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Platitudes, promises and the Ring of Fire

Since 2007, we have been told to be excited about the jobs and prosperity promised by the Ring of Fire. First Dalton McGuinty’s and then Kathleen Wynne’s government have said it has the potential to transform the North.

Since 2007, we have been told to be excited about the jobs and prosperity promised by the Ring of Fire. First Dalton McGuinty’s and then Kathleen Wynne’s government have said it has the potential to transform the North.

But if it’s true, we wonder, why has the province provided virtually no leadership to turn that excitement into reality? If the Ring is as important as the government says, why has the environmental assessment process stalled? Why has no one taken the lead to help First Nations communities prepare so they can benefit from it?

Why has nothing been done about the estimated $1 billion in infrastructure needed to get companies in and the ore out?

For all of the passionate lip service from people like Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, there hasn’t been much in the way of action.

And action is what it needs.

There some 30,000 claims spread mainly over a 20-kilometre strip of swamp in the 5,000-square-kilometre Ring of Fire. The major players — Cliffs, Noront and KWG — have, for months and even years, expressed concern.

Since Kathleen Wynne became premier in February, the situation has only gotten worse, the companies say.

Bill Boor, ferroalloys senior vice-president for Cliffs, told Northern Ontario Business that since Wynne came to power and shuffled the deck, it’s like talking to a whole new government.

When a company is spending more than $4 million a month on a project (Cliffs has spent $500 million so far), they want some consistency. They want to know their money isn’t disappearing into a black hole of nebulous priorities.

Unlike its decision to stop the environmental assessment process back in June (a clearer signal something was amiss could not be made), Cliffs’ decision to pull out indefinitely is not mere posturing, as some have suggested.

The Ring isn’t the company’s only iron in the fire — Cliffs can afford to wait. It also important to remember that, even though Ontario seems to have hitched its wagon to Cliffs’ $3.3-billion plan (which is, at best, a base case, not a road map), the Ohio company is not the only player up there.

But it’s that waiting that has been the issue. Miners have waited for a direction on infrastructure; waited for some leadership on First Nations issues; waited for something more than press releases about good jobs and prosperity for all.

For years, these companies have waited for the province to stop talking and start leading, but when did Ontario create the development corporation that was to provide that leadership? Three weeks ago.

If you visit the website of the development corporation’s predecessor, the Ring of Fire Secretariat, you don’t find a list of press releases describing the steps the province has taken to bring the project to fruition. You find a page of platitudes about how exciting the deposit is.

The secretariat was created in 2011. Two years worth of platitudes won’t get shovels in the ground.

The ore deposits have the potential to transform the Ring of Fire much in the way Sudbury’s ore transformed this region.

The term “the Fort McMurray Effect” has even been tossed around in reference to it. Hyperbolic, yes, but that perception is born of the province’s big talk.

But nothing can happen without some infrastructure, a road, a rail line, some mechanism for getting that ore out of there.

The St. Lawrence Seaway, the TransCanada Highway, the Ontario Northland Railway — government-led projects all, that more than made up for the cost of their creation by the fruits of the trade they made possible.

But for any of them to go ahead, the capital, the planning and, above all, the vision, had to come from government.

And right now, Ontario’s is myopic.

However, although it might seem like it today, all is not lost.

Amidst all of this bad news, there is one important thing to remember: the Ring of Fire isn’t going anywhere.

There’s still at least $60 billion worth of zinc, nickel, copper, gold and chromite sitting in the ground 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay in the muskeg of the James Bay lowlands.

But the squabbling and the dithering must end. The province has to stop with the platitudes and the promises, and start acting.

It’s time to live up to all that bold talk.


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