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

Using a subsidiary of KWG Resources, Canadian Chrome Corporation, (Cliffs had quietly became KWG’s principal shareholder before the project leaked out in a one paragraph item in a monthly magazine in September 2009) Cliffs was able to avoid publicity.

What people should be asking McGuinty is two things: when did he become aware of the project and more importantly, what did he promise Cliffs to get it to commit to a project where native groups were likely to block it for many years, perhaps decades?

Cliff has said it expects to put the $800-million mine into production by 2015. It plans to spend $10 million this year on the project.

The original plan was to have Cliff’s railway link up with the Canadian National Railway main line and transport ore to Thunder Bay where a smelter and electric arc furnace complex would be built.

The 400,000 to 800,000 tonnes of ferrochrome produced per year would be shipped to U.S. steel companies.

The projects is supposed to create 4,500 direct full-time jobs, plus of course the spin-offs. Just to add some spice to this bubbling plot is the fact that the minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry is Michael Gravelle, who, by sheer luck, happens to represent the provincial riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North.

Gravelle loved the whole idea of that kind of economic development and its benefits to Northern Ontario – and perhaps his riding – but problems with the CNR led to a change in plans. By late December, the company was eyeing the Longlac-Nakina-Geraldton area for processing, which would also include a gravity separator.

Gravelle is now a spokesperson for the government, saying in a letter to the Toronto Star published March 15: “The McGuinty government committed to protecting 225,000 square kilometres – or approximately half – of the northern boreal region. “That commitment remains, and we are moving forward with a community-based land use planning system for this region.

The Ring of Fire belt currently being explored for mineral development is a little over 5,000 square kilometres. Any mining development that might occur in the area would be a fraction of that size.” The MPP for the adjoining riding to Gravelle, Kenora-Rainy River, is less than thrilled. He is Howard Hampton, a former leader of the New Democratic Party, and this is what he said in the legislature: “…… if the McGuinty government wants to develop the mining potential of the Ring of Fire region, it must begin with an open and honest consultation and accommodation of the rights and interests of the First Nation communities who live there.

“While the McGuinty government boasts, two of the six First Nations located closest to the Ring of Fire are continuing to conduct a blockade at the ice landing strips that you approved and meant to service the mining industry,” said Hampton during Question Period.

“Kasibonika Lake First Nation has dozens of members of their community who are trained in prospecting and mining exploration. How many of those people are being employed by the companies who are interested in the Ring of Fire? Zero,” he added.

“Eabametoong First Nation hears over the news that a company is considering building a 400-kilometre railway through their traditional territory. Yet there has been no consultation or discussion with this First Nation,” he pointed out.

“Did the McGuinty Liberals learn anything from the debacle you created between Platinex and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation? It doesn’t seem so, because you seem to be on the same road here,” said Hampton, referencing the mining claims near Big Trout Lake First Nation abandoned by the platinum exploration company Platinex in December of last year in exchange for $5-million from government coffers.

The McGuinty Liberals failed to consult and accommodate KI First Nation which led to a serious disagreement and dispute that harmed the First Nation and was a national embarrassment for the McGuinty government.

“The First Nations located near the Ring of Fire (Webequie, Kasibonika Lake, Summer Beaver, Neskantaga, Eabametoong, Marten Falls, and Attiwapiskat) need to see real consultation and accommodation from the Ontario government. They want an agreement that safeguards their natural environment, provides revenue sharing, real jobs and economic benefits from any mining development that occurs in the Ring of Fire region,” Hampton said.

As do all NDP members, Hampton is an artist in projecting righteous indignation…..and promising the moon from the safety of being the third party in a three-party legislature. That there must be consultation with Aboriginal groups is understood by all parties but one of the actions by Cliffs has rankled several bands.

The U.S. company hired engineers and had them survey two possible routes (actually they are the only two as James Bay Lowlands is mostly a flat area covered with muskeg) from civilization into the Ring. There are no roads, although Cliffs is talking about building a road along side its eventually rail line.

Instead of negotiating with the bands to acquire title, Cliffs staked the routes as mining claims. This gave it both the surface and mineral rights.

Remember, in Ontario surface and minerals rights are two separate legal entities. The company said it will drill these claims for minerals.

It also meant the Ontario government had a problem since it has to accept all mining claims legally staked and worked. What to do, what to do, what to do. The solution was obvious, place the Ring outside the proposed 225,000 km no-development area. After all, the nearby Victor diamond mine was already exempt.

Gravelle says where the protected area will be is “yet to be determined.” The theme of the Throne Speech was that McGuinty has an Open Ontario Plan, a road map back to good times based on job creation. The Ring plan has been welcomed by several groups, such as Ontario Mining Association’s president Chris Hodgson, who attended the Throne Speech as an invited guest of Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“It is positive to see mining recognized in this important address as a contributor to solving Ontario’s economic challenges,” said Hodgson. Two of the newer members of the OMA are directly involved in exploration and development activities in the Ring of Fire area.

Ontario Chambers of Commerce president Len Crispino on March 9 said development of the chromite could be the economic salvation of Ontario’s struggling manufacturing sector. Speaking for his organization’s 60,000 members, Crispino said “it is time we look at how an area such as this can make a major contribution in terms of some new industries developing.”

The Throne Speech did not impress Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse who responded with disappointment to the Ontario government’s “Open Ontario” Throne Speech, describing it as a five- year plan without a genuine commitment to work with First Nations on issues beyond consultation and economic development.

“The Speech made a general statement about promoting economic development and consultation with Aboriginal people — this statement fails to commit Ontario to act. Simply claiming that you will promote an idea is not a commitment to act,” said Chief Toulouse.

“How First Nations are consulted and accommodated is integral to our relationship with government and industry as is the issue of the mutual recognition and respect for inter-governmental relations. It should not be surprising to anyone if we continue to see frustration in our communities if these fundamental issues are not addressed,” he said.

All the elements are in place for a confrontation that may determine whether the mining industry is welcome in Ontario.