Stop petty squabbles and help Ontario’s Ring of Fire succeed (Toronto Star Editorial – November 30, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Ontario’s Ring of Fire mining development is worth an estimated $60 billion but it’s being delayed by bad political decisions.

Bob Rae is a man of many hats. He’s been the NDP premier of Ontario, the interim federal Liberal leader and is currently the chief negotiator and counsel for the Matawa First Nations.

Now, at least temporarily, he’s playing the role of rational adult, calling on Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stop their petty squabble over the development of northern Ontario’s massively lucrative Ring of Fire, 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

As Rae told Toronto’s Empire Club last week: “It is, to me, deeply troubling that those two governments still can’t agree on who’s responsible for what. This is challenging for the First Nations. It’s also challenging for companies that are trying to do business. We need to create some certainty.” Amen to that.

While Rae’s loyalties obviously lie with the aboriginal groups who hired him to represent their interests in the Ring of Fire’s estimated $60 billion worth of chromite and other minerals, it’s time both governments were publicly held to account.
However entrenched their respective political positions may be, the Ring of Fire’s potential impact on Ontario’s lagging economy is too important to ignore. Can’t we all just get along?

In the current impasse, both sides are getting hung up on concerns that include environmental assessments, native land claims and the cost of building mining roads. Indeed, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. noted those three problems earlier this month when it suspended development of a plan that would have created 1,200 jobs. The company blamed the province, but two weeks earlier Wynne had written a letter, to no avail, asking Harper to help with the cost of $2 billion in roads and other infrastructure.

When Cliffs announced its indefinite retreat, Harper retreated to theories of rugged capitalism, saying, “private companies themselves . . . have to make commitments decisions based on the viability of projects.” He dismissed the setback, calling it a provincial issue and blithely went on with his day. It was a totally inadequate response.

After all, as Wynne — rightly — pointed out, the Conservative government has quite willingly partnered with Alberta and Newfoundland on their resource projects. Surely, the biggest mineral boom in Canada’s largest province deserves the same kind of federal support.

Sadly, for thousands of people who would like the well-paying that jobs the Ring of Fire promises, partisanship may defeat the potential economic boom.

Unless more voices like Rae’s demand accountability, delays to the development will continue. Certainly, the vast tracts of minerals won’t wither away. But the project could be Ontario’s version of Alberta’s oilsands, creating desperately needed employment at a time when other industries are cutting loose thousands of workers.

It’s hard to imagine the political obtuseness needed to let an opportunity of this scale slip away — yet that’s exactly what we’re watching unfold. What a shame.

Perhaps federal and provincial politicians need reminding that the economic doldrums are weighing heavily on Ontarians. Voters aren’t in the mood for lost opportunities.

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