Digging into the Ring of Fire – by Anna Baggio (Huffington Post – December 3, 2013)


Anna Baggio is the Director Conservation Planning, CPAWS Wildlands League.

Oh the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair that has occurred in various media outlets and around the province since news broke that Cliffs will suspend indefinitely its Chromite Project in northern Ontario. It wasn’t a surprise to those of us who follow global market prices, corporate boardrooms and here at home the environmental assessment processes. The project had been sputtering for quite some time.

With news of the indefinite suspension by Cliffs, there has been a lot of finger pointing and apportioning of blame. But I think this is a distraction from bigger, more important issues such as how should Ontario develop its non-renewable resources in the Ring of Fire? “The Ring” is more than Cliffs after all. How should we address neighbouring First Nations decades long infrastructure needs? How do we make sure the Ekwan, Attawapiskat and Albany Rivers will be clean and healthy forever? How do we all make best use of limited public resources? How do we ensure there is transparency and integrity around decision-making and that First Nations are respected?

There are some who think the solution lies in “speeding up the process” for new mines to go ahead in the Ring of Fire. We’ve been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt, thank you very much. Efforts to speed things up over the past four years have resulted in lawsuits, conflicts, wasted resources, bitter feelings and delays.

It’s time for all of us to take a deep breath and turn our attention to designing a thoughtful regional strategic environmental assessment so that the ecosystems in this area can be maintained, First Nations respected and industry can finally get the certainty it seeks. It’s not the job of a company to do it (although their participation is needed). The province has to take the lead and Canada needs to play a constructive role.

One of the factors Cliffs stated a few months ago that was impeding its progress was the “delayed approval of the Terms of Reference” for the provincial Environmental Assessment (EA) process. In our view, Ontario was acting properly by not approving the Terms of Reference (ToR) that Cliffs proposed. As our group, CPAWS Wildlands League, and others pointed out, their proposed ToR was woefully inadequate to meet the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act. We officially submitted a mediation request with the company through the Ministry of Environment.

Regarding the “uncertainty” of the federal EA process due to the then judicial challenge by a number of the impacted First Nations, if Cliffs had agreed to send the project to a joint review panel instead of fighting it in court, the EA process could have been completed by last summer. But instead a lot of the company’s and First Nations’ resources were spent fighting over the EA in court.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anna-baggio/ring-of-fire_b_4378618.html