Northern MLA’s: Lead now or leave [northern Ontario stainless steel] – by David Robinson (Northern Ontario Business – October 2013)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business  provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North.  

Dave Robinson is an economist with the Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development at Laurentian 

Northern MP’s have come to a time of reckoning. They hold the balance of power in Ontario. The five NDPers and one conservative can change the North. In the next few months we get to see if they have the vision and the guts to act.

The provincial legislature has 107 members. There are 50 Liberals. Any four Northern members can make a deal with Catherine Wynne: Give us one really big win for the north and we’ll give you one more year of power.

There are several policies that are worth breaking party lines for. Leaving resource revenues in the north, creating a regional government, control of Ontario Northland and northern transportation policy, and especially the big one, creating a stainless steel industry for the North based on the Ring of Fire.

If Northern MLA’s deliver any one of these changes they will be heros. They will own their election seats for the next 100 years. If they don’t even try, northerners should throw the toothless pussycats out. They will have thrown away the North’s future.

The really big opportunity is to make sure that the chromite from the Ring of Fire is used to create a stainless steel industry in Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario has almost everything it needs to succeed. We have chromite, nickel, ports on the Great Lakes to supply iron ore, a rail system, and even a steel mill in Sault Ste Marie. What we lack is a business class with guts and a government with vision.

Cliffs Natural Resources intends to ship out more than half of the 3.2 million metric tons of concentrate it will produce out of the country. No other jurisdiction in the world would let this happen. Every other G8 country has a stainless steel industry. The government of Ontario, so long committed to sucking resources out of the North and subsidizing southern industry, doesn’t seem to know there is a problem.

Finland provides a model of vision and self respect. Starting in 1959 with a smaller and lower grade chromium deposit than we have, and facing weaker world demand, the Finns decided to create an integrated stainless steel facility literally in the arctic. It took them almost 20 years to get it into production, but not one pound of chromite ore leaves Finland before it is transformed into stainless steel. The policy is simple: “Mineral raw materials produced in Finland are only exported to a very small extent. Consequently Finnish raw materials primarily benefit downstream production within Finland.”

There will be at least a hundred-years of development around the Ring of Fire. It can drive real economic development in the North or it can leave holes in the North. Our six Northern MLA get to decide now.

So lets start the roll call for the Legion of Northern Heroes. John Vanthof, of Timiskaming-Cochrane – are you there? France Gélinas, in Nickel Belt and Michael Mantha for Algoma-Manitoulin – will you stand up? What about you, Sarah Campbell from Kenora-Rainy River. Do you have the nerve to make the play of a lifetime? And Gilles Bisson, MLA for Timmins-James Bay. You are the NDP’s house leader. If anyone can make this work, you can. It really is time to lead, Gilles!

Vic Fedeli from North Bay is a conservative. He is known as a guy who does what has to be done. Vic, can you see the future of the North slipping away? You have two conservatives allies on the southeastern fringe of Northern Ontario. Could you bring in John Yakabuski of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke and Norm Miller from Parry Sound-Muskoka? If you can, the battle is won.

The Liberal minister of Northern Development and Mines would have to join or look like a traitor to the North. That would make it an all-party project.

Going against you party, even for a short time, is tough for an MLA. If you don’t bring home the bacon it could cost you your political life. On the other hand, not making the big play when the chance comes will cost you self-respect and a place in the history books. It will cost the North its last great chance for real economic development.