The nine chiefs of the Matawa First Nations closest to Ontario’s Ring of Fire gathered around a conference table in July 2013 at what seemed like a historic crossroads to debate the merits of development in a region that had never before experienced it.
Promises of jobs, revenue sharing and infrastructure improvements, some said, could bring prosperity to the struggling communities. On the other hand, development could come too rapidly and at too high a cost to their land and traditional way of life. They needn’t have worried. Three years later, development of the 5,000-square-kilometre area of the James Bay Lowlands is still stuck in neutral.
The Ring of Fire is a deposit of minerals — including nickel, copper, gold, zinc and the extremely rare chromite — some 540 kilometres north of Thunder Bay that is said to be worth up to $60 billion. Dubbed “Canada’s next oilsands,” it could be the biggest resource development Ontario has seen in more than a century.
But the provincial government, miners and indigenous communities are locked in debate about the best way to physically connect the isolated swampy muskeg, as well as the four closest fly-in reserves, to the rest of Canada for the first time.
During its first decade of development, the Ring of Fire would generate up to $9.4 billion in GDP, create 5,500 jobs annually and generate $2 billion in revenue for federal, provincial and municipal governments, according to an Ontario Chamber of Commerce report.
But nearly 10 years after Noront Resources Ltd.’s Johnny Cash-loving founder discovered the resource, everyone is still awaiting word as to when or even if it will begin constructing several planned projects in the area.
The problem, said Laurentian University economist David Robinson, stems from a confluence of factors, including poor planning for Ontario’s north and a massive downturn in commodities prices that caught the province off guard.
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