A billion-dollar promise by the provincial government to fund an all-season transportation corridor to reach the Ring of Fire remains just that.
A month after Ottawa made no mention and released no funding for the Far North mineral belt in the federal budget, Queen’s Park decided to followed suit.
It’s been ten years since Noront Resources discovered its high-grade Eagle’s Nest copper-nickel deposit in the James Bay region, but Sudbury MPP and provincial energy minister Glenn Thibeault said the government is still committed to the cause.
"Absolutely nothing has changed,” Thibeault told Sudbury.com.
“I know the Opposition members from Northern Ontario are all running around with their hair on fire saying there's nothing in there for the Ring of Fire.
"We have not changed. We are solely committed to making sure that we can get the Ring of Fire up and running."
Since April 2014, Ontario has been challenging Ottawa to match its $1-billion commitment to help blaze a corridor through the Canadian Shield to reach the remote and undeveloped deposits in the James Bay lowlands, and help boost the North’s stagnate economy.
"Even though it's not explicitly mentioned in the budget, it's still there,” said Thibeault.
“We've got a lot invested in this. We want to make sure that this happens. But we do have to do our duty to consult with our First Nations.
"We also need to do our due diligence to make sure we get this right. We all want to see this happen as quickly as possible, we are continuing to see strides made in terms of negotiations, in terms of making sure that the investments are there from the private sector."
Before Northern Development Minister and Mines Michael Gravelle went on personal leave, Thibeault said progress was being made in moving the yardsticks.
"In terms of our commitment to the Ring of Fire, it hasn't changed."
In a news release, Nipissing MPP and finance critic Vic Fedeli declared the Ring of Fire “gone.”
“It came as a serious shock to see that this year’s budget removed all mention of the Ring of Fire. After three years of promises the Wynne government has completely abandoned this critical mining project.”
He further pointed out that the budget takes $70 million away from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
“The ministry helps to establish mining operations all over Northern Ontario, creating good well-paying jobs that help to grow our Northern economy — obviously not a concern of this government.”
Noront Resources, the largest player in the Ring of Fire, plans to start construction on its remote Eagle's Nest nickel mine site in 2018, followed by work on its Blackbird chromite deposit.
To do that, they’re relying on the Ontario government to make a decision on the route of an access road and to release the infrastructure funding. Approval is also needed from area First Nation communities.
Noront CEO Alan Coutts was unavailable for comment.
Last January at a speech in Sudbury, Coutts hinted if things don't get moving soon, their financiers and investors are going to lose patience.
“We don't want to abandon it. But if there's no money, there's no money,” said Coutts.
“[Our investors] have been patient, but they're running out of patience.”
There may be hope that Ring of Fire funding could be released in the spring 2018 pre-election budget. The final report of the government’s multimodal strategy for Northern Ontario will be presented to premier and cabinet in the fall. Since 2011,
Ministry of Transportation has been studying how people and freight move across the region; surveyed business, industry, community and First Nation leaders; and held stakeholders sessions to gather feedback on how to plan and improve transportation infrastructure over the next 25 years.
Once revealed it would provide the government with direction and infrastructure funding recommendations to improve the region’s transportation systems for road, rail, marine, air and other modes.
With files from Darren MacDonald/Sudbury.com