Today, leaders of six First Nations call on the Ontario Government to intervene and fix a broken process created by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and the previous Ontario government that ignores First Nations’ rights and northern development pertaining to a necessary and important electricity transmission project planned for Northern Ontario.
The six First Nations are part of Bamkushwada Limited Partnership (BLP). BLP has developed a relationship with NextBridge, the proponent of the East West Tie Transmission Project that was awarded Leave to Develop by the OEB in 2012. BLP becomes partnered with NextBridge in ownership of this Project when it goes into operation, providing many millions in business contracting and hundreds of employment opportunities for First Nations, and for northern municipalities.
This transmission line is a priority initiative of the Province of Ontario, needed to ensure the reliability of electrical service to communities in the Northwest. Without the Project in-service by 2020, as has been urgently deemed necessary by the Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and the Independent Electricity System Operator, residential and business customers face a higher likelihood of outages and less reliable electricity overall. NextBridge (partnered with BLP) is the only proponent that can build this line in the timelines that are required by Ontario.
“The Government of Ontario needs to clean up a mess that was created by the previous government and grant NextBridge leave to construct the East West Tie Transmission Project,” says Chief Peter Collins, President of BLP. “NextBridge and the BLP First Nations have done all the hard work over the past five years, ensuring that the Duty to Consult and Accommodate was met. These are our lands, rights and welfare that stand to be most affected.”
This mess was brought to a head when in late December the OEB ordered that leave to construct the transmission line will go to the company that submits the lowest bid, without regard to legal rights of First Nations, or the real costs of this line. Hydro One came in at the eleventh hour to compete with the NextBridge line, and has not carried out the constitutionally-required Duty to Consult and Accommodate the BLP First Nations. Its project would be built much later than the NextBridge-BLP one, causing delays of about two years and corresponding losses in economic development and risks to electrical reliability. The Hydro One project is slated to go through a national park which is also subject to an aboriginal title claim. This routing is unacceptable to the BLP First Nations.
“The competition to pursue this project was at the leave to develop stage in 2012. NextBridge was awarded that right, and then spent the next several years with BLP to ensure the line would be built the best way including for First Nations,” says Chief Collins. “The previous Ontario government left the door open for this second competition at the leave to construct stage, but it and the OEB failed to account for how that throws all the work already done into the bin, and creates delays, costs and breaches of First Nation rights.”
In a letter sent today to the Premier, the Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, and the Minister of the Environment, BLP says it will be compelled to appeal the OEB’s decision if the right to construct the line goes to Hydro One. In its letter, BLP urges the government to fix the OEB’s unacceptable decision, and give NextBridge the right to construct the project.
BLP contends the process is grossly unfair and unjust. It has allowed Hydro One to put in a proposal that is incomplete and not transparent, does not respect the Duty to Consult and Accommodate requirements, and will delay completion of the project, jeopardizing economic opportunities in the north including the Ring of Fire.
“Hydro One cannot calculate, or even make fair assumptions on cost, without first consulting with the First Nations and other affected communities, as NextBridge has done,” said Chief Collins. “The OEB or the Ontario Government need to fix this mess now and let NextBridge and BLP get on with constructing the line now. Our First Nations and the north have waited five long years for this transmission project. Enough is enough.”