The Ring of Fire in the James Bay Lowlands is as different from the recreational areas of Muskoka and Parry Sound as night and day.
But twice last Friday, Parry-Sound Muskoka MPP Norm Miller was asked the same question by constituents in his riding: “What’s going on in the Ring of Fire?”
The inquiries were made at events that had nothing to do with mining or the chromite deposits, said the Progressive Conservative, who is his party’s critic for Northern Development and Mines.
Their questions echoed one Miller had posed a week earlier during Question Period. He asked why there was such a lack of urgency on the part of the Liberal government to develop Ring of Fire deposits believed to be worth $60 billion.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle was upbeat when he responded, saying how excited he was about the potential of the Ring and the historic framework agreement his government negotiated with neighbouring Matawa first nations.
“The frustration out there, and this sort of demonstrates it, is there’s a lot of talk” but nothing substantive happening on the ground, said Miller.
In recent years, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has prepared report cards, rating the provincial government on its performance in moving forward on developing the Ring of Fire. In many categories, the Wynne government scored a failing F.
News coverage and discussion about the chamber reports has raised awareness in parts of Ontario not in the North about the tremendous economic potential developing the Ring could have for all the province.
More than two years ago, Gravelle announced the creation of a development corporation to bring together partners — government, industry, first nations — to design, engineer, construct and maintain transportation infrastructure for the Ring. It is located in a remote area of muskeg, and without road or rail access and hydroelectric facilities, mining development cannot take place.
The creation of the Ring development corporation was announced three more times by the Liberals until they established an interim board a year later, comprised of five senior bureaucrats and no representatives of industry or first nations.
The Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised $1 billion to build infrastructure to get to the chromite, nickel and other mineral deposits in the area 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
It has yet to spend one cent of that unless the work of consulting firms hired by the Liberals is being financed with those funds.
Before the Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corporation was established, in its nascent form, the Ring of Fire Secretariat was struck to work with all levels of government, industry and aboriginal peoples to encourage responsible and sustainable economic development.
In December 2015, Ontario auditor-general Bonnie Lysyk was critical of the provincial Liberals in her annual report for what she called a pattern of inaction to develop the Ring.
The province had spent $13.2 million and hired 19 employees for the secretariat, set up in 2010, and missed deadlines the Liberals set for themselves. It also failed to set performance measures to access progress, she said.
Lysyk was critical of the Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corporation, saying it cost $500,000 to set up and was expected to spend $4 million a year, including $2.5 million for staff, when it is operating.
More than two years ago, Gravelle announced the hiring of consulting firm Deloitte LLP to establish the Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corporation. Deloitte was to work with Ring of Fire partners to set timelines for decision-making, create guiding principles for the corporation and seek consensus on the corporation’s next steps, said Gravelle.
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