Viewpoint – The Ring of Fire – Michael Gravelle MPP

Michael Gravelle MPPTHUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – There is very good reason for everyone in Northwestern Ontario to be excited about the growth of the mining sector in our part of the Province. Mineral exploration investments are at an all-time high and we can expect the opening of several new mines in the region to employ hundreds, if not thousands of people, which will drive the economy forward to levels we have not seen before. These opportunities are being embraced by First Nations and municipal governments all across the region as they seek to seize the long term benefits this renaissance in mining will provide.

There is no question that the project that has captured the most attention in Northwestern Ontario is the Ring of Fire, where an unprecedented level of investment is poised to bring economic benefits and jobs to thousands of people for many years to come.

While there are a number of companies making significant investments in this resource rich part of the Northwest, most of the public attention over the past year or so has been focused on Cliffs Natural Resources, a U.S. based firm that is eager to take the next major step forward in the development of a huge project; one that, if managed properly, will bring extraordinary long term economic benefits to many First Nations communities and municipalities across our region.

On May 9th Cliffs took that next step by announcing a potential $3.35 billion investment in this project. That included their business decision to locate a ferrochrome processing facility in Northeastern Ontario; a decision that deeply disappointed those who hoped they would chose a site in Northwestern Ontario for that facility. But, just as significantly, they announced that the mine itself, as well as the North-South transportation corridor would mean that two-thirds of the direct jobs created by the project would be in Northwestern Ontario, most significantly benefiting First Nations in the Ring of Fire, the municipality of Greenstone, and the City of Thunder Bay, which Cliffs envisions as the hub of its operations in Northwestern Ontario.

It is also worth noting that the direct jobs created, and the massive scope of this development will generate thousand of new indirect jobs, from the mining supply and services sector to transportation jobs as well as many other jobs associated with a development of this size.

As many of you will know, I chose to be in Thunder Bay on the day that this announcement was made, and I was pleased to be accompanied by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne. While I was certainly conscious that Cliffs decision to locate the smelter in Capreol would be received with great disappointment by all those attending the event, I was determined to speak about the long term unprecedented level of investment and jobs that would be created in Northwestern Ontario as a result of their commitment to this massive project. I was also very conscious of the reaction of many First Nations to the announcement. Their profound disappointment with the Cliffs decision on the site of the smelter was compounded by their assertion that appropriate consultation has not taken place.

To that, I can only say that, over the last two years, our government has heard clearly from our First Nations in the Ring of Fire that they want direct input on environmental issues associated with the project and that they demand greater participation in the economic opportunities for their community members as well as significant socio-economic support and regional infrastructure. Now that Cliffs has moved to this next level of commitment to this huge private sector project, the Province is now in a position to formally begin our work with the First Nations to achieve those goals.

In this regard, Ontario is proposing tri-partite discussions on the socio-economic and community development supports that must accompany the development of the Ring of Fire. This will include economic development supports such as workforce readiness, skills training and mentorship programs, and business development opportunities. We also agree with the First Nations that these decisions should include resource revenue sharing, family wellness and well being and education, skills development and training. This project can provide an exceptional opportunity for many remote Northern communities and the McGuinty government is committed to ensuring that First Nations will both contribute to and significantly benefit from the development in the Ring of Fire and we are eager to work in partnership with the First Nations to achieve those goals.

If I may, I’d like to finish this column on a more personal note. It has been my privilege to sit as a Northwestern Ontario MPP for the past 17 years. From my first day in office, I have worked hard every day to fight for the best interests of my riding and our region. Since forming government in 2003, we have seen unprecedented investment in our region, including the 4-laning of the highway from Thunder Bay to Nipigon, the announcement of the first ever Law School in Northern Ontario to be located at Lakehead University and the construction of a $250 million consolidated Courthouse in Thunder Bay. Working alongside my colleague from Thunder-Bay Atikokan, Bill Mauro, we have seen continuous increased investments in our health care and education sectors. I care deeply about the work that I do on your behalf and I have as much passion for the job today as I did when I was first elected in 1995.

With that being said, I will admit to feeling frustrated by the negativity and the lack of perspective that I heard on the day that Cliffs made the announcement about its multi-billion investment in Northern Ontario.

In my view, what’s important now is for all of us to work together in a cooperative, supportive fashion, to see that the most benefits come to Northwestern Ontario from this remarkably exciting project. I am utterly convinced that, by working together, we can achieve economic vitality that will truly benefit us all.

Michael Gravelle
M.P.P. Thunder Bay – Superior North