Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
HAS it really been three years? Has the Ring of Fire mining development been formally pursued for that long? Perhaps the time seems shorter because so little has been done. The potential salvation of the withering Northern Ontario economy has been mostly on hold over a series of delays around the inability of decision makers to make decisions.
A development commonly likened to the mighty Alberta oilsands in terms of economic impact is stalled while those who stand to benefit most stand in its way. Senior governments that would reap enormous tax benefits to apply to large budget deficits, and First Nations with the potential to finally climb out of unskilled poverty, have been unable or unwilling to approve even the processes to advance formal proceedings into the methods by which further exploration will continue, let alone how mines will be built.
No wonder the Ring of Fire’s major player, Cliffs Natural Resources, has just announced a halt to its environmental assessment activities for a chromite mine in the James Bay lowlands known to be brimming with mineral potential.
Cliffs appears to be stymied as to how to proceed because it cannot get a decision from either the provincial or federal governments on which EA processes will be applied. Cliffs may have thought it had an agreement to pursue one process but concerns by First Nations, environmental groups and federal agencies that it was not stringent enough have raised the possibility of tougher requirements. A number of First Nations have gone to court in attempts to raise the environmental standards expected of mining companies. Environmental protection is essential in this matter; no one is arguing that. But mining concerns must know what is expected of them.
Cliffs proposed building a road to the Ring, north from Nakina, but faced opposition from rival KWG Resources which has staked claims on the proposed route and which has instead proposed a railroad. Ontario’s Mining and Land Commissioner has reserved decision on Cliff’s application.
Individual First Nations and their regional organizations have placed a series of roadblocks to progress on the entire Ring of Fire development, claiming inadequate consultation and concern over how and to what extent they will benefit. A few First Nations have come to agreements with mining concerns, secure in the promise of job training and economic benefits that will flow from mines. But they are exceptions to the rule of delay and indecision.
Ontario keeps on saying it will encourage the development with attractive energy pricing but it faces the reality of much lower prices in adjoining jurisdictions where mineral processing would be much cheaper. A much ballyhooed smelter in the Sudbury area has still not been approved by the province.
It is not that Cliffs and other key players with stakes in the Ring of Fire want exceptions to the rules in exchange for developing such a huge resource with its attendant economic spinoffs. Miners merely want the certainty of procedures they can participate in, procedures with timelines and ends in sight. Otherwise, investors get nervous, commodities markets change and the future of a development that all of Northern Ontario is counting on is in some doubt.