Less than a month ago, Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas attended an open house in Capreol hosted by Cliffs Natural Resources.
The Ohio-based mining company laid out plans for the ferrochrome production facility it may build in Capreol to process ore from its Black Thor chromite deposit in the James Bay coast region known as the Ring of Fire.
“It is hard not to get excited when you see that kind of stuff in a room,” Gélinas said.
Recently, however, Gélinas has been hearing that Cliffs may seek an exemption to the province's mining act so that it can ship concentrate from the deposit to refineries outside of Canada, most likely to China.
“I thought 'hmm, that was certainly not mentioned when I was (at the open house),'” she said.
A booklet about the project handed out at the open house does mention that some concentrate may be shipped to foreign refineries.
“The project will take advantage of the global market for chromite concentrate,” the booklet said. “Approximately one million tonnes of concentrate could be sold annually to world markets.”
For Gélinas, the idea of shipping chromite out of Ontario for processing is out of the question.
“These are our natural resources,” she said.
“They are there to create wealth for the people of Ontario. They are ours. We own this. To agree to have all of the prosperity that comes with the natural resources of our province shipped to China is a non-starter to us.”
Cliffs officials had not responded to Northern Life's request for an interview at press time.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Sudbury MPP and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci debated the issue in the legislature Dec. 5.
Horwath asked if the premier plans to “allow the minister to simply sign off on shipping that chromite out of Ontario.”
“Our shared responsibility is to do everything that we can to maximize the benefits of the development of the Ring of Fire for the people of Ontario, but I will not go so far as to erect protectionist walls around the province of Ontario,” McGuinty said.
“There are so many jobs today in Ontario that count on our receiving raw goods from other parts of the world, so that we can process those here and then feed our families here, as a result of those jobs.”
Horwath then asked if Bartolucci has spoken with Cliffs officials and told then what his plans are with regards to granting the exemption.
“This is an opportunity that this government isn't going to squander,” Bartolucci said, in response to the question.
“We're going to ensure that we maximize the job potential that is associated with the Ring of Fire not only in the extraction, but with the rest of the parameters around mining.”
Northern Life also requested an interview with Bartolucci about the subject, but was turned down. Bartolucci's communications director, Laura Blondeau, instead issued a short e-mail statement.
“Cliffs would have to apply for an exemption to ship outside of Canada for processing,” she said.
“They haven't done so, and they would have to build a case as to why they should receive an exemption. There's nothing more to say on this right now. The government is not going to engage in conjecture over something that hasn't occurred. It's a hypothetical situation.”
Gélinas said she's discouraged the government isn't insisting Cliffs process the Ring of Fire chromite in Ontario.
“To me, this is a golden opportunity to set the tone,” she said.
“By not stating clearly that the natural resources will be processed in Ontario, what are they really saying? That they're open to such a suggestion (of the chromite being process outside of Ontario).”
Gélinas said she's getting the sense the government is willing to “sell the farm” for Cliffs to start producing and creating jobs as quickly as possible.
She said she suspects this has to do with the Liberals wanting to look good before the next provincial election, which could be sooner rather than later, given the Liberals' minority government status.
“But we're saying that expediency doesn't justify selling our natural resources to create wealth someplace else,” she said.
Posted by Heidi Ulrichsen