Ontario Premier McGuinty Welcomes U.S. to OUR Ring of Fire – by Gregory Reynolds (Part 1 of 2)

This column was originally published in the Spring, 2010 issue of Highgrader Magazine which is committed to serve the interests of northerners by bringing the issues, concerns and culture of the north to the world through the writings and art of award-winning journalists as well as talented freelance artists, writers and photographers.

Gregory Reynolds is a Timmins, Canada-based columnist who writes extensively about mining and northern Ontario issues.

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is a man whose word is worthless. There is no question about his string of broken promises; as a politician, he considers his word merely another election tool.

Thus the question to be considered is this: Was he being dishonest in 2008 when he promised to freeze all development, that mainly being mining and forestry projects, in a 225,000 square km swathe of the Boreal Forest; Or was he being dishonest on March 8 this year when he put a promise to allow development of the Ring of Fire into his government’s Throne Speech?

The Ring of Fire is located about 500 km northeast of Thunder Bay and about 100 km directly west of the De Beers Victor diamond mine in the James Bay Lowlands. It is in the middle of the Northern Boreal Forest.

The Ring is believed to be a huge basin, perhaps created by an asteroid, even bigger at 5,120 square km than the fabled Sudbury Nickel Basin.

The Ring so far has seen discoveries of chromite, copper, nickel, gold, silver, palladium, platinum and diamonds. The problem is that there is no way to get the precious and base metals to market as there are no roads or a railway nearby. The waterlogged surface makes travel difficult, except during the December-April period.

Over 35 mining companies are working there and 32,000 claims have been staked. The key discovery is a massive ore body of chromite, used to make stainless steel. There are no chromite mines in North America and the discovery has visions of sugar plums dancing in the premier’s brain.

McGuinty’s statement in the ThroneSpeech is worth quoting: “Your government also knows that Northern Ontarians face particular challenges — and that the global recession has had a deep impact in northern communities.

Your government will ensure the North benefits from its Open Ontario Plan. In 2008, Northern Ontario became home to our first diamond mine.

Your government will build on that success — particularly in the region known as the Ring of Fire. It is said to contain one of the largest chromite deposits in the world — a key ingredient in stainless steel.”

That speech raises several points worth discussion. Not the least of which is McGuinty’s first public admission that Northern Ontario is in dire economic straits.

And a tacit admission that his regime has a responsibility to do something to help the forestry communities devastated by the collapse of the timber and pulp and paper industries.

Unacknowledged is that fact that he has put the province’s mining industry in a straitjacket with his demand that it solves problems arising from Aboriginal land claims and territorial rights.

To ask 101 individual prospectors and mining companies to negotiate 101 agreements with Indians bands that in some instances have overlapping claims to the same land is sheer insanity. Only McGuinty’s government can settle those issues.

That the bands are demanding that anyone entering talks with them pay for the full cost of the negotiating process is pushing absurdity to new heights.

All the while McGuinty sits in the classic three monkey pose, see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.

That, of course, was before March 8. So why does this man who is a master of sitting on fences in his effort to be all things to all people actually go out on a limb and promise the development of the Ring of Fire?

He knew, and events have proven him correct, that the coalition of environmental groups, some politicians, various Aboriginal organizations and ivory tower scientists would turn red in the face and hurl thundering epistles at him. What the premier also knew, as did the various cabinet minsters and bureaucrats involved in backroom briefings, is that there is an important political aspect to the situation.

The involvement of a giant U.S. company with assets of $4.6 billion promising to finance a $1.5 billion project in the Ring means the whole spectrum of Canada-U.S. relations is in play. The fact that tangling with a major U.S. company that wanted to spent big money, create many jobs in the Ontario manufacturing and construction field in the development phase and many more jobs in the actually mining and processing of the chromite is obviously a bad move probably was a big part of the decision.

Also, Ontario wants to retain the U.S. vehicle operations of Chrysler, General Motors and Ford, as well as the auto parts sector. It all creates shades of gray where normally McGuinty would only see black and white. Cleveland Ohio-based Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., to quote its website, “is an international mining and natural resources company.

A member of the S&P 500 Index, we are the largest producer of iron ore pellets in North America, a major supplier of direct-shipping lump and fines iron ore out of Australia and a significant producer of metallurgical coal. With core values of environmental and capital stewardship, our colleagues across the globe endeavour to provide all stakeholders operating and financial transparency as embodied by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework.”

Cliffs, again to quote it, “owns three world-class-calibre chromite deposits within the Ring of Fire, an area in Northern Ontario, Canada, where several major mineral discoveries have been made in recent years.

These deposits include 100% of the “Black Thor” and “Black Label” chromite deposits, and 50% of “Big Daddy,” a contiguous deposit held by a joint venture of Cliffs, KWG Resources, and Spider Resources. As a raw material for steelmaking, chromite complements our iron ore and coal operations, and will allow us to more comprehensively serve our existing carbon steel producing customers.”

The announced plan by Cliffs is to build 350-km railway from Nakina to the chromite deposits, which it has bought in a $174-million stock deal with Freewest Resources. Cliff finally revealed in December 2009 that it had spent a year on technical work involving the deal.

Part 1 of 2