It is hard to imagine that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, and by 1901, the first powerline between the United States and Canada at Niagara Falls was built. In 1910, towns and cities in Ontario were being hooked up to electricity, yet more than 100 years later we are still talking about connecting First Nation communities to the electrical grid. While it’s been far too long, the great news is that it’s becoming very clear how committed our government is to finally getting the job done and creating benefits for all of us throughout the Kenora riding.
Just this last month, along with the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, I was pleased to announce one of the largest investments the North has ever seen: $1.6 billion for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 First Nations located in our riding to the provincial power grid. This historic announcement demonstrates the importance of building partnerships with the private sector, as well as with the province of Ontario.
Wataynikaneyap Power, a licenced transmission company majority owned by 22 First Nations, has entered into a partnership with Fortis Inc. with the goal of an eventual 100 per cent ownership by First Nations. The Wataynikaneyap Power project is the largest and most far-reaching Indigenous-led transmission project in the history of the province.
The groundwork for this project began in August 2017 with a $60 million investment to build a 117-kilometre grid line from Red Lake to Pikangikum First Nation, which is scheduled for completion later this year. Following the grid connection to Pikangikum, the Wataynikaneyap Power Project will be built in two phases:
Phase 1: upgrading of the electrical system with a new line to Pickle Lake, which is expected to begin in early 2019 and be completed in late 2020.
Phase 2: construction for the connection of remote First Nation communities north of Red Lake and Pickle Lake will begin in 2019, with community connections starting in 2021. In addition, all communities are expected to be connected by the end of 2023.
Connecting these communities to Ontario’s electrical grid not only lessens their reliance on expensive, environmentally unfriendly diesel, it also lights the way for further developments. Electrification is just the first step. Building roads, improving infrastructure like clean water/waste water facilities, linking communities to high-speed internet, constructing safe and affordable housing, is what we need to do if we want to tap into the enormous economic development opportunities waiting to be developed throughout the North. This progress will also work towards eliminating isolation for remote communities by making it easier to bring in social programming for families and children, while also improving healthcare services, especially much needed mental health support.
Not only will First Nation communities directly benefit, surrounding communities and the entire region will as well. With increased construction and economic development, comes increased employment and business opportunities.
Ensuring that our First Nation communities have equal opportunities to succeed is just one step in the reconciliation process; in order for the North to thrive, we all must thrive – I believe we are on our way.
This truly is a major step forward to opening up the North!
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