The Canadian Press – OTTAWA – Despite an absence of new funding in this year’s federal budget, the Conservative government says it still fully supports development of the Ring of Fire mining region in northwestern Ontario.
Greg Rickford, the federal minister responsible for the file, says it’s up to Ontario’s provincial government to apply for infrastructure funding under the new Building Canada fund announced last week.
“We have always been clear that the Build Canada fund contemplates these large-scale, economic development-based, responsible resource development projects,” Rickford said in an interview. “That’s what it’s intended to do.”
“But those resources have to align with the priorities of the province – so to the extent that the province says ‘this is our major file, this is where we want considerable resources to go into’ … then we can do that.”
That could eat up a huge portion of Ontario’s $2.4-billion share of the 10-year federal fund. Both levels of government have long touted the potential of the Ring of Fire, which is rich in chromite used to make stainless steel as well as other minerals, including nickel and copper.
The project, however, has been mired in political sniping between Queen’s Park and Ottawa.
The provincial Liberals have already said they’d like to see the federal government pay for about half the estimated $2 billion in infrastructure they say is needed to develop the remote, roadless Ring of Fire.
When last week’s tight-fisted federal budget was tabled, projecting a surplus for next year, officials from Sudbury in northern Ontario to downtown Toronto groused about the absence of dedicated funding for the project.
“It’s a huge opportunity for the province, much like the oil sands was an opportunity for Alberta,” Premier Kathleen Wynne told CBC this week.
Rickford strongly disputes Wynne’s claim.
“A great deal of our investments in Ring of Fire have already occurred in previous budgets that we’ve presented,” he said, and infrastructure funds are there for the asking.
Rickford pointed to items such as a $16.4-million diesel electricity generating plant in Webequie First Nation that he says will help commercial development as well as residential power needs. The project was announced in February 2010 and a press release at the time made no mention of the Ring of Fire development.
Rickford also cited a $4.4 million federal contribution last August to the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund that was “exclusively for Ring of Fire business capacity development.”
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