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Thank you, Mike, for your kind introduction. I would like to begin by commending the organizers for putting together this third annual conference promoting mineral development in Ontario.
Conferences like this provide a tremendous opportunity to exchange ideas on how to better drive mineral development across our great province.
As both the Minister of Northern Development and Mines and a passionate northerner, my top priority continues to be promoting a strong northern Ontario economy and helping to develop vibrant mining and mining supply & services sectors across the province.
With a good part of this conference proceedings focused on the Ring of Fire, I would like to take the opportunity today to comment on the evolution of this historic undertaking.
As the single largest deposit of chromite in North America, the Ring of Fire has the potential to yield an estimated 2.3 million tonnes of chromite per year over a 30-year mine life.
Experts are calling it a “once-in-a-generation discovery” that would establish a new mineral resource area in Ontario and could represent a “game-changer” for the ferrochrome industry in North America. It also presents significant long-term employment opportunities for many generations to come.
Northern communities and first nations are important contributors to Ontario’s mining cluster, and all are in a position to play an important role in providing the technical skills, expertise and critical mass needed to help move these developments forward.
The Ring of Fire is definitely a complex project and our government is fully committed to seeing sound, strategic development move forward in this region, subject of course, to meeting the proper environmental assessments and ensuring that we fully meet our duty to consult with the appropriate First Nations and Métis.
I’d like to address Recent comments from Cliffs’ and others expressing concern over delays head-on.
Quite frankly, large and multi-faceted projects, such as that proposed by Cliffs, take a number of years to plan and develop; with many aspects running parallel to each other.
I’m pleased to see that despite their concerns, both Cliffs and Noront have made it very clear that they remain fully committed to their projects and want to see them move forward.
Our government will continue to stay the course. We will continue our dialogue with companies planning to develop in the region and we will continue to engage with First Nations.
I am particularly pleased with the advances we have made in engaging First Nations in a dialogue around development of the Ring of Fire.
The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has worked diligently with First Nations across the Far North at a grassroots level for many years – long before the advent of the Ring of Fire.
Our government has worked with both industry and First Nations communities on matters of relationship building and consultation; and I’m pleased to say that we have accomplished a lot.
Across Ontario, more than 100 key agreements have been signed between exploration companies and First Nations and Métis, with more being negotiated currently.
Over the past year alone, we have had more than 30 meetings with Ring of Fire communities to discuss their full participation in the proposed developments.
Earlier this year, Premier Wynne, Aboriginal Affairs Minister, David Zimmer and I met with the Matawa Chiefs to learn about their proposed community-driven regional process. I was also able to join the Matawa Chiefs at their annual gathering to participate in a discussion about moving this project forward.
I’m pleased to say that our government has accepted the Matawa Tribal Council’s request and have committed to appointing a lead negotiator to sit with Bob Rae, the lead negotiator for the Matawa Chiefs, as we work together to develop this historic undertaking.
We want to ensure that First Nations communities participate in the decision-making process so they can benefit fully from sustainable natural resource development.
With that in mind, I am very pleased to note that the 2013 Ontario Budget is providing $5 million in funding to those First Nation communities closest to the Ring of Fire that will be invested in education, job training and job creation.
This investment builds upon existing initiatives and assists in developing new initiatives focused on community engagement and capacity, building support for Ring of Fire Communities.
We are also pleased to fund, and work with Matawa’s Ring of Fire Coordinator who is working with the member communities, companies and our government to develop a strategic regional approach to Ring of Fire developments.
Just last November, we supported the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in implementing its one-year Aboriginal Skills Advancement Pilot Program for clients of Kiikenomaga Kilenjigewen Employment & Training Services.
This program has been a fantastic success and I look forward to attending the graduation of their first group of students next week, right here in Thunder Bay.
As I’ve said before, our government remains committed to ensuring that all aspects of this development progress in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner, and with due respect for the pending environmental assessment and regulatory processes.
While Ontario works closely with First Nations and Industry, it is apparent that if we are to realize the full potential benefits of the potential development in the Ring of Fire, we need the federal government to come to the table as full partners.
The federal government’s appointment of the Honourable Tony Clement as the minister responsible for Ring of Fire developments is a hopeful sign and I acknowledge that they have committed some investment through FedNor to assist with Aboriginal Skills Training.
However, Ontario has called and continues to call on the federal government for a financial commitment to help share the costs associated with regional infrastructure and socio-economic supports for First Nations communities.
You have all heard the impressive figures associated with the Ring of Fire with respect to job creation associated with the proposed mine sites, the construction of an all-season road, and the ferrochrome processing facility.
During construction, mining, transportation and primary metal infrastructure of the Cliff’s project is expected to generate employment for approximately 1,700 people a year, over two thirds of whom would be in Northern Ontario.
During operation, the Cliff’s project is expected to generate direct and indirect employment of more than 5,000 people a year in Ontario – including new jobs in the mining supply and services sector as well as from the spending of wages.
We envision a broad range of local and regional business opportunities which will drive growth, increase investment and open up the North for future generations.
Here in Thunder Bay, activity coming out of the Ring of Fire, could stimulate its mining supply and services sector, which currently employs over 1,600 people at approximately 130 companies. It could also strengthen its position as the northwest’s health, education, training and social services centre.
The Municipality of Greenstone is strategically located at what could be a main junction of rail and road access to and from the Ring of Fire. It could result in the community becoming a major transportation hub.
By working in a responsible, inclusive manner, I am confident that the benefits from the Ring of Fire will ripple throughout Northern Ontario.
At the same time, I do want to remind everyone that mining in Ontario is much more than just the Ring of Fire.
As Minister of Northern Development and Mines, my focus is as much on tomorrow as it is on today. Our province has already seen unprecedented mineral development in the past, but as we look towards the future I am invigorated by the promise that lies before us and the significant growth potential that can be seen across northern Ontario.
Our government has worked hard over the last decade to drive the sustainability of our mining sector. In our view, success today lays the foundation for greater success in the future.
We have taken significant steps to improve our tax regime so that it strongly promotes mineral development.
Recent tax changes have positioned Ontario as one of the most attractive locations in the industrialized world for new business investment. We have cut Ontario’s Corporate Income Tax (CIT) rates for large and small businesses, introduced a Harmonized Sales Tax, and our Mining Tax regime is the lowest of all jurisdictions in Canada.
We’ve created programs like our Northern Industrial Electricity Incentive Program, which reduces electricity rate for companies if they create new jobs and bring new investment to Ontario.
We are also modernizing the Mining Act in consultation with industry and environmental stakeholders, First Nations and Métis communities.
Under the Aboriginal Capacity pilot project, our government has provided financial support for a mineral advisor position so that communities impacted by exploration activities will be able to provide their input in an informed and timely manner.
Changes to Ontario’s Mining Act strengthen our mining industry and establish a framework for improved social responsibility. They also increase certainty and provide the clarity that the mining industry needs in order to make informed investment decisions.
These measures promote long-term sustainability and global competitiveness.
Our government is also working to promote and strengthen Ontario’s mineral cluster. Our province boasts a strong business climate with numerous areas of expertise, ranging from exploration, mine development and rehabilitation, environmental technology, and engineering, to consulting and project management services, as well as health and safety.
All of these services support a successful and strong mineral sector which, in Northern Ontario alone, comprises about 500 companies and organizations, employing a workforce of 23,000 that produces a total output value estimated at $5.6 billion. Thunder Bay, with its growing mining supply and services sector is an increasingly important part of this.
We all know that mineral development is a high stakes undertaking at the best of times. Ontario’s ongoing commitment to excellence is greatly improving the odds for mineral developers across our province.
Clearly, investing in exploration today translates into the development of mines tomorrow.
In my view, as more countries around the world urbanize, the demand for mineral products will only increase; and we will work tirelessly to ensure that it’s Ontario, that will be supplying those products to global markets.
With 40 mines currently operating, Ontario remains the country’s largest producer of non-fuel minerals.
Our province is among the leading global producers of platinum, nickel, cobalt, gold, silver, copper and zinc. And, we are also in the select group of jurisdictions that produces, process and market diamonds.
For more than a decade, Ontario has led our nation in mineral exploration spending. We remain among the top ten mineral investment jurisdictions in the world. As a result, more new mines have opened here over the last ten years than anywhere else in Canada.
As our government works to eliminate the deficit and preserve the gains we’ve made in health and education, our vibrant mining industry is playing a large role in creating economic activity and jobs.
With this in mind, the Government of Ontario is committed to assisting the industry in opening at least eight new mines over the next 10 years.
In addition to the two projected mines in the Ring of Fire, there are nine mining projects in Northwestern Ontario that are expected to be operational by 2017, most with an expected mine life of more than 10 years.
In anticipation of this growth, the provincial government contributed $75,000, through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to the develop a Mining Readiness Strategy which was recently released by the Thunder Bay Alliance.
The Mining Readiness Strategy will be helpful in preparing Northwestern Ontario communities to capitalize on the growing mining sector in the region.
It will provide a basis for provincial government and municipalities to work together to advance sustainable mineral development for the benefit of all in the region.
Indeed, the future looks bright for mining in Northern Ontario and both communities and first nations across the north stand to benefit significantly from thousands of new jobs and infrastructure projects throughout the region.
Our government is working hard to ensure that our mineral sector remains strong and that Ontario continues to be one of the best places in the world to do business. We are working towards that vision applying sound, stable management to create advantages and opportunities for mineral developers and prosperity for First Nations and northern communities.
As long as we continue to work together, I know we can achieve that vision.
Thank you very much.