The Ontario Chamber of Commerce's “Where Are We Now?” report card on the Ring of Fire development in the Far North is a nice document. It's full colour, has some good pictures and sports an attractive layout.
It's a good example of what you can buy if you're willing to spend money on the design. People like good design.
It also appears to be a brazenly partisan, entirely political attempt to deflect blame from the Ontario government to the feds for the monumental failures in the Ring of Fire.
I'm not saying a heaping helping of blame shouldn't be slopped onto the federal government's plate — I am saying there's plenty to go around and the Ontario Liberals have just as much, if not more, eating to do.
When it launched the report locally with a panel discussion last week, the Ontario Chamber said the document aimed to create urgency at the federal level, to push the Harper Conservatives to make the estimated $60-billion mineral deposit a national priority like the Alberta Tar Sands, rather than a regional initiative.
This, the chamber argues, would encourage investment and keep the Ring of Fire (and the rich ore deposit contained therein) in the minds of investors, before they get sidetracked by other opportunities.
Fine. That seems like solid reasoning.
Except for one thing — Ontario was supposed to be taking the lead on the project. There isn't even a road up there yet. Not a one. There's no electricity. There's no rail line to get equipment in or ore out.
And those are provincial responsibilities.
The province did secure a regional framework agreement with the Matawa chiefs for how First Nations communities who live in the area will benefit and be consulted on everything from the environment to jobs to revenue, and that's a positive step, but it's only one step.
The excitement about the Ring of Fire went wide in 2011. Four years have passed and all we really have to show is that agreement with the chiefs.
Ontario created the Ring of Fire Secretariat in 2011 to develop, according to an Ontario Business Report document, “the chromite and other deposits in the Ring of Fire as quickly as possible and with due regard to environmental impacts and the needs of the Aboriginal communities within the region."
That sounds great. Except if you ask anyone with a stake in the Ring of Fire, they'll tell you they can't figure out what the Secretariat has done the past four years.
Then, less than a year ago, Ontario unveiled the Ring of Fire Development Corporation, ostensibly to do the same thing as the Secretariat. How many cooks does one meal need?
What's really lacking here is a leader that can get priorities and parameters in place — a framework — so mining companies can go to investors and say, “See? This thing is really going to happen.”
Moe Lavigne, the veep of exploration for KWG Resources, said as much at the Sudbury launch last week.
The Secretariat was supposed to be that leader, as far as I can tell.
I have to wonder if the hunger for the Ring of Fire's riches has run smack-dab into the much-maligned (in some circles) Far North Act, legislation which, in effect, turns half of Northern Ontario into untouchable park land.
That act was Dalton McGuinty's doing. He liked to be seen as a “green” politician. You might remember how he made the trip up to Sudbury for the photo op when Vale announced it's billion-dollar Clean AER project.
But he was conspicuously absent when Cliffs Natural Resources came to Sudbury to announce it wanted to spend $1.8 billion to put a chromite processing facility in Copper Cliff.
McGuinty sees mining the way his environmentally conscious (but terribly misinformed) southern urban supporters see it — dirty.
Which begs the question, why would the Ontario Chamber tap his son to write the report card? Even if their intentions were pure, the optics of it are awful. I mean, there's any number of educated policy wonks with information-gathering skills and no ties to the Liberals who could've written it.
There are probably three or four in Northern Ontario who could have done it.
Instead, the chamber is playing politics by defending the Ontario Liberals and trying to shame the feds into action, when they should be coming down on the side of development — that's why they're there.
The chamber and the Ontario Liberals need to stop trying to make hay and start doing what they've said they've been doing since 2011: putting the priorities in place to move development forward.
It's estimated the Ring of Fire has enough chromite in it to feed North America's needs for 200 years. And there's a lot more than chromite under the muskeg up there.
Enough with the political games and partisan nonsense.
It's taken us a long time to get this far nowhere, which is not surprising since there appears to be no one in the driver's seat. That's the real problem here.
And the Ontario Liberals are the ones holding the keys.
Mark Gentili is the managing editor of Northern Life and NorthernLife.ca.