Ring of Fire: Turning an ‘F’ into an ‘A’ – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – March 12, 2015)

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

The Canadian government has a history of investing in “transformational projects” such as the Alberta oil sands and the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project, says an Ontario Chamber of Commerce spokesman.

It should now provide a “hard commitment” to develop Ontario’s Ring of Fire chromite deposits, says Josh Hjartarson, vice-president of policy and government relations for the Ontario chamber. “Northern Ontario is just in demanding a similar level of investment,” Hjartarson told 150 people at the Ring of Fire Report Card launch Wednesday at Dynamic Earth.

The report card, “Where Are We Now?” graded the federal and provincial governments on the action they have taken — or not taken — since the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s first report last year on the economic benefit of developing the Ring of Fire.

The federal government received an F for not making the Ring of Fire a national priority, and that has generated headlines this week, said Hjartarson. The report was presented to business leaders in Toronto on Tuesday.

While the intent of the report was not to blame the federal government, the chamber is acting in its capacity as an advocacy group to ensure there are “political costs” to ignoring the issue, he said.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has produced the reports to “create the urgency” to develop the rich chromite deposits before investors “chase other opportunities,” he said.

It will take pressure to get the federal government to stop considering the Ring of Fire a northern initiative and to make it a national public policy priority, he said.

It wasn’t just the federal government that was given a poor grade in report, a followup to last year’s “Beneath the Surface: Uncovering the Economic Potential of Ontario’s Ring of Fire.”

The Government of Ontario also received a failing mark for not developing an infrastructure plan and for permitting delays that are keeping the company closest to opening a mine in the Ring of Fire from progressing.

Noront Resources has waited more than two years for permit for its Eagle’s Nest project, something that should have been done within a few months.

Hjartarson called that a “de facto moratorium” on development.

The province also received low marks for not completing agreements with first nations and mining companies.

While the province has committed $1 billion for infrastructure in the Ring of Fire, it’s not a “line item” in the budget, said Hjartarson.

“There isn’t a plan and we’re stalled,” he told the audience.

He and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce want to like to see an “encompassing plan” by next year that includes development of transportation systems and electricity, and that addresses social issues in the communities near or in the Ring.

The Ontario government has touted its “historic” framework agreement with members of the Matawa Tribal Council near the Ring, but nobody knows what it means or understands it.

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