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Reality Check

RC-20: Are East Side Promises Being Kept?

Date Posted: July 23, 2011

In 2001 and 2002 the Manitoba government started an East Side Planning Initiative to prepare the future of this huge boreal region east of Lake Winnipeg.

In 2003 the Manitoba government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding lands and waters east of Lake Winnipeg with east side communities. This MOU was released unsigned, but then signed with individual First Nations. No public record exists as to how many or which communities signed the MOU.

In late 2004, following East Side Planning Initiative community meetings, the Manitoba government released Promises to Keep, about the future of this boreal region. The government confirmed its support for recommendations in the report. Since then the Manitoba government has referenced Promises To Keep as the basis for its policies for traditional lands planning, road network building, and world heritage site support, etc. on the East Side.

In the 2007 election the Manitoba NDP (governing party) indicated a new law would confirm those east side lands identified for protection during lands planning processes, while enabling community lands plans. 2007 election commitments about the east side include a commitment to consult First Nation communities in a meaningful way, prior to enacting the new law. During the 2009 Manitoba Legislature review hearings for the new law every speaker, except one, objected to the bill. Most objecting voices were First Nation speakers who said consultations regarding the law had not occurred. Concerns about aboriginal rights, risk of similar unilateral steps by government, what regulations would say, and support for community driven traditional lands planning were voiced. To date the regulations under this Act for protection of traditional lands are weaker than the protection standards in various other Manitoba Acts.

Also, in April 2007 the Manitoba government signed an Accord with East Side First Nations. This Accord lays out the principles, actions and goals for the future of this huge boreal forest/ traditional lands region. There is no public record as to which communities signed the Accord.

Throughout the last decade - based on a commitment from the NDP prior to the 1999 provincial election - the COSDI (Committee on Sustainable Development Implementation) report has been cited as basis for policy, especially with respect to East Side planning. The COSDI report, commissioned by the prior government, carries significant warnings or caveats. These include the need for meaningful consultations with Aboriginal communities prior to decision making.

The Manitoba government says it is protecting the East Side region, and that it supports First Nation planning for the east side region, including for the future world heritage site, and protected traditional lands. Claims that development is on hold during lands planning exercises are common.

The first project of the East Side Road Network (Bloodvein to Berens River) is underway. Communities need road access in the face of climate change, and are entitled to decision making power about the road to their community.

Announcements for new cottage developments are being made, most recently for 600 new cottages along first stage of the road network. Mineral dispositions, exploration licences, and dozens of new sand, gravel and aggregate permits have been issued or are on pending withdrawal status. New developments are being licensed and built in the provincial parks in the region, especially in the no logging zones. Removal of the Integrate Wood Supply Area through the region, near the Lake, remains a question.

The Manitoba Wildlands web site contains news, analysis, and links to East Side materials, promises, and reports.

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