Sudbury column: Province doesn’t ‘get it’ [Ring of Fire potential] – by Mark Carbonelli (Sudbury Star – February 17, 2016)

This is an open letter to Michael Gravelle, Ontario’s minister of Northern Development and Mines:

I have been a follower, investor and researcher of the Ring of Fire (“ROF”) for almost a decade. It is difficult to find any knowledgeable person on the topic that does not agree on the ROF’s once-in-a-generation opportunity for First Nations, Ontario and indeed our broader nation and economy. The value of the ROF has been estimated to be in excess of $60 billion.

According to a recent report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the ROF could generate $9.4-billion in gross domestic product over the next decade and support 5,500 jobs a year. Further, the report also projects $6.2 billion for Ontario’s mining industry, providing the federal, Ontario and municipal governments with almost $2-billion in revenue over that decade.

In particular, the vast multi-generational supply of chromite in the ROF is a global manufacturing staple and indeed plentifully resides in our province, offering economic, social and political stability. From a more strategic standpoint, we also have a unique opportunity to put Ontario back on the worldwide steelmaking map through the production of ferrochrome right here in our province using cheap and plentiful natural gas as proposed by one ROF company.

As you may be aware, the price of ferrochrome has resisted the recent slide in commodity prices and indeed has remained stable over the last five years. Beyond the economic benefits of this initiative, it is a lifetime opportunity to open Ontario’s north while providing jobs, infrastructure and a deserving quality of life to our First Nations.

I am writing to express both my frustration and concern for the apparent lack of progress made on the ROF development by your office:

1. Recently, the provincial auditor general singled out your ministry for its ineffectiveness and inaction in making any progress in the Ring of Fire and in promoting Ontario’s mineral resources.

2. As you are aware, Ontario’s mining industry comprises almost a quarter of Canada’s total mineral production, worth almost $11 billion in 2014. Under your leadership of Northern Development and Mines, exploration spending has dropped from more than $1 billion in 2011 to $507 million in 2014. Similarly, the number of active mining claims last year was 235,000 units, a decline from 363,000 units in 2008.

3. Your government included $1 billion in the 2015 budget for investment in mining related ROF infrastructure. It is now 2016 and not a single dollar of that money has been spent.

4. The auditor general questioned the performance of the Ring of Fire Secretariat, the government entity created in 2010 to work with industry and prepare local Aboriginal communities for mining with training, education and capacity-building support dollars. The auditor general noted that -¦the Secretariat has continuously missed milestones established by the government for the development of the Ring of Fire” — this despite Secretariat offices in Sudbury, Toronto and Thunder Bay, with a staff of 19 and total spending of $13.2 million over the last five years.

5. The Infrastructure Development Corporation you formed has been in business for well over a year and remains an organization consisting of five part-time bureaucrats without any involvement from industry or First Nations. They are yet to make an announcement of any kind, present a business plan or even give any indication of progress made. The auditor general notes that this corporation is not even operational.

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