Claude Gravelle is the federal MP for Nickel Belt
Breaking the Politics on the Ring of Fire Mining Project
QUEEN’S PARK – Ontario Politics – The mega Ring of Fire mining project remains stalled as the governments for Ontario and Canada play the blame game rather than put our northern communities and the country’s economy first.
To help break the stalemate, I have filed a motion with the federal all-party Natural Resources Committee to call the Government of Ontario as a witness. With Prime Minister Harper mulling over a meeting request from Premier Kathleen Wynne, here is an opportunity for Ontario to identify publicly what they need from the federal government, who is responsible for what, really how to move the project forward together.
I figured my motion might give Ontario a useful audience that includes representatives from the three main federal parties. As I said on the CBC Radio Ontario Today program last week, if this doesn’t work it may mean marriage counselling for the prime minister and premier. This stall is infuriating to northerners.
In February 2012, I successfully initiated a brief study on Ring of Fire at this Natural Resources Committee. We heard witnesses from Cliffs Resources, NorOnt, First Nations communities and the City of Greater Sudbury which had been identified as site for a ferrochrome smelter.
It was Ring of Fire 101 for most parliamentarians and the media in Ottawa unaware of the incredible potential for these northern resources.
I am the NDP federal critic for Ring of Fire and chair of a 20-MP NDP mining caucus. Before my 2008 election victory, I worked 34 years as a machinist for Inco (now Vale). I know a little about the socio-economic impact of natural resources projects for our communities, the good and bad, depending on how they are done.
From almost day one for this project, I have joined with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in proposing a sustainable development approach to the project.
This means to include all affected parties from the outset, to determine social, economic and environmental implications for this and future generations, to have public, transparent consultations that help determine whether or where to mine and where not to mine.
It was clear from those hearings that the First Nations supported Ring of Fire if there were full and proper consultations and partnerships.
Mining officials like Bill Boors at Cliffs testified that mining companies simply wanted to know the rules so they could follow them. That message has echoed in my head over and over again, a haunting echo given the recent news of Cliffs suspending their operations.
The mining companies never got those clear rules laid out to them. First Nations communities have not been full partners in any consultations in anywhere near the level necessary. Ontario has plenty to answer for including a mysterious absence at the critical Ontario Mining Commission which ultimately sided with KWG Resources on its right-of-way appeal for its rail-over-road proposal.
My interest principally is on the federal side. There are key infrastructure, First Nations, and environment responsibilities.
We can move forward when we get Ontario and Ottawa to put the politics on the backburner until election time and collaborate meaningfully. The Conservatives in Ottawa have introduced a one-project, one-review process ostensibly aimed at streamlining environmental assessments. Their pro-corporate ideology has them thinking this is business friendly. Actually, they end up shooting themselves in the foot because this end run around genuine environment assessments results in court cases, appeals, protests, blockades and more. This is not business friendly or any way friendly to all of the affected parties.
A sustainable development approach would have us much farther down the road than we are now.
I give credit where credit is due so have acknowledged publicly a good, early relationship with the new Ring of Fire minister. Greg Rickford is from Northern Ontario and understands the region better than his predecessor.
Does my motion have a chance of passing at the federal Natural Resources Committee dominated by a Conservative majority? These Conservatives like to kick these motions into “in camera” sessions that are really only supposed to happen rarely, for HR or other confidential matters. The Conservatives prefer to have their comments and votes off record. I hope the debate on the motion will be on the public record.
If not, I guess smart northerners will know what those votes were if Ontario does not appear before our committee.