Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford says Ring of Fire oversight body needs overhaul – by Peter Koven (National Post – December 19, 2014)

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TORONTO – The Ontario government wants Ottawa to pony up $1 billion for the massive “Ring of Fire” mineral belt, but the federal natural resources minister is warning that key structural challenges still need to be overcome.

Foremost among these is the fact Ontario has stacked the four board seats of the Ring of Fire’s development corporation with nothing but provincial bureaucrats. They are responsible for overseeing infrastructure development in the region.

“We’ve got a problem with that,” Greg Rickford said in an interview. “That’s not a responsible way to deal with taxpayers’ money.”

The Ring of Fire, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, is a vast but very remote mineral belt located in Ontario’s James Bay Lowlands. The region is thought to hold about $60-billion worth of metals, but the federal and provincial governments need to overcome enormous infrastructure challenges to draw investment from the mining sector, especially in an environment of falling commodity prices.

Queen’s Park committed $1 billion to building infrastructure, and has waged a very public campaign asking Ottawa to match it through the federal Building Canada infrastructure fund.

“Your commitment to providing matching federal funding is key to strengthening investor confidence for development of the [Ring],” Ontario mining minister Michael Gravelle said last week in a letter to Mr. Rickford.

But Mr. Rickford, who hails from Northern Ontario, said the development corporation should be overhauled so that other parties are more directly involved. He noted that Ottawa was never consulted on it and has no idea where it would be involved in the decision-making, and First Nations have also expressed concern about their lack of involvement.

The Ontario government has said it plans to broaden the board over time to include other partners, but has not provided specifics.

Mr. Rickford also pointed to two other ongoing concerns the federal government has about the Ring of Fire: the lack of a firm development agreement with First Nations, and a ruling from Ontario’s Mining and Lands Commissioner that disrupted plans for a north-south transportation corridor.

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