Accent: Bring on the mining Marshall Plan (Part 1 of 2) – by Stan Sudol (Sudbury Star – July 11, 2015)

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

Editor’s Note: This is first installment of a two-part story. The second will appear in the Monday edition of The Star.

There has been much commentary about healing and rapprochement with Canada’s First Nations due to the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the horrific abuse Aboriginal children experienced at residential schools during the last century.

However, if Ontario, which has the largest population of First Nations people in the country, truly wants to make amends for the sins of the past, then we need to look at “economic and social reconciliation” as our primary vehicle for restitution.

Until every First Nation community in the province has the same level of infrastructure and social services as non-Aboriginal towns and cities, most of the remorseful speeches by guilty white politicians are nothing more than hot air.

Without a doubt, some of the most destitute and impoverished First Nations communities are located in Ontario’s mineral-rich but isolated northwest, near the Ring of Fire – the most significant Canadian mineral discovery in almost a century – and in the regions to the west.

Almost a decade of political inaction by both the provincial and federal governments has caused Cliffs Natural Resources — a major American multi-national mining company – to abandon its $3-billion private sector investment in Northern Ontario and miss out on the first part of a multi-decade commodity super cycle.

While the international mining sector is experiencing a very significant downturn – past commodity super cycles experienced similar boom-bust phases – it will recover as global populations keep increasing and urbanizing and countries like China, India and other developing nations continue to industrialize.

Since the lack of infrastructure was the primary non-political reason Cliffs decided to leave, damaging the province’s global reputation for mining investment, perhaps a new vision is needed to both restore our international standing as well as make amends to Aboriginal communities whose living conditions often resemble impoverished third-world countries.

That bold new vision should be a “Mining Marshall Plan” for the entire far northwest that will allow the region’s First Nations to take advantage of the next round of commodity demands when global economies recover. The term Marshall Plan is the name of the American multi-billion dollar investment initiative to help rebuild war devastated European economies after the Second World War.

The Mining Marshall Plan half-decade long, multi-billion dollar project would provide the necessary transportation and social infrastructure as well as address potable water and other housing, health and education issues, allowing Ontario to finally meet our treaty obligations.

Not only is there a strong moral reason to implement this Mining Marshall Plan, there is also a solid business case due to the enormous current and future mineral potential of the region.

World-class multi-billion dollar mineral deposits

First a brief recap is in order. Without a doubt, the Ring of Fire, located approximately 500 kilometers northeast of Thunder Bay, is a world-class mineral discovery which has barely been explored. It is surrounded by five isolated First Nations communities – Webequie, Nibinamik, Neskantaga, Eabametoong and Marten Falls. Four other aboriginal communities that are road accessible – Aroland, Long Lake 58, Ginoogaming and Constance Lake – make up the nine member Matawa Tribal Council who are very slowly negotiating a framework agreement with the province.

The Ring of Fire is conservatively estimated by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to contain $60 billion worth minerals that include chromite ($50 billion) – the fourth largest reserves in the world after South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kazakhstan – and Noront Resouces’ nickel/copper/PGM deposit ($10 billion), as well as gold, zinc and vanadium. The world-class chromite deposits alone ensure multi-generational mining activity similar to the trillion-dollar Sudbury Basin.

Well respected James Franklin, the former chief geoscientist at the Geological Survey of Canada from 1993 to 1997, is one of the world’s top experts on the Canadian Shield geology.

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