still allows diluted bitumen from Alberta to be shipped through the province in an underground pipeline. The province is well aware that diluted bitumen is among the most toxic fossil fuels on earth. And it also is aware that Canada’s oil industry is fighting to free itself from the stringent environmental laws of Alberta in order to revive the tar sands.

Already, the petition I wrote on behalf of First Nations in our province is collecting close to 120,000 signatures. An overwhelming majority of those signatures are from Ontario residents and citizens from across Canada. You can, too, sign the petition.

The Harper government’s environmental policies were a damaging distraction from the fossil fuel challenge

In our vulnerable environment, the story of the Grassy Narrows First Nation is only just beginning. The native people of this nation live among dangerous threats for sure, but the province should be using the recent elections as an opportunity to tell us where it stands on the climate and clean energy challenge. So far the federal government has not mentioned climate change once in its “election promises”.

Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government – which took office in June – would be well advised to tell us why it should be free to make the biggest cash transfer of the Canadian government to Big Oil in decades, with no accountability. A government that paid $1.3bn to avoid lawsuits from First Nations should not – especially when that government has already said it is willing to sign off on this mine proposal – let the same government with absolutely no real environmental strategy sign off on a project that would open a new door for the industry to ruin its old reputation as a major polluter.

We can’t possibly afford the damage to Grassy Narrows and Ontario wildlife, yet at the same time, even a moderate and consistent government recognizes the potential future threats of the tar sands and diluted bitumen from Alberta. Despite the fact that we are already dangerously close to dangerous tipping points, for any administration to say it wants to sign off on two new pipelines is beyond irresponsible. As a representative of a province whose oil industry currently churns out 37 million barrels of bitumen, that is the current state of the province.

The Canadian government must insist that the Ontario government get the federal government to negotiate with us about preserving our land and water. Ontario has said it wants our land near the proposed mine to be developed for the benefit of Grassy Narrows and others in Grassy Narrows.

As a representative of a province with valuable oil resources, that’s a disgrace.

Barring an overwhelming vote of Canadians against a tar sands pipeline and a province that has a record on climate change and responsible economic policies, Ontario has no business deciding what happens to our habitat, our ecosystem, and our resources.

Canada’s dismal record on climate change and climate action means the greater Canada would be well served to sign a national agreement to ban fossil fuels in the province. Our province has no business putting ourselves in that position.

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