[Ontario] Cabinet roles change in North – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (October 21, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

THE NEW Ontario cabinet isn’t new at all; there isn’t a fresh face in it. But two changes are sparking much speculation here in the North.

Michael Gravelle is no longer Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry. He was moved to Natural Resources to which Forestry has been added. This leaves his successor, Sudbury’s Rick Bartolucci, one less thing to look after in Gravelle’s place. It also suggests Premier Dalton McGuinty believes that mining needs undivided attention as exploration increases across the Far North. Bartolucci is also cabinet chair, adding to his stature.

The forest industry is in trouble and, hopefully, adding Forestry back to Natural Resources means the McGuinty government will develop a comprehensive approach to the boreal forest that enhances new commercial opportunities along with recreation and wildlife.

Gravelle’s new job is not a promotion but neither does it seem to be a demotion; rather, it looks like a lateral move to keep the Thunder Bay MPP’s experience in play on an important northern file.

Bartolucci now gets to make his mark directly on a resurgent mining sector. This is a challenge, to say the least. Relations between the mining industry and First Nations near exploration sites are often troubled over consultation and territorial claims on Crown land.

In August 2006, Justice Patrick Smith of the Ontario Superior Court issued a ruling against the mining exploration company Platinex Inc., in its ongoing dispute with the remote Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug aboriginal community. Platinex was ordered off the site pending consultation that did not work and was paid millions to abandon its claim. Gravelle has been trying to smooth relations between miners and First Nations ever since.

For his part, Bartolucci welcomed Smith’s consultation order as an “important step forward,” but argued that it would not “impact the legitimacy of other mining claims in Ontario.”

This essentially mirrored Gravelle’s approach. It will be interesting to see if that changes now that Bartolucci is in charge of mining and, is so, in whose favour.

Bartolucci’s appointment also suggests that Cliffs Natural Resources, the biggest player in the huge Ring of Fire minerals deposit, may choose Sudbury for its ferrochrome processing facility. Bartolucci’s hometown is already Cliffs’ “test case” location. With considerable mining infrastructure already in place, the appointment of its MPP as Mines Minister signals that Sudbury may have a lock on the processor.

We still think that Thunder Bay’s status as a seaway port gives it a shipping advantage as Cliffs considers its global marketing strategy for the key ingredient in stainless steel.

Gravelle caught grief for insisting he couldn’t advocate for his riding in the Cliffs matter because he had to respect the entire region in his job as Northern Development Minister. Does Bartolucci think the same way? If so, Thunder Bay and Greenstone might still have a chance at the processor. If Bartolucci goes to bat for Sudbury, the minister will hold all the cards.