Ontario Ring of Fire Coordinator Christine Kaszycki builds trust and shepherds Northern development – by Ian Ross

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business  provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business ianross@nob.on.ca and this article is from the March, 2011 issue.

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

Christine Kaszycki has to maintain a delicate balancing act. Appointed as the province’s Ring of Fire Coordinator last fall, she’s has the wide-ranging task of keeping Aboriginal people, Northerners and the mining companies all on the same page to advance the biggest mineral find in Ontario since the turn of the last century.

Kaszycki, a former assistant deputy minister of the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDMF), already has well-established relationships with mining companies and many Aboriginal leaders in the Far North.

Though living in Sudbury, she regularly commutes to Thunder Bay, where she is staffing up a secretariat’s office there, and travels to the Northern communities for constant consultation with Aboriginal leaders.

Kaszycki views the job as evolving over time. For now, she’s concentrating on building capacity to prepare people in the Far North, many living in Third World-like poverty conditions, to take advantage of all the positive spinoffs from the looming mining projects in the James Bay Lowlands.

“One area of focus critical to achieving that objective is working with communities to understand what they’re capacity needs are, and to bring the right kind of program supports to the table to ensure they’re developing the building blocks to effectively participate.” Strengthening her effort is the McGuinty government’s pledge last year to commit $45 million over three years for a “new projectbased skills training program” to help Aboriginal and Northerners get involved in emerging economic development opportunities.

The Ring of Fire in the McFaulds Lake area of the James Bay Lowlands is roughly 535 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. It’s the location of multiple chromite and base metal deposits whose development within the next decade is expected to cost billions and stands to be a life-altering change for First Nation communities.

Two major mining players — Cliffs Natural Resources and Noront Resources – are in the planning and early development stage for their chromite and base metal projects. There clearly will be a need for infrastructure development for either road or rail.

“Over the longer term, we could see the opportunity for growth continuing in that region and it will be an ongoing series of discussions and relationship building with the communities to ensure that their needs are being addressed and they’ve got the right kinds of capacity and support to be able to participate in the initiatives as they unfold.”

A professional geologist, Kaszycki has worked with the Geological Survey of Canada and the Ontario Geological Survey. She has already helped spearhead some amendments to Ontario’s Mining Act, including incorporating Aboriginal consultation in legislation.

But she has also witnessed what can happen when the consultation process goes horribly wrong. Kaszycki was on the government’s side in a long-running dispute between Canadian junior miner Platinex and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation which saw six community jailed and lawsuits launched against the government and First Nation. The government paid Platinex $5 million to walk away from their claims.

Kaszycki said the key lesson learned “was the need to engage early and build sound relationships that will help foster dialogue. “There are a lot of issues that chief and council handle on a daily basis. That’s why it’s important to facilitate a relationship early and provide a systemic framework around having a conversation.”

Kaszycki views her role strictly as a facilitator for First Nation communities and industry to come together and build lasting relationships for future business opportunities. “We are not, and have not, been at the table for any specific negotiations.”

Those deals between communities and companies, she said, can start at the early exploration stage and move up to Impact Benefit Agreements.

Last September, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation warned of conflict with the province’s controversial passage of the Far North Act, Bill 191, which would remove 50 per cent of the land mass in the Far North from any future economic development opportunities. First Nations argue it compromises their treaty rights. Kaszycki was hopeful the ongoing relationship-building can mitigate any action taken.

“Part of our outreach with First Nation communities and Aboriginal organizations is to continue to work on those relationships and part of that is building the foundational pieces to help all parties understand where there is opportunity and benefit.”