Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
IN the investment game, the worst scenario is a lack of confidence. If the money gets nervous, the chances for success begin to wither. The mining industry is beginning to lose faith in Ontario. Despite enormous new potential on top of its valuable status as a gold mine, so to speak, a series of delays has turned the mining world wary. Can Ontario confirm its own future as a key mining jurisdiction or will it preside over its own decline at the hands of indecision?
The Ring of Fire mineral belt semi-circling James Bay was first explored in 2002 by DeBeers, looking for diamonds. Instead, it found copper and zinc. This led to an exploration rush that by 2008 had uncovered a multi-billion dollar deposit of an extremely rare mineral called chromite — the first commercial quantities anywhere in North America.
The mining and investment world went wild with anticipation and major companies moved in to map the deposit and prepare to exploit it under Ontario’s mining rules.
That was six years ago. Since then, the biggest player, Cliffs Natural Resources, wooed by municipalities from Thunder Bay to Sudbury to be the site of a giant smelter, has turned away. Its move followed similar expressions from junior exploration firms stymied by conflicting and moving signals on how to play the game.
Mining’s rules changed when the courts dictated that all activities had to be cleared by First Nations in the zone.
Fair enough. But few seemed to know whether the responsibility on the other side of the table belonged to the miners or to the province which soon announced it would tailor its Mining Act to these new conditions.
A few companies made their own arrangements and are proceeding. Others tried and failed, some miserably. Some said the province was not making clear what was required of them or what it could or would do to make the process work.
Ontario finally responded by appointing negotiators for First Nations and for itself. Then it announced a development corporation to work with all parties. Then it appointed a consultant to work with the developer. Meanwhile, a Lakehead University study was followed by a Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce study to say the potential here for economic development and employment across Northern Ontario is immense. But still, there is not much happening on the ground let alone under it.
This week, a think tank released an international survey of mining executives who have begun to sour on Ontario. The province fell from 16th to 28th place among desirable locations to do business.
Fraser Institute economist Alana Wilson said it all: “ . . . mining companies don’t mind paying taxes and following regulations, but they do want rules that are clear and transparent.”
This is a rich resource in a unique situation and care for people and the environment is essential. But six years after chromite was found, it’s still covered in snow and muskeg while all parties to an agreement they all want try to reach it.