Solving ‘Ring of Fire’ delays up to Ontario, Harper says – by Margo McDiarmid (CBC News – November 22, 2013)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government is not getting involved in sorting out problems in Ontario’s mineral-rich region known as the Ring of Fire.

Harper was in Winnipeg Friday for an event with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger to open a local highway partly funded by the federal government. Asked by a reporter if he was going to do anything to get the Ring of Fire back on track following the decision by a major U.S. mining company on Thursday to suspend its operations in the area, Harper said it isn’t his problem.

“This is a project that is primarily under provincial jurisdiction because ultimately resources belong to the provinces and resource development is a provincial responsibility,” Harper said.

“Obviously we have been talking to Ontario over the past few years in terms of regulatory approval processes, in terms of infrastructure investments and in terms of making sure First Nations continue to benefit,” he told reporters.

“The jurisdiction here is primarily provincial, and ultimately it is private companies themselves that have to make commercial decisions on the viability of projects.”

In other words, it’s Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s problem.

‘Ontario’s oilsands’

The Ring of Fire is considered a northern Ontario mining jackpot, rich in chromite, nickel and gold worth up to $60 billion.

But the remoteness of the area has posed challenges to its development.

Cliffs Natural Resources, the largest of three companies in the region, announced Thursday it’s suspending its chromite project because of an uncertain timeline and risks associated with developing infrastructure.

The area is 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. The company is facing up to $1 billion in costs to build a road to get the minerals south to a rail line.

The plan is snarled in a dispute with another company that has staked a claim to part of the road right-of-way.

In contrast to Harper’s comments Friday, the federal minister responsible for northern Ontario sounded worried. In an telephone interview with CBC News on Thursday, Greg Rickford expressed concern over what he calls the “legacy project” for the remote area.

“We’re very disappointed by this and we take it very seriously,” he said. “Not only does this represent a legacy project for Ontario, but the world, including investors, have their eyes on us and we want to get this right.”

The Conservative government has made it a policy to make resource development a big part of its economic plan. The Ring of Fire is on the list of major projects frequently cited by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

And it’s been called “Ontario’s oilsands” by provincial Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.

Rickford points out his government has invested $4.4 million to help First Nations prepare business plans for the resource activity that may come their way.

But the federal Conservatives seem prepared to wait for the Ontario government to try to get the mining company to return.

Former Liberal Leader Bob Rae, who is the lead negotiator for the Matawa Tribal Council Chiefs, is taking the long view.

“The minerals in the ground aren’t disappearing, they are still there, they won’t go stale,” said Rae in telephone interview with CBC.

“The interests of First Nations haven’t changed either. They’re very committed to working with the government and committed to working with the private sector and seeing what’s possible as we go forward.”

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