Liberals set to go mining for votes in Ontario’s north – by Christina Blizzard (Toronto Sun)

Christina Blizzard is the Queen’s Park columnist for the Toronto Sun, the city’s daily tabloid newspaper.

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

The big question to ask Northern Development Minister Mike Gravelle when he unveils his long-awaited Northern Development Growth Plan Friday is this: Is this really about jobs, development and good health and education services for the North?

Or is this a last-ditch pitch by the Liberals to shore up their fortunes in a part of the province that has felt shunned and ignored for the past seven years?

The Conference Board of Canada released damning figures Thursday that reveal northern Ontario had the second slowest growth in the country — after northern Quebec.

Hard hit by the downturn in forestry and associated manufacturing, from 1999-2008, northern Ontario clocked only a 3% growth rate. Quebec’s was lowest overall at 2.2% — but neighbouring northern Manitoba’s growth rate was 12.2% and southern Ontario came in at 8.5%.

Fuelled by mining, oil and gas, northern Newfoundland and Labrador notched a whopping 63.8% — the highest percentage growth in GDP per capita in the country.

Gravelle refused to discuss details Thursday, but said the document would be, “By northerners, for northerners.

“It’s not a document where Queen’s Park is telling the north what should happen. “It’s very much a document that will reflect northerners’ priorities,” he said.

That’s a change.

Northerners are tired of having government (a) ignore them or, worse (b) foist on them unpopular programs that sell well with latte-loving eco-babblers in downtown Toronto, but which wreak havoc in the North.

Last year, the government rammed through its Far North Act, over the strenuous objections of northern mayors, chambers of commerce and aboriginal groups who said it will hamper development.

Gravelle would not comment on whether the growth plan will include relief from sky high hydro rates that are threatening to push refining from the ore-rich “Ring of Fire” out of the province.

That happened recently in Timmins, when Xstrata moved its metallurgical site to Quebec, were hydro is cheaper.

Cliff’s Resources is the major developer of chromite in northwestern Ontario and is looking for help building a rail line and infrastructure to the remote site and relief on hydro rates.

Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson says while the economy of the northwest has been decimated, the northeast is not doing so badly.

But you can thank Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi more than Premier Dalton McGuinty for that.

Unrest in the Middle East is causing gold prices to soar. That makes it more economical to expand older mines and open new ones.

“When you’ve got $1,400 (an ounce) gold, you build Detour Lake, you build Northwest, you do these things,” said Bisson, referring to newly opened and expanded gold mines.

“Cliffs and Ring of Fire — it ain’t going to happen unless we deal with the electricity issue and we deal with the infrastructure rail issue,” he said.

For the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Sun website: