Ring of Fire logjam broken – by Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (September 12, 2013)

Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

A CO-ORDINATED effort by Northwest First Nations to delay the Ring of Fire mining development appears to have fallen apart. And that’s a good thing. Now First Nations in the zone of the Ring’s major player, Cliffs Natural Resources, can each get on with arrangements to share in the opportunities that can flow from such a large project.

Matawa Tribal Council’s initial concerns were understandable. Told the federal government and Cliffs were jointly pursuing an environmental review, the nine Matawa First Nations in the area worried it would not be sufficient to allay their concerns about potential pollution or include them in the process.

Matawa launched a judicial review of the environmental assessment process and in June Cliffs put a hold on its own environmental impact statement (EIS) citing issues with First Nations, the province and other matters. The sheer enormity of the Ring of Fire meant all parties had to be sure it was done properly. None more than First Nations who have watched resource developments around them come and go with little to show for it.

The Matawa challenge and Cliffs’ shift to neutral seemed to signal an uncomfortable lull in the most exciting economic news the Northwest had heard in many years. Then Webequie First Nation withdrew from the judicial review followed last month by Marten Falls. The review has since been dismissed on agreement by the seven remaining members, Cliffs and Ottawa.

This is not a defeat for Matawa and its members. It is a recognition that delaying the project may endanger it while working together builds a partnership to move forward.

Matawa’s hired hand, Bob Rae’s hands are all over this development. Rae is a pragmatist. He can separate political considerations from reality when necessary, just like he did when, as Ontario’s NDP premier, he asked public service unions to take unpaid days in order to help reduce a punishing provincial deficit. He was roasted by labour and dumped from office. But he was merely ahead of his time as the current Liberal government’s civil service pay freeze shows.

One suspects Rae convinced his new employers to engage in a mutual process of negotiation to ensure that their concerns are answered. Cliffs’ project remains subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment process.

No one should underestimate the importance of getting this thing right environmentally. Nor should anyone doubt the necessity of an efficient and effective process of negotiation to allow Cliffs and the other Ring players to get to work on mining that will mean considerable economic benefits for all communities that are on board.