6.1 Preamble

The land and its natural resources have sustained the people and driven the economy of Northern Ontario for generations. Even with recent diversification into non-resource-based activities, the region's environment still anchors much of the economy. Many of the region's emerging economic sectors, such as renewable energy, water technologies and the bioeconomy, depend upon the health and sustainable development of the region's natural resources.

The natural environment is not just important as the basis for a strong economy, it also supports the health, quality of life and identity of northerners. Spectacular natural areas are a unique, irreplaceable part of Northern Ontario's heritage. Northerners take pride in this natural heritage, and take seriously their role as the stewards of the natural environment so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.

Northern Ontario includes two of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior and Lake Huron. The Great Lakes are not only a valued environmental feature but provide Northern Ontario with innumerable economic advantages. Northern Ontario's many lakes and waterways are valued for their environmental benefits, as popular community and tourism attractors and for their contribution to commercial and recreational fishing. Their clean and reliable supply of water feeds the North's manufacturing industries including transportation, bioproducts and food processing. The Great Lakes also form a major inland waterway, providing an efficient means of bulk commodity transport for Ontario, including the North.

This Plan supports the sustainable development of natural resources with a balanced approach to environmental, social and economic health.
This Plan also recognizes the need for climate change mitigation and adaptation, which is of particular importance in the North. Average temperatures are rising more quickly in the North than in the rest of Ontario. This will alter the profile of the boreal forest and the sensitive ecology of waterways, lakes and wetlands. It threatens the region's biodiversity, increases the risk of storms and forest fires, and shortens the transportation season for remote communities that rely on temporary ice roads to import essential supplies. Climate change will also result in new economic opportunities, such as longer growing seasons for agricultural producers and the development of a carbon offsets market.

A commitment to environmental protection and conservation is reinforced through a commitment to environmental leadership and a culture of conservation. Sustainability planning at the local level, and environmental leadership demonstrated at both the provincial and municipal government levels and within industry, will help meet this Plan's environmental protection objectives, and lay the groundwork required for the North to transition to a green economy.

This Plan is built on a solid understanding of the multiple values and benefits that the North's renowned natural environment provides to the people and the economy of the region, and the province.

6.2 Sustainable development of natural resources

6.2.1 Provincial policies, programs, and regulations will integrate approaches to natural resource management to support environmental, social and economic health.

6.2.2 Natural resource management and stewardship practices will occur within a framework that recognizes and responds to evolving environmental, economic and social values, and science-based knowledge and information, which allows for the introduction of new practices, technologies and management approaches, traditional knowledge, and locally and regionally responsive approaches.

6.2.3 As part of the Northern Ontario economic action plans and regional economic plans in accordance with Policies 2.2.4 and 4.5.2, opportunities should be explored for new, value-added and sustainable uses for Northern Ontario's natural resources, such as carbon storage and trading, eco-tourism, and renewable energy.

6.3 Environmental protection

6.3.1 In the Far North, conservation direction and planning will be pursuant to the Far North Act, 2010.

6.3.2 Municipalities are encouraged to contribute to the protection of surface water features and ground water features by:

  1. planning and designing municipal water and wastewater systems that return water to the Great Lake watershed from which the withdrawal originates
  2. co-ordinating planning for potable water, stormwater, and wastewater systems with communities with which they share inland water sources and/or receiving water bodies.

6.3.3 The Province will work with the federal government, municipalities and others to incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation considerations, where appropriate, into planning and decision-making, including monitoring programs and tools to measure and understand climate change and its impacts on Northern Ontario.

6.3.4 The Province will facilitate the development of renewable energy projects in Northern Ontario through Ontario Power Authority programs and within the applicable regulatory and land-use policy environment.

6.3.5 The Province will work with the federal government, municipalities and others to include measures to protect and preserve air quality, water quality and quantity, and natural heritage in planning for climate change impacts and environmental sustainability.

6.4 Environmental leadership and a culture of conservation

6.4.1 Planning and decision-making by the Province and municipalities should consider opportunities for fostering a culture of conservation and demonstrating environmental leadership by adopting sustainability practices.

6.4.2 As part of their long-term community strategies being prepared in accordance with Policy 4.2.1, municipalities that are identified pursuant to this Plan as economic and service hubs should identify environmental sustainability objectives, as well as develop policies and programs for their achievement, related to:

  1. water conservation
  2. energy conservation
  3. air quality protection
  4. integrated waste management.

6.4.3 The Province will work with the federal government, municipalities and others to promote Northern Ontario locations for investments to contribute to the growth of Ontario's green economy including opportunities for research and commercialization of green technologies.