Remember the excitement and promise of the Ring of Fire? That’s the huge mineral deposit of chromite, nickel, gold, copper and platinum that was discovered in 2007, 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
Four years ago, I predicted the discovery of the Ring of Fire could generate an estimated $1 trillion in economic development in Northern Ontario. Its potential rivals that of the oil sands. It could mean tens of thousands of jobs for decades to come throughout the region.
Former Tory Treasury Board Chair, Tony Clement, called it an “economic game changer for Canada.” Former Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty, said it was the most promising mining opportunity the country has seen in a century. Premier Wynne vowed to spend $1 billion on a transportation corridor to the mineral deposits and isolated native communities.
Cliff Natural Resources, a U.S. mining giant, announced a $3.3-billion investment in the extraction and processing of the chromite, used to make stainless steel. It included a $1.6-billion smelting plant in the Sudbury area.
Chromite and other mineral prices were high. The social and economic prospects were promising. But instead of showing leadership to advance this massive project, the provincial and federal governments delayed, bickered and played politics.
The current state of the Ring of Fire is a story of lost opportunity.
So far, Queen’s Park and Ottawa haven’t spent a cent on the infrastructure needed to access the mineral deposits. Not one shovel in the ground.
Of the $1 billion Ontario has promised, only $20 million has been spent, all of it on consultant fees and staff salaries for the province’s Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corp.. The corporation is led by a board of directors made up of Queen’s Park bureaucrats.
Last year, Wynne said in Thunder Bay, “That billion is real and it’s going to go to building infrastructure.” But the Liberals’ most recent budget shows the $1 billion in funding won’t start until 2018-19, a year after the next provincial election.
In 2014, Cliff Natural Resources pulled out of the region after spending $550 million on development rights for three chromite deposits. They cited the government’s failure to proceed with the needed transportation access to get the minerals out. The ultimate embarrassment came when junior mining company, Noront Resources Ltd., bought Cliff’s stake for the deeply discounted sum of US$27.5 million.
The provincial auditor, Bonnie Lysyk, in her 2015 report, criticized the Wynne government for what she called a pattern of inaction to develop the Ring. She pointed to missed deadlines and lack of performance measures. She’s also concerned about the $500,000 spent setting up the ROFIDC, and its annual cost of $4 million.
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