Nickel Belt MP proposes “marriage counseling” for Ring of Fire – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – November 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

Nickel Belt (Sudbury) MP Claude Gravelle thinks it’s time to open a new channel of dialogue between Ottawa and Queen’s Park on the Ring of Fire. The Ontario government’s pleas for the federal government to buy into mining development in the James Bay lowlands appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Gravelle wants to stop the political rhetoric and dive into the details as to what exactly the Wynne government wants.

He’s bringing forward a motion before the federal standing committee on natural resources to call the Government of Ontario as a witness to better understand what their needs are to move the stalled multi-billion dollar chromite and base metal project forward.

“I want to try and understand their specific policy concerns and we can determine what federal policy actions we can take,” said Gravelle, a member of the committee which meets Dec. 2.

Following the Nov. 20 decision by Cliffs Natural Resources to indefinitely halt its $3.3-billion Black Thor chromite project, the provincial government has come under fire by the Opposition, Northern leaders and the media for its inaction on providing policy direction on Far North resource development.

The Ring of Fire has devolved into political posturing with Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle accusing Ottawa, in a letter to FedNor Minister Greg Rickford, of being an absent partner in maximizing the development.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s response has been to call the Ring is a pure mineral development play that is not under federal jurisdiction.

“I think what we have to do is get away from the politics,” said Gravelle. “Let’s get the people to the table now. This is a huge project for Northern Ontario and Ontario.”

The cash-strapped Ontario government wants Ottawa to provide matching dollars to finance a transportation corridor to reach the remote mineral deposits. But Queen’s Park isn’t divulging how much it is prepared to invest.

“The best way to find that out is to start talking with the federal government and they haven’t been talking,” said Gravelle. “We want to bring them into the same room in Ottawa and let’s propose some marriage counseling.”

In Feb. 2012, his committee hosted witnesses from Cliffs, Noront Resources, KWG Resources and affected First Nations. “The companies told us very clearly, tell us what the rules are and then we can budget. The First Nations told us very clearly they were not against the Ring of Fire.”

Gravelle wants to bring all the parties back to Ottawa to sort out the misunderstandings, misinformation and develop an action plan.

He said public investment in this massive mining project is a necessity and it will more than pay for itself.

“This Ring of Fire is not going to get developed without public money. It’s too big. Once we use public money we can get it back through taxes, royalties and employment. We can bring in power and save money for the First Nations who have to drive in and fly in diesel.”

Gravelle said there’s no guarantee his motion will produce any results. The Conservative majority on committee may go in-camera and discussion on the motion cannot be made public.

He isn’t convinced the province’s fledgling Ring of Fire development corporation will provide any clarity on policy direction.

“I don’t think the Ontario Liberals themselves know what this means. One of my Toronto colleagues asked for a briefing on their announcement and the response was, we can’t give it to you because we don’t know what it is.”

Gravelle gave credit to Rickford, the federal minister overseeing the Ring, saying the Kenora MP is a definite upgrade over predecessor Tony Clement.

“Rickford is from the Northern Ontario. He understands what the problem is. Tony Clement did not. I have a lot of confidence in Greg that we can get something done.”