The stink of the Cliffs mining debacle has soured the air around Ontario’s Ring of Fire and has slowed pace of development in the remote but mineral-rich area. Ontario should kick-start development afresh by fast-tracking the most promising proposal on the table and moving aggressively on an infrastructure plan. If it does, dollars will flow into the region from the federal government and the private sector.
So says the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) in its just-released report card on the Ring of Fire. In 2014, it outlined the potential the region holds and laid out a path to further development. This year’s 2015 report card evaluates the provincial government’s progress against that plan and gives it a failing grade.
Stan Sudol, communications consultant, mining columnist and owner/editor of RepublicOfMining.com, calls it “a stunning indictment of government incompetence, both provincial and federal.”
The OCC conservatively estimates that the first 10 years of development of the Ring of Fire will add up to $9.4 billion to the GDP, sustain up to 5,500 jobs annually, and generate $2 billion in government revenue.
The Ring of Fire is everything it’s cracked up to be, Sudol told EcoLog News, and likely more. Once more of the region becomes road-accessible — inevitable once development gets underway — geologists are confident that even more discoveries will follow. If northwestern Ontario is a mineral-rich iceberg, the Ring of Fire may be only its visible tip.
The American miner Cliffs Natural Resources was at the centre of a multi-billion dollar development plan for the Ring, announced in 2012 but abandoned two years later. But Cliffs’ exit had as much to do with its own internal challenges as with its stated differences with the governments and First Nations.
Right now, according to the OCC, a development proposal from Noront Resources for its proposed Eagle’s Nest nickel mine is the furthest along. But Noront has been waiting for two years for the province to approve the terms of reference of its environmental assessment.
It’s political will, not engineering, that stands in the way, says Sudol. If Ontario were to follow the OCC’s prescription, private sector money would rush into the region, and he says First Nation communities would be clear beneficiaries.
Most of the region is unserved by road, rail or electricity grid. Some First Nation communities within the region are even without potable water.
“Marten Falls has been on a ‘boil water’ alert for almost 10 years while Neskantaga has not been able to drink their tap water for about 20 years,” says Sudol. “This is scandalous in a country as rich as Canada.”
Mining development in the region would bring transformative change to these communities, he says.
The province and the Matawa-member First Nations signed a framework agreement for Ring of Fire development in 2014. It’s not a definitive blueprint for development; it calls for separate agreements with each of the member First Nations. But Sudol says it’s enough to begin with infrastructure projects, as shown by the March 1, 2015 announcement that the federal and provincial governments would fund a First Nations-led study of a proposed all-weather road from Pickle Lake to the Webequie First Nation, near the Ring of Fire.
As to electricity, according to Sudol, “a well-advanced, First Nation-led power transmission project called Watay Power intends to bring grid-power to many Aboriginal communities currently forced to use much more expensive and polluting diesel-generated power. . . Both levels of government should publicly back this project.”