The Ring of Fire was missing from this year’s provincial budget when it was presented to Queen’s Park, but Ontario’s mining minister says it hasn’t been forgotten.
The minority-led Liberal government revealed its $127-billion budget in Toronto Thursday. It’s the first budget to be tabled under the leadership of premier Kathleen Wynne. Having six main themes, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the government sought to create a fair and prosperous Ontario.
But Sousa never mentioned the massive chromite deposit in the lower James Bay area, which is expected to bring further prosperity to the province’s North. MPP Michael Gravelle (Lib. Thunder Bay – Superior North) said the Ring of Fire is in the budget.
“We’re providing $5 million in enhanced funding to those First Nation communities closest to the Ring of Fire,” he said. “There’s no question that our commitment to the Ring of Fire is very strong. I’m pleased to see that there will be significant investments going towards related to the Ring of Fire. For many people, the future of the province’s economy will benefit with the North succeeding.”
Gravelle pointed out that the Ring of Fire has been repeatedly mentioned in previous budgets and in the throne speech. He called the budget fair and strong and said he was pleased to see the number of investments being made in the North.
He added that the was pleased that the four-laning of the highway between Thunder Bay Nipigon was mentioned.
But MPP Sarah Campbell (NDP, Kenora – Rainy River) isn’t buying the Liberal MPP’s conclusion.
She argues that just like the speech from Queen’s Park, the Ring of Fire is largely forgotten about in Ontario’s proposed budget.
“It seems we’re going to have another year of stalled development,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be much support for other mining projects. There’s no commitment to transportation or electrification. It doesn’t look very promising the Ring of Fire will get off the ground in the next year.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said that what was mentioned about the Ring of Fire wasn’t new. It was the same thing he heard last year in May when Wynne was Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
“The same references are made,” he said. “I was looking for regional infrastructure such as transmission lines and all-weather roads. To me, there’s no specific language about it. First Nations are saying the same thing; we need to build the infrastructure. That’s the same thing industry is saying to develop these economic interests all throughout the North in order to create jobs, business and create wealth. I don’t see that in this budget.”
He said there’s still big issues surrounding access and the cost of energy that need to be dealt with.
Yesno was also looking for support for education. Last month the province and NAN made a deal to education to First Nation students on par with other Canadians. He said the memorandum of understanding will be the test to see how far they have come.
The government proposed $100 million for small and rural municipalities. The fund would provide support for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Yesno believes that funding would help small municipalities such as Marathon and Greenstone but not necessarily First Nation communities.
Other items mentioned in the presentation included the government saying the deficit will be $9.8 billion, exceeding last year’s forecast by $5 billion. The deficit is project to be $11.7 billion next year.
Sousa said the government is committed to eliminating the deficit by 2017-2018.
The budget also included some tax breaks for small businesses, $295 million over two years for a youth job strategy and more than $35 billion in infrastructure investments over the next three years.
The government also announced a cut auto insurance rates by an average of 15 per cent and a $260-million boost to home care health services and more support for those on social assistance.