KENORA, Ont. — The provincial government has struck a consultation agreement with First Nations which Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney describes as "a key milestone" in plans to twin Highway 17 from the Manitoba boundary to Kenora.
The project falls entirely within Treaty # 3 territory.
Mulroney and Northern Development/Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford signed a Memorandum of Understanding Wednesday with leaders from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, Washagamis Bay First Nation, Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation and Niisaachewan Anishinaabe First Nation.
The transportation minister said the government and the First Nations have a shared goal "to create meaningful economic opportunities for local Indigenous communities and build better transportation in Northern Ontario."
Rickford said "Today we are one step closer to twinning Highway 17 and improving road safety for the people of Kenora-Rainy River," adding that significant progress has been made.
The signing took place at the Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation Youth and Elder Centre in Kenora.
A government news release following the event stated "Ontario remains committed to targeting shovels in the ground...by summer 2020, while taking the time to hear and address any affected rights and interests and mitigate impacts" related to the project.
The MOU, it said, "will guide the relationship and the engagement processes for the project in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration."
Ontario plans to twin the 40-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway west of Kenora in three sections, starting with a 6.5 kilometre stretch easterly from the Manitoba boundary.
The project was first announced by the provincial and federal governments in 2009, but no construction took place.
Ontario's previous Liberal government cited unresolved consultation issues with First Nations as one reason for the delay.
Kenora Conservative MP Eric Melillo, who also attended Wednesday's ceremony, said he will pressure the federal government to provide funding for the project.