Fiery Exchanges in Question Period over Ring of Fire

Minister Gravelle in Thunder Bay.
Minister Gravelle


QUEEN’S PARK – POLITICS – There was a fiery exchange in Question Period in Queen’s Park between Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown and Thunder Bay Superior North MPP and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle today. The PC Leader is demanding action on the Ring of Fire mining project that Brown states is stalled after eight long years.

There have been reports, in the Financial Post that Noront Resources is frustrated over progress on the mining project.

Minister Gravelle stated “As a government, we remain absolutely committed to the project. We have got our commitment of $1 billion locked in, thanks to the Minister of Finance for the transportation infrastructure corridor. We are looking forward to having an opportunity to have a discussion with the new federal government to engage in the process that was not very successful in the past with the previous government.

“We are engaged in a regional framework discussion with Matawa First Nations, and we have set up a development corporation to move that forward. So we are indeed making very positive progress.”

The Minister was also under fire from the New Democrats.

Ontario NDP MPP Michael Mantha called on the Minister of Northern Development and Mines during Question Period this morning to address the lack of progress and leadership on the Ring of Fire mining project in Northern Ontario.

“Minister, we attended  Meet the Miners Day and you boasted your government’s commitment to mining in Ontario. Last year, mining giant Cliffs, who spent $550 million in the Ring of Fire, said they can no longer do business with this Liberal government and sold their claims at a massive loss to Noront for $20 Million.”

“Minister, how can you still sit there and watch as the remaining few companies threaten to leave taking good jobs with them?” Mantha asked.

Noront Resources is one of the few remaining mining companies operating in the Ring of Fire. According to inside sources, the  Ontario mining company is expected to halt spending by the end of year, costing enormous job losses if the Liberal government doesn’t make progress with infrastructure and First Nations agreements.

Mantha called on the Minister to take immediate action and commit to investing in the Ring of Fire.

“Noront is expected to halt spending by year’s end if it doesn’t see any progress, causing to lay off most all of their workers. You had eight years, Minister. You failed to come up with a plan that will create good jobs, build infrastructure, reduce the high price of electricity and work with First Nations. Minister, will your government take action now before Noront’s investors bail and you are responsible for killing a 60 billion dollar project?” Mantha asked.

RING OF FIRE Exchange from Hansard

Mr. Patrick Brown: To the Acting Premier: I’ve always said that when the government acts in the best interests of Ontario, we’ll be the first to applaud them. You know what? When the government committed $1 billion to develop the economic potential of the Ring of Fire, I acknowledged that was a great announcement. But what I’m concerned about is, there are no timelines for getting shovels into the ground. This Liberal promise appears like many before. It’s all about election time and not about an actual implementation of that idea. It’s about photo ops, and because this government’s dithering, investors in the Ring of Fire, like Noront Resources, all left—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Member from Barrie.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, will this Liberal government today give Noront and the people of northern Ontario a firm timeline for its promised commitment to the Ring of Fire?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: The Minister of Northern Development and Mines.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Glad to have an opportunity to respond to that question. I think the Leader of the Opposition knows that Noront Resources made it very clear that they remain committed to the project, and we’re working very closely with them. In fact, they announced that they are moving forward on an exploration project within the Ring of Fire area themselves.

As a government, we remain absolutely committed to the project. We have got our commitment of $1 billion locked in, thanks to the Minister of Finance for the transportation infrastructure corridor. We are looking forward to having an opportunity to have a discussion with the new federal government to engage in the process that was not very successful in the past with the previous government.

We are engaged in a regional framework ??discussion with Matawa First Nations, and we have set up a development corporation to move that forward. So we are indeed making very positive progress.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Again to the Acting Premier: The time for talk is over. It’s time for action in the north. Northerners and investors are tired of this government’s wait-and-see attitude towards the development of the Ring of Fire.

As noted in yesterday’s National Post, the lack of action on its billion-dollar infrastructure promise to the Ring of Fire leaves investors worried and frustrated. Platitudes and photo opportunities don’t get shovels in the ground. They don’t get people working. Only a firm timeline for construction of a transportation corridor in the Ring of Fire will give investors the confidence they need.

Mr. Speaker, will the government do the right thing? Will they give us a timeline and give the people of northern Ontario the confidence that you’re actually going to honour this election commitment?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: I would certainly invite the leader of the official opposition and other members of his party to have a conversation with Mr. Coutts of Noront Resources who is obviously very keen to move forward. We are all very keen to move the project forward, and within the last year and a half a number of significant measures have taken place. We had the historic precedent-setting regional framework agreement signed with the Matawa First Nations, something that others will say we need to focus on, and indeed we do. We recognize that in order for this project to move forward, it needs to be embraced by the First Nations and there needs to be an assurance that they will seeing benefits from this major resource development project, a project that I think probably the Leader of the Opposition needs to be reminded is in a remote part of the province that has never seen development before. That’s why our recognition that indeed we need to—

Interjection.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Member from Nepean–Carleton, come to order.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: —$1-billion commitment was so crucial.

Mr. Speaker, we’re working closely with the companies and First Nations and looking forward to a much better—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Final supplementary.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Again for the Acting Premier: I’m tired of these excuses. It’s been eight years since the Ring of Fire.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock. Order, please.

Please finish.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, it’s been eight years to do nothing. It’s been five years since the government created the Ring of Fire Secretariat, and we haven’t seen a shovel in the ground. In fact, the government can’t even commit to a start date for the development.

What we’ve seen described as Ontario’s own “oil sands” is estimated to create a $9.4-billion economic boom for all of Ontario at the least.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock.

Let’s start the clock.

Finish, please.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, I guess we’ve hit a nerve—

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(The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac))

… Start the clock.

Finish, please.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, I guess we have hit a nerve with their record of all talk and no action. The reality is that they have spent eight years blaming other people, blaming the federal government, blaming previous governments—there is no one for you to blame now—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Answer.

Mr. Patrick Brown: The reality is these are thousands and thousands of dollars—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. I had already said answer.

Minister.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I truly do not mean to be impolite but I do think the Leader of the Opposition is betraying a true lack of understanding of how the mining process works in the province. This is a project that, again I will remind him, is a huge resource development opportunity. Yes, a remarkable opportunity in a remote part of the province that requires us, for all of the right reasons, to work very, very closely—

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Leeds–Grenville: second time.

Finish please.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: The progress and the commitments that we made related to this major resource development project are unprecedented. The work that we’re doing with the Matawa First Nations, the regional framework agreement, you would acknowledge is an important part of the process and we’re going to continue to work closely with them relating to regional infrastructure, resource revenue sharing—all of those aspects that are so important to ensure the First Nations—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock for a minute.

Two things are happening here that I suspect are rather frustrating for the majority. We’ve got comments going back and forth that have raised the ire of each side, and then individuals decide that they can jump in and make comments that are not what we consider here to be appropriate, in terms of names and elevating the debate, and the heat of the debate. All of the other processes that are in place are rational. They make sense.

So, you address the Chair in your question, and you address the Chair in your answer. It helps to lower the temperature, not raise it.

Whether or not anyone wants to make a comment about what I’m saying, if they say it, I’ll let you go.

Let’s just finish with a wrap-up please, and we’ll move on to the next question.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Our $1 billion lock-in commitment to the transfer agent infrastructure is extraordinarily significant and—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you.