Frank Dabbs is a veteran business and political journalist, author of three biographies and a contributor, researcher or editor of half a dozen books. Frank worked in print, radio and television in Alberta for 40 years. Since 2006, he has been a print and television freelancer in Ontario.
None of the players involved in the development of Ontario’s economic salvation is willing to be the first to commit
ANNAN, ON, Mar 30, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Alphonse and Gaston were two newspaper cartoon characters created in the 1920s by Frederick Opper, and the “glacial” progress of Ontario’s Ring of Fire harks back to them.
Alphonse and Gaston were two waiters who never got anything done because they were too polite. “After you Alphonse,” Gaston said. “No, you first, my dear Gaston,” replied Alphonse.
It’s very reminiscent of what is happening with Ontario’s Ring of Fire, a massive planned chromite mining and smeltering development project in the mineral-rich James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario. No one seems willing to be the first to launch the $60 billion mineral discovery in the area.
It’s not that the Ring of Fire lacks champions for its oil sands-scale opportunity. But the enthusiasm for development of a chromite deposit that would make Canada a steel alloy superpower is being swallowed up in processes that have no apparent time line.
The 5,210 square km Ring also has gold, vanadium, platinum, copper, nickel, and zinc deposits with commercial potential. It was prospectors seeking diamonds who found the chromite and the other minerals.
Unfortunately, the isolated mining camp lacks infrastructure: roads, power, rail and housing. It is also 600 km from a railhead and much further from industrial-scale power generation. It needs public as well as private investment to mine it and make Ontario a global leader in the new technology that will be developed for it.
The Ring of Fire has its advocates who can readily see its economic potential and significance to beleaguered Ontario, whose manufacturing sector is eroding away.
However, no collaboration exists to bring the players out of their silos. Five mining companies – Canadian juniors Noront Resources, KWG Resources, Bold Ventures and Macdonald Mines, and American-based global coal and iron miner Cliff Natural Resources – are prepared to invest in more exploration and mines, refineries and a rail link. They are among 100 companies with mineral interests staked across the area.
While the Ontario government has a Ring of Fire secretariat that is morphing into a development corporation, it is the federal government that has responsibility for the initiative. A 15-federal-department steering committee is co-ordinating an aboriginal, environmental, economic and investment to-do list.
In February, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a study defining the significance of the initiative to the province: $9.4 billion in GDP, $2 billion in tax revenues, 5,500 full time jobs and $6.2 billion for the mining companies – and that’s only in the first 10 years. Within three decades, that will increase to $25 billion in economic activity in Ontario, including $6.7 billion in tax revenues, according to the report.
However, the report also castigated both levels of governments for the “glacial” pace of developing the Ring of Fire.
While former Ontario premier Bob Rae, representing the Mawata Tribal Council, and retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobbucci, representing the province, are negotiating aboriginal interests, the Ring of Fire also has its champions, including Chamber of Commerce President Allan O’Dette, KWG chief executive Frank Smeenk, Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle and federal Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford.
Unfortunately, on one is stepping up to the plate to ensure the project proceeds.
In fact, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce report lauding the benefits of developing the Ring of Fire landed with a dull thud and Cliff Resources has pulled back for the time being under shareholder pressure.
The federal budget also neglected to mention the Ring of Fire is its.
And none of the leaders of Ontario’s three principal political parties has made it a campaign commitment for the – upcoming – Ontario election.
As Alphonse and Gaston said to each other, “you first.”
It’s not like something similar hasn’t happened before, however.
While the commercial potential of the Athabasca oil sands was known in 1875 and scientists had solved the problem of extracting oil from the sands, development was stopped by the Depression and the Second World War. It took a further 15 years from commitment to development in 1950 by all players until the first oil sands plant started operation in 1965.
Ninety years after commercial potential was recognized, the first barrel of oil was finally produced.
It would be needlessly tragic to repeat the experience in the Ring of Fire.
For the original version of this column, click here: http://www.troymedia.com/2014/03/30/alphonse-and-gaston-meet-the-ring-of-fire/