Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
THE main player in the big Ring of Fire mineral belt has reiterated a warning it might have to abandon the project while the provincial government continues to say next to nothing. Cliffs Natural Resources upped the severity of its concern this week, saying it is definitely considering an end to its stake in the rich chromite deposit that analysts bet will almost single-handedly rescue the weak economy of Northern Ontario.
Last month, Cliffs expressed dismay at a judicial ruling against its bid for a route out of the Far North, intimating it could impact the company’s future interests. The route would pass over a competitor’s staked land. Before that, it signalled concern by ceasing its environmental review of the project, blaming provincial indecision over responsibilities, among other issues.
Three such warnings are either a signal of genuine misgivings or a case of crying wolf. Apparently, the province believes it is the latter since it continues merely to insist the Ring remains a top priority. Of course it is. Something this big could solve a host of economic issues that have bedeviled successive governments and impoverished many northerners.
Ontario continues to claim that its negotiations with various parties to the Ring of Fire are fruitful, yet all parties remain at odds.
Mining companies are in court over who should get to use what route and method to export ore to southernly rail lines and proposed processing facilities. Mining companies and First Nations continue to haggle over shares of Ring riches. The government remains a target of criticism for its alleged inability or unwillingness to get involved to the extent it could lift the roadblocks to prosperity.
Whereas Cliffs earlier said it wanted to talk to the province about finding other Crown land on which to build its road, it now suggests Ontario could simply expropriate the high ground Cliffs and rival KWG seek to use.
That does not sound unreasonable if KWG is granted something in return. What’s more KWG’s plan for an east-west rail line for ore does far less to effectively connect First Nations than Cliffs’ plan for a north-south road does.
Cliffs is already counting expenses in the millions merely to explore the area. Sooner than later it needs to begin to recoup those expenditures, as does every other mining interest up there.
Ontario needs to place this matter atop its development priority list, get key players into one room and insist on reaching a compromise in the interests of all concerned.