The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
Can dousing the Ring of Fire with politicians rekindle the spark? All sides are betting it can.
The fate of the Ring of Fire, a 5,120-squarekilometre deposit rich in chromite (a metal hardener) and other minerals with a potential value of $100 billion and a lifespan of 30 or more years, has become murky during the last few months as falling chromite prices have dropped, shares prices of the lead developer — Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources — have fallen, environmental and political processes have stalled and disputes among the mining companies developing the deposit remain unresolved.
Politicians have compared the Ring of Fire to Alberta’s oilsands, which highlights its wealth, but raises red flags among First Nations in northern Ontario about environmental issues.
It was always going to be a massively complicated deposit to develop. There was always too much money involved for this to go smoothly. Ontario stands to gain 1,200 jobs and millions in mining royalties, as well as billions of dollars in private investment to develop the area.
But in June, Cliffs announced it had halted its environmental assessment on its Black Thor deposit because nothing was happening on the political level. Terms of reference for the environmental process have been delayed, a court challenge could force the EA to be more comprehensive and undoubtedly slower than expected, throwing the 2017 opening of Cliffs’ first open-pit mine in doubt. There are countless unresolved land issues and little progress with the Ontario government in negotiations on an infrastructure deal to allow shipment of material from the deposit.
Enter the politicians, current and former.
The federal government has designated Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement as its point politician on the Ring of Fire. Clement hasn’t said much about how he’s going to shepherd this project so far, but he says it’s big.
Former federal Liberal leader Bob Rae represents the Matawa First Nations, a group of nine bands affected by the project — several of which are fly-in communities. They see this as a chance to transform their livelihood, but they want to build up trust with the companies and governments, which can take a long time.
Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci will represent Ontario in discussions with the Matawa Tribal Council. He will report directly to Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, supported by the Ring of Fire Secretariat set up by the province.
Then there’s the wild card, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who doesn’t like what Cliffs plans to do with the ore mined at its Black Thor deposit. The company will process about 600,000 tonnes a year at a proposed smelter near Sudbury, which will create 400 to 500 jobs there, and ship about one million tonnes of concentrate — a lesser processed material — annually to China.
She wants legislation forcing companies to process more material in northern Ontario. The North is an NDP stronghold.
If the Ontario government remains in a minority position and she forces the point, things could be delayed further.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak says he’d expedite the process if he was in power by appointing a minister responsible for the Ring of Fire, though it’s not clear how appointing another politician would make things happen any faster.
There are other delays, such as disputes over road versus rail transportation between companies developing the deposit.
The courts and the province will have a say in resolving that dispute. And since all sides are counting on career politicians with the aid of the courts, count on this being a long, slow process.
For the original version of this column, click here: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2013/08/01/macleod-ring-of-fire-bogged-down-by-politics