Imagine, ifyou will, that it’s 1888, five years after Tom Flanigan discovered nickel ore during the blasting and excavation needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway through what is now Sudbury.
The McGuinty-Wynne Liberals are in charge, with Michael Gravelle serving as the minister of Northern Development and Mines.
The premier and almost everyone else agrees the find is exceptional, once in a generation. Sudbury could create tens of thousands of new jobs, and billions in profits and taxes.
Five years later, nothing has been done, even though companies are eager to get going. No planning for roads or other infrastructure has been done – Sudbury is in the middle of nowhere and needs almost everything. And no real negotiations with nearby first nations have started, with the province leaving it to the companies to figure that out.
In fact, all that has happened by 1888 is that the province has hired a gaggle of bureaucrats that have spent millions studying things. “We have to get it right,” is Gravelle’s explanation about the slow pace of development.
That is how Sudbury would have developed – or in this case, not developed – if today’s government was running the province back in the 1880s.
It’s what Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s auditor general, concluded last week in her annual report when talking about the Ring of Fire in northwestern Ontario. The Ring of Fire of today is the Sudbury of 1883 – a mineral find with enormous potential.
The province, of course, needs to get the Ring of Fire right, as its ministers and the Premier say. Sudbury is actually a textbook example of how not to develop a major mineral strike on so many levels – environmental, municipal and social.
But at least Sudbury got developed. Despite its potential, the Liberals seem reluctant to push the Ring of Fire along, even though they and their federal cousins have committed $1 billion each to develop badly needed infrastructure.
While mineral markets are weak at the present, now is the time to strike. It takes a lot of time to develop a mine, even in the best of circumstances.
Besides, the $2 billion in infrastructure money would create a lot of badly needed jobs immediately, while producing something worthwhile.
Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government need to find the backbone, the focus and the people who can get the Ring of Fire moving ahead.