Says work on east-west road could begin in the fall
A Progressive Conservative government would back an industry plan that could see work begin on an east-west road into the Ring of Fire as early as this fall, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said Thursday.
“We believe there’s a quick win here, and that’s the Noront Resources solution,” Fedeli said during a visit to Greater Sudbury.
Noront is working to develop its Eagle Nest and Blackbird deposits, a mix of nickel, copper, platinum and palladium, as well as its chromite deposit in the remote site in northwestern Ontario. It proposes building a permanent road from the Webequie First Nation through Pickle Lake to Saugeen, connecting it to existing road and rail infrastructure.
Noront estimated in 2008 the road would cost $306,000 a kilometre to build across the tough, swampy terrain. The company also has plans to smelt ore at Glencore’s Strathcona Mill in Onaping Falls, once the infrastructure is in place.
“Our plan would share revenue with the host community – in this particular case, it’s the First Nation,” Fedeli. “We would need to have infrastructure investment from the province, the feds and the proponents to make it an all-season road. They want to move nickel out of there.
“We see it as a quick win. You could be operating by the fall.”
Instead of finding ways to make progress, Fedeli said the Liberal government has wasted time making announcements and plans for plans, even as Cliffs Natural Resources have pulled back from developing the $50 billion chromite discovery.
“I’ve personally been to the Ring of Fire four times now, (and) I have seen first-hand what it’s going to take to get it into operation,” he said. “The Liberal government has bungled this file. It’s five years now, and we’ve gone from almost 250 employees who were actually working at the Ring of Fire, to less than 10 today.
“That’s why we need to be elected. This government has shown nothing in five years.”
In town to support Sudbury candidate Paula Peroni, Fedeli said the party is undaunted by the fact seats in Northern Ontario are predominantly held by the NDP and Liberals. The last time a Tory won in Sudbury was in the 1980s, and the party isn’t polling well locally. And province-wide, none of the parties have enough support to form a majority government. They’re looking to change that when an election is called, Fedeli said.
“I think the fact that a million people woke up this morning without a job is a wake up call to Ontario,” Fedeli said. “Paula Peroni and myself and our other candidates and MPPs in the North will bring a fresh perspective for Northern Ontario down to Queen’s Park.
He cited the horseracing industry as an example of how the northern and rural communities have been affected by the province. After cancelling the slots at racetracks program in 2012, people working in the industry were devastated. While Premier Kathleen Wynne later came out with a five-year, $500 million plan to help the tracks cope, Sudbury Downs has not yet signed on.
“Northern Ontario has long been neglected by the Liberals (and) we saw that in the devastation of the horse industry,” Fedeli said.
“This was a wonderful industry around the province,” Peroni said, adding she and Fedeli were meeting people in the industry in Sudbury later Thursday.
Fedeli also cited Ontario Northland as an example where Northern Ontario has suffered. The Liberals planned to sell the ONTC, but later changed course when the auditor general concluded the sale would actually cost taxpayers more than $800 million.
“On Day 1, when the government announced the fire sale of Ontario Northland, I came out, our party came out, and said hold on a second, you’re not going to save $265 million that you’ve now booked in the budget – it’s going to cost you money,” he said. “They denied it.”
And when the auditor’s report came out before Christmas, Fedeli said they pushed the province to let ONTC workers know the sale wasn’t going to happen so they could enjoy the holidays.
“She would not do that,” he said. “They let those families linger for two years. The economy of northeastern Ontario suffered for two years.”
The ONTC and ending the horseracing program were part of the Drummond Report, which was commissioned in 2012 by outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty to chart a path out of chronic budget deficits in Ontario. Finance Minister Charles Sousa recently said the deficit, which stands at more than $11 billion, is on track to be eliminated by 2018.
But Fedeli said the government has shown it can’t be trusted when it comes to those sorts of estimates. Outside of the ONTC sale and the racetracks, he said the Tories support the Drummond Report as a means to get spending under control. But the Liberals failed to adopt the tougher measures among the 362 recommended in the report.
“They literally put it on the shelf,” he said. “They took the easy items – the ones that sound beautiful but don’t really do anything. They didn’t do any of the hard, bold moves that Don Drummond said.
“Drummond said cutting corporate welfare — picking winners and losers — immediately will save you $600 million a year. A marginal increase in class sizes will save you $600 million a year. The Liberals did not do either of those, and that’s why we have an $11.4 billion deficit again this year.”
An election is widely expected in Ontario this spring. The Tory Leader Tim Hudak has vowed to defeat the Liberal budget when it’s introduced May 1. After supporting Wynne last year, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is widely expected to let the government fall, sparking an election in June or July.