Commentary About “Mining Marshall Plan for Northern Ontario” – by Fred Haavisto (Sault Ste. Marie Community Forester)

I read your latest article this evening in Northern Ontario Business (Mining Marshall Plan for Northern Ontario).  This was very well done, informative and a must read for every provincial and federal politician from Ontario.  You have made many key points that should be taken under consideration immediately, if not sooner.   Of course, the article tickled a number of thoughts in the mind of a lowly forester who has experienced the wilds of northern Ontario, especially those areas that have a peat substrate and high water levels.

Thank you for the heads-up on Quebec’s “Plan Nord”.  By your comments, it is much more meaningful than Ontario’s “Growth Plan for Northern Ontario 2011”.  However, as the authors said of the Ontario document….”…This Plan is a strategic framework that will guide decision-making and investment planning in Northern Ontario over the next 25 years”.

Your recommendations for a “Mining Marshall Plan” are to the point, imperative to the implemented, and applies equally well to the forest industry.  In actuality, Mining and Forestry should probably work hand-in-hand. 

1) Transportation infrastructure is necessary for both, but should not be restricted for the sole use of either or both of these sectors.  With free access to the general public, many spin-offs would develop, many not necessarily using either the below-ground or above-ground natural resource. 

2) Energy availability, at reasonable cost is also a necessity for both sectors.  As you mentioned, Xstrata closed the copper refinery in Timmins.  The same applies to the closure of the Tembec operations in Timmins, the Grant Oriented Strandboard plant in Englehart, and numerous other sawmills and plywood plants in northeastern Ontario.  And, as you also insinuated, the jobs went across the border into Quebec with the copper refining, and timber products being shipped from Timmins area into Quebec,  Sure the doldrums that developed in the building market in USA is always given as the scapegoat.  In the forest industry scenario, however, the cost of energy alone should not be blamed. There are technologies throughout Europe (especially Scandinavia) and Asia whereby newer innovative equipment and processes have kept their plants operational.  Why have our industries not modernized?

3) Energy self-sufficiency could be relatively easily attained throughout northern Ontario.  Many of our forest industries located where they could develop their electrical energy via water-power ….but then Ontario Hydro convinced most to sell their generation capacities to them with the promises to be supplied with cheap energy.  Spruce Falls paper in Kapuskasing had Smoky Falls.  Abitibi in Iroquois Falls had three installations and just recently saw fit to sell these (Twin Falls, Iroquois Falls, Island Falls) to private interests who could tap into the provincial government’s Green Act Feed-In-Tariff rates while the company buys their power from the volatile-priced grid.  I don’t understand the thinking by these companies other than for quick profits from a sale.  Many of the sawmills and wood using industries have enormous piles of mill wastes, but rather than using these in an effective co-generation plant, they would rather pay to landfill this material and buy natural gas for their space and process heating needs.

4) You brought up the subject of “Peat”.  You are correct that many of the remote First Nations communities could be energy self-sufficient while providing much-needed employment opportunities.  But more importantly, peat could be used for cogeneration purposes for communities and/or industries.  For example, just after the major mining find at Kidd Creek, that became Xstrata Copper, a colleague and I were asked to evaluate the potential for providing peat for co-generation for the proposed refinery.  The Kidd Creek Mine operation actually had a township and-a-half of peatland adjacent to their operation from which they could have had sufficient fuel almost to perpetuity, and they would not have lost the refining to Quebec in 2010.  Yes, the harvesting of peat (it should not fall under the Mining Act), a renewable resource, should be developed. 

5) You emphasized that processing of natural resources that are harvested, must occur in the north.  This is what the NDPs Horwath just finished saying in front of the closed Xstrata Refinery today, and featured on the late MCTV news. 

6) It is most unfortunate that all policies and guidelines are developed by people from southern Ontario…those who do not have a clear understanding of northern Ontario landscapes, resources, communities/industries, and environments.  They are also not innovative.  People who develop policy for the extraction of northern Ontario’s natural resources must learn to think outside-the-box, and create management and procedure protocols that are based on common sense and assure benefit to the locals.

Keep up the good work.