By MPP Toby Barrett
As a rural southern MPP travelling the North – last week’s pre-budget hearings were my fourth tour over the past year – I am always struck by the commonality we share with our resource-based economies, whether it be farming or forestry, mining or steel.
However, all too often, we see opportunity lost or, at minimum, underappreciated. A case-in-point would be Ontario’s as yet-to-be-developed Ring of Fire.
The Ring of Fire, located in a remote area 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is considered one of Ontario’s most promising mineral developments in a century, with the discovery of North America’s first commercial quantities of chromite. Early exploration in 2001 also identified significant deposits of nickel, copper, zinc and platinum.
The chromite – one of the richest deposits in the world – has an estimated value of $60 billion.
The Ring of Fire mineral discovery has the potential to be a tremendous boost to Ontario’s rich and long mining economy that goes back to the 1800s.
In 2013, Cliffs Resources pulled out and sold their $700 million investment and mining rights to Noront, a Canadian junior miner. Noront is currently pursuing development of nickel with future plans to develop the chromite holdings.
People striving to develop resources tell us they’re under siege in the North – the Endangered Species Act, the Far North Act, and a plethora of rules and regulations, never ending consultation and a dragging of feet by government.
Land use planning environmental assessments have all been delayed and still remain outstanding. According to the government, the delays are due to the time it has taken to consult with Aboriginal communities.
As Opposition Leader Patrick Brown charged during Question Period last November, “The time for talk is over. It’s time for action in the north. Northerners and investors are tired of this government’s wait-and-see attitude toward the development of the Ring of Fire. As noted in yesterday’s National Post, this government’s lack of action on its billion-dollar infrastructure promise to the Ring of Fire leaves investors worried and frustrated. Platitudes and photo ops don’t get shovels in the ground; they don’t get people working. Only a firm timeline for construction of a transportation corridor in the Ring of Fire will give investors the confidence they need.”
A 2014 Fraser Institute report noted that one reason investors lose interest in Ontario’s mining potential is the lack of clarity and understanding around the Aboriginal consultation process. In comparison to the rest of Canada, Ontario takes less of a leadership role and has delegated more consultation to the private sector.
In December, Ontario’s Auditor General also charged that “No detailed plan or timeline for supporting development of the Ring of Fire has been developed” – this in spite of government incurring operating costs of $13 million, and the transfer of $16 million to the nine Matawa First Nations impacted by the development. Negotiations between government and the Matawa communities have cost $7 million to date.
In addition to recommending that transfer payments to Aboriginal communities should be documented to show how the money is spent, Auditor General Lysyk recommended the province take more of a leadership role in consultation.
As our resource-based economy continues to flounder, it’s unconscionable the world’s largest chromite deposit sits stalled.
There has got to be a better way!