Tony Clement takes on responsibility for controversial Ring of Fire – by Peter Koven (National Post – February 20, 2013)

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TORONTO — The federal government is winning accolades for finally naming a point man on the Ring of Fire, a massive mining development in Northern Ontario with many complex issues to unravel.

Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board and head of a federal development organization for Northern Ontario, announced Tuesday that he will take the lead role on the file. He said he was asked to do so by the prime minister.

“There is a lot at stake and we cannot afford to allow this development to stall and become mired in paralysis and uncertainty,” he said in a speech in Thunder Bay.

The Ring of Fire, located in the James Bay Lowlands, is thought to contain $30-billion to $50-billion worth of minerals and is poised to be North America’s first significant source of chromite. A large mining company, Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., is prepared to spend more than US$3-billion to build a mine and key infrastructure in the region.

The discovery of the Ring of Fire created a brief euphoria in 2007 and 2008 as the potential economic benefits of the region sunk in. But development has been extremely slow since then. Cliffs, along with the federal and provincial governments, have struggled to manage very challenging issues around First Nations involvement, environmental management and infrastructure.

At the federal level alone, roughly 15 ministries are involved in the Ring of Fire in some capacity. Stakeholders were often unsure of whom they should be dealing with, and there was a widely held view that the government needed someone to provide leadership on the file.

“I do think having one minister as the point person is a very useful way to move things along more expeditiously,” Michael Gravelle, Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Mines, said in an interview. “It’s a good move and I’m pleased that Minister Clement has taken this on.”

One of Mr. Clement’s first jobs will be to sit down with the First Nations communities closest to the Ring of Fire and listen to the demands of the chiefs.

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