Andrea Horwath says people are much more valuable resources than chromite. The NDP leader on Friday said in her mind that means resources mined in Northern Ontario should also be refined in the province.
“If you’re good enough to dig stuff out of the ground, you’re good enough to process it,” Horwath told the region’s leaders on Day 2 of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association’s annual general meeting.
“I believe unless government policy on processing and electricity changes, the benefits of the Ring of Fire are not going to trickle down to the Northwest.”
The current government simply isn’t laying down the infrastructure needed to ensure the multi-billion dollar mining project moves forward, and Horwath said there are no guarantees that First Nation communities will be engaged in either mining jobs or supply-chain spinoffs if and when the Ring of Fire ever gets off the ground.
“We’re concerned that there’s been a real lack of engagement in that regard, and that things are dragging on.” Pointing to electricity rates in both Manitoba and Quebec, Horwath said there is no way for Ontario to compete if something isn’t done.
“The government has ignored how completely uncompetitive those rates make us, not only with processing, but with manufacturing. And let’s face it, every day people are paying a fortune for their hydro. They’re not taking care of the fundamentals that need to be addressed.”
Legislatively, the NDP leader wants to see regulations put in place that force companies to process material extracted from Ontario within the province’s boundaries.
“We could change Ontario legislation so at the very least we could encourage and find the ways to get some of that processing happening in Ontario, so that it’s not just an automatic that it gets shipped away,” Horwath said.
“It’s something we do nationally already. There’s no reason we can’t do it provincially as well.”
Asked about retaliation from other jurisdictions should those measures be put in place, Horwath said the threats suggested by other parties don’t hold water.
“We’re not saying every single speck of chromite needs to be processed here in Ontario. But what we’re saying is there should be some consideration given to make sure we get some of those value-added jobs here. And I don’t think it’s protectionist at all.”
Horwath, who maintained she needs to see a commitment to lower car insurance rates and home health care for seniors, among other things, to support the reigning Liberals when the Ontario budget is released next week, said the NDP has definite plans to ensure a portion mining and stumpage royalties gained in the North stay in the North.
“Do I have right now what will be in our platform, in that regard, no. But we did have it in our last platform and we’re working to make sure it happens again,” Horwath said.