Commentary – Do Ontarians really want the Ring of Fire? – by Wendy Parker (In Support of – March 8, 2014)

Recent news reports tell us that people are becoming frustrated with the glacial pace of development of Ontario’s Ring of Fire mineral zone. Do tell.

Truth be known, sensible folk became frustrated with Ring of Fire drama some time ago. Many packed up their attention — and their investment dollars — several moons ago. Momentum has stalled. Activity has slowed. The “Wild West” show has moved on.

In fact, the Ring of Fire has become a wet blanket. Instead of generating excitement about Ontario’s mineral potential, it whispers of our many shortcomings. It insinuates that we may be “all hat, no cattle” when it comes to undertaking big-time developments.

Of course, all is not lost. There is talk of some progress on two critical fronts — First Nations participation in the development and infrastructure priorities. A breakthrough on either could rekindle enthusiasm.

But time is running short. We are often reminded that the Ring’s minerals won’t rot in the ground. That’s true. But they may not remain “ores” worth mining. And the opportunity to exploit them will wax and wane over time. As the Mackenzie Valley pipeline taught us, the “waxing” can be short-lived; the “waning” can span generations.

At this low point in our history, Ontario can ill afford to be cavalier about Ring of Fire benefits, which were ably enumerated by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce last month. Nor can we be lackadaisical about the urgency of the task.
Ontarians may be loath to admit it, but global forces are nudging our branch-plant economy ever closer to irrelevancy. We are old and tired; cantankerous and factious. We quibble over petty issues while our economic foundations crack and our pillars crumble.

As a province, we can’t even agree on what we want from this far northern region.

Maybe it is just a giant park, awaiting the hand of government planners. A carbon sink. A pristine wilderness. A refuge of woodland caribou. A playground for solitary paddlers. An Olde Curiosity Shoppe of history and heritage.
Or maybe it’s a doorway to a less-scripted future – one that shifts power northward, elevates primary industry, re-ignites a 400-year-old partnership with First Nations and confounds the “smart growth” culture that so many prescribe for the province.

Here’s the thing, though.

Without a new wealth-generating project — whether it be the Ring of Fire or something else — Ontarians will be hard-pressed to support our service sector, or to fund our vast network of schools, hospitals, highways and public institutions.

So, yes, let’s take the time to “get it right” in the Ring of Fire.

But let’s be clear what we mean by “getting it right.” And let’s be transparent about how we plan to get to there.
If our hearts are not in it – if we have other aspirations for this tenuous piece of the province – then, please, let us be forthright about it.

Maybe it’s time to put our backs into this thing. Or move on.