Rickford gives chamber an F for Ring of Fire grade – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – March 21, 2015)

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

If FedNor Minister Greg Rickford were rating the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s performance, he would give it a failing grade.

The Conservative MP for Kenora said he rejects a chamber of commerce report in which the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was given an F for not making development of the Ring of Fire a national priority.

“I don’t accept it,” Rickford told reporters Friday at a news conference to announce funding for the Advanced Medical Research Institute of Canada.

“The federal government has been working with communities. They (the OCC) didn’t talk about the new runways we put in there, surfaces for communities to land and do exploration activities, investment in small business centres, the support for the environmental assessment process that was hiring first nations people and making important contributions from the first nations communities to that.”

Rickford also cited the high completion rate of students in a training program the federal government funded with Confederation College in Thunder Bay and Matawa first nations as another indication of his government’s support for the area.

“I didn’t see any of that in their report. Nor did I see mention of the great relationship we have with the province on a couple of key initiatives,” said Rickford, who is also Natural Resources minister.

One of those initiatives is a joint $800,000 study being funded by the federal and provincial governments announced earlier this month. It focuses squarely on infrastructure projects that could open up regional development in first nations communities, said the minister.

A registered nurse and a lawyer, Rickford spent six years working in the Far North. He said the Ontario chamber has “very little understanding” of the area and its issues.

“The province has addressed a few key issues and now we’re set to look at corridor options, mapping roads and understanding how those isolated remote first nations communities near the proposed extractive sites can be accessible by road,” he said.

He expects new energy options to be developed for first nations as Ring of Fire development moves forward.

Rickford also spoke to concerns of northern residents about the safety of rail transportation after a series of train accidents this year. The most recent occurred two weeks ago near Gogama when 38 cars carrying crude oil derailed, some caught fire and exploded, and two fell into water sources.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has done a good job of improving safety standards and moving forward with a process that eliminates certain classes of carriers, said Rickford.

“I think part of the solution here, frankly, is pipelines. I think the squeeze on rail, whether it’s for safety, whether it’s because iron ore products, grain and board foot can’t be carried through pipelines.

“We have an opportunity here to ease up the strain on trains. But overall, in terms of regulation, I think we’re moving in the right direction with safety and we continue to monitor and respond to these events very quickly.”

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