map of the Ring of Fire in Ontario

The Regional Assessment for the Ring of Fire

January 11, 2022

The Regional Assessment for the Ring of Fire

Synopsis
5 Minute Read

The regional assessment of Ontario’s Ring of Fire region provides a better understanding of how to navigate Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) assessments more broadly.

As part of the Impact Assessment Act, which came into force in 2019, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) can undertake regional and strategic assessments. Strategic assessments explore the Government of Canada’s existing or proposed policies, plans, or programs, whereas regional assessments consider the effects of existing or future physical activities carried out in a region. A regional assessment for the Ring of Fire area in Ontario is currently in the beginning stages.

The Ring of Fire Regional Assessment is not the first regional assessment completed under the Impact Assessment Act. Consideration of offshore oil exploration off the coast of Newfoundland was the first.

(Source: Impact Assessment Agency Canada)

The Ring of Fire is an area centred on McFaulds Lake in the James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario. It is poised to become a key mining area for chromite and other mineral reserves. Chromite is the only economic ore of Chromium, which has been designated by Natural Resources Canada as a Critical Mineral for the sustainable economic success of Canada.

The Government of Canada has developed a list of 31 minerals that are considered critical. These critical minerals play a role in the transition to a low carbon and digitized economy. The designation of these minerals will be implemented in the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan and a Critical Minerals Strategy.

(Source: Natural Resources Canada)

In Fall 2019, Aroland First Nation, the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, and Osgoode Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic made submissions to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada requesting a regional assessment for the Ring of Fire area. The Minister responded in February of 2020, concurring with the merits of conducting a regional assessment. The Minister specified that a regional assessment should be conducted because:

  1. It could inform future project-specific federal impact assessments and decisions,
  2. Future developments have the potential to cause adverse effects within federal jurisdiction (e.g., cumulative effects, Indigenous rights),
  3. There is an opportunity to collaborate with other jurisdictions (i.e., the Province of Ontario), and
  4. There has been considerable public interest related to development or cumulative effects in the area.

Since this Minister response, the IAAC has held public information sessions and engagement activities. The next step in the process is the issuance of the Terms of Reference and Regional Assessment Agreement. They were released on December 2, 2021 for a formal review and comment period which was set to conclude on February 1, 2022, but was recently extended to March 2, 2022.

What is the Draft Agreement and Terms of Reference?

The draft Agreement and Terms of Reference are guidance documents that set the tone for the regional assessment and outline key areas for consideration.

The Agreement: The agreement outlines how the regional assessment will be conducted and sets out key aspects of the processes governance and administration.

The Terms of Reference: The Terms of Reference guide the conduct of the assessment and set out the required content of the eventual report. The Terms of Reference guide the regulatory context, the scope of the assessment, and the eventual use of the regional assessment.

Next Steps

Following finalization of the Terms of Reference and Agreement, the activities related to the regional assessment will begin. In order to get a sense of what these activities may look like, we can turn to the regional assessment completed for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland. In this case, a committee was struck to oversee the execution of the assessment and prepare the final report. In the case of the Ring of Fire regional assessment, a committee will also be formed.

Once the committee is in place, Indigenous, public and stakeholder engagement will begin. There are a variety of forms of engagement proposed from working tables that sit under the committee, to opportunities for review of relevant materials.

The regional assessment will rely on a variety of data sources and formats including GIS decision support tools, as well as critical data on the biophysical and socio-economic environment.

How to get involved?

Participation by Indigenous Nations and other interested stakeholders is a key aspect of the regional assessment process. Interest in participating can be signalled to the Impact Assessment Agency by emailing the general Ring of Fire Regional Assessment contact.

For some Nations and stakeholders, funding may be available to support your participation.

MNP can support you throughout this process, including the funding application procedures, and apply our extensive experience in navigating Impact Assessment Agency processes.

For more information, contact Gord Chalk [email protected] or Germaine Conacher [email protected].

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