[Canadian Chamber of Commerce] Championing the Ring of Fire – by Ian Ross (October 29, 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. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business ianross@nob.on.ca.

The Timmins Chamber of Commerce wants Ottawa to partner with mining companies in the Ring of Fire to build the infrastructure needed to reach that future mining camp in the James Bay lowlands.

At the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting in Kelowna, B.C., the Timmins Chamber successfully lobbied to have Canada’s largest business advocacy group push the federal government for more funding for miningrelated transportation and energy infrastructure in the region.

The development of any plan to bring either a permanent road or rail to the remote chromite and base metals exploration camp, 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, appears to be at a stalemate, at least on the provincial level. “The policy that we’ve put forward with the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce is asking the feds to come to the table in a consistent way,” said Nick Stewart, the Timmins Chamber’s manager of policy, research and communications.

Stewart said the chamber would like to see the same degree of federal investment in Ring of Fire development as it would with any highway or major infrastructure works in other parts of Canada.

He accompanied Timmins Chamber president Phil Barton to B.C. for the three-day event attended by nearly 500 delegates representing more than 200,000 member businesses across Canada.

The policy also garnered support from chambers in Sudbury and Terrace, B.C.

With two-thirds support from voting members, the Canadian chamber now takes it up as a priority policy issue to lobby government for the coming three years.

“The Canadian chamber is a really strong voice,” said Stewart. “They’re Canada’s biggest business advocacy group and (president and CEO) Perrin Beatty (a former federal cabinet minister), who leads the charge, is incredibly well respected and is a well-connected gentleman.

“He’s a great voice for moving a lot of this stuff forward and the Canadian Chamber tends to have a lot of success with a lot of these policies.”

First submitted last June, Stewart said it was a long process to get their policy plank filtered through the various committees and caucuses before it reached the floor in Kelowna.

Each year, local chambers are asked to submit recommendations that the Canadian Chamber can take to senior government, but it has to be national in scope.

The Ring of Fire certainly has national strategic value with its high-grade and world-class chromite deposits, which can be used in stainless steel production.

“The Ring of Fire is not just a northwestern or northeastern Ontario issue. It’s really, at this point, a national economic issue,” said Stewart. “Timmins isn’t getting the ferrochrome smelter (originally promised to Sudbury) and it’s not in our immediate backyard like Thunder Bay, but it’s one of those projects that is so significant it’s hard to say anyone in Northern Ontario isn’t going to be impacted in some way.”

The Canadian Chamber released a paper last January suggesting mining infrastructure to remote areas is something that must see investment from all levels of government with participation from the companies themselves.

The Ontario Chamber is currently undertaking a stakeholder survey on the Ring of Fire toward preparing a paper designed to raise awareness and conversation on this region to a national level.

Last September’s decision by the Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner to deny Cliffs Natural Resources access to its chromite properties over the mining claims of KWG Resources has further muddied the issue of how a regional development plan will come together.

While the Ontario government’s overall plan to develop the Ring remains unclear, Stewart gets the sense Northerners are eager to see things move forward.

“Roadblocks seem to come up as fast as people try to take them down. But I think people are optimistic and everyone understands this is such a complex project that there are going to be these types of obstacles and it’s not going to be easy to connects the dots.

“There are issues that need to be addressed and in the right way. It’s such an enormous project with huge potential that people are willing to wait maybe to sort things out appropriately.”

One Ring of Fire junior miner, KWG Resources, and the unions for the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) both want the publicly-owned railway to be the exclusive rail hauler for the Ring of Fire built around a port authority concept with federal oversight.

The future of the ONTC is being discussed by a special advisory committee led by Ontario Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle.

Stewart couldn’t speak to that but said the chamber has been a staunch supporter of the ONTC as a big economic driver for Northern Ontario.

“What it’s role might be in the Ring of Fire, I don’t really know.”