Chamber report slams government inaction on Ring – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – March 10, 2015)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has given the federal government a failing grade — an F — for not recognizing that the Ring of Fire should be a national economic opportunity.

The Ontario umbrella group and the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce coreleased a report today saying little progress has been made in the year since they issued a first report, “Beneath the Surface: Uncovering the Economic Potential of the Ring of Fire.”

That report said the Ring of Fire would generate $25 billion in economic activity and create thousands of jobs in Ontario in its first 32 years.

The report is being presented this afternoon in Toronto to movers and shakers whom the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is trying to interest in development of the vast chromite deposits in the James Bay Lowlands.

The new report, “Where Are We Now? A Report Card on the Ring of Fire,” concludes permitting delays, a lack of infrastructure and “intergovernmental quarrelling” have stalled development in the Ring.

The report evaluates progress in seven key barriers to developing the region and concludes it will be years before a first mine is opened in the Ring.

Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources, which has one of the largest claims in the area, has halted its project because it couldn’t reach agreements with the province or get a decision on a method of transportation. Low prices for commodities and internal problems contributed to Cliffs’ decision.

The Government of Ontario also gets an F in the progress report for not reducing “the regulatory logjam,” it says in the report.

Delays in exploration permits and environmental assessments are preventing mining firms from breaking ground on their projects, says the OCC.

The report slams the federal government for not matching the province’s $1-billion commitment to develop transportation infrastructure in the Ring.

It is also critical of the lack of transparency in negotiations between the Government of Ontario and members of the Matawa Tribal Council, which represents nine first nations in or near the Ring of Fire.

The report is calling for a quarterly progress report on how talks are going between the province and first nations.

Geoff Jeffery, chair of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, said there have been “significant delays” in realizing the potential of the Ring of Fire.

“This report is meant to measure progress from a business point of view,” Jeffery said in a news release. “Our aim here is to create a sense of urgency to catalyze the development of the Ring of Fire.”

Despite slow progress, the report says the business case for developing the Ring of Fire remains strong.

It cites as key indicators of the economic health of the Ring of Fire the price of nickel and ferrochrome, and continuing strong demand for stainless steel despite a global downturn in commodity prices.

The Ring of Fire’s “viability” suffers for every year that elapses without progress, said

Allan O’Dette, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

“Already, junior exploration firms are struggling to raise capital and are citing uncertainty in the investment community,” he said Tuesday. “This is hurting their ability to advance their projects.”

The report says a number of steps must be taken by government to move development of the Ring of Fire forward.

They include establishing agreements with first nations, settling on an infrastructure plan and issuing exploration permits.

Still, the news isn’t all bad, O’Dette said. Since “Beneath the Surface” was released last year, the Ontario government has pledged the $1 billion toward transportation infrastructure.

An announcement last week about a joint provincial and federal government commitment to conduct a study on an east-west all-weather road in the Ring of Fire is also encouraging, said O’Dette.

An earlier study by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce said development of the Ring of Fire would generate $9.4 billion in gross domestic product, $2 billion in government revenue and sustain up to 5,500 jobs a year in the first 10 years of its development.

Jeffrey said action is needed now while the public “continues to have a strong appetite to see the Ring of Fire advance.

“The Ring of Fire needs to be treated as a national priority by all actors to capitalize on the far-reaching opportunities it offers,” he said in a release.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce issued the report earlier today, but didn’t allow news media to report on it until noon. The Toronto Star was given the report and allowed to break the story because the OCC is trying to interest people in southern Ontario in development of the Ring, said O’Dette.

The report will be presented in Sudbury on Wednesday at an event starting at 4 p.m. at Dynamic Earth.

Josh Hjartarson, vice-president of policy and government relations for the OCC, will present the report and a panel will comment on it.

Speaking on the panel will be Paul Semple, chief operating officer for Noront; Moe Lavigne, vice-president of exploration for KWG Resources Inc.; Martin Bayer, a Sudbury lawyer who practises aboriginal, natural resources and mining law; and George Darling of SNC Lavalin.

Last year’s panel included a representative of Cliffs Natural Resources.

The new report will be available on the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce’s website

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