QUEENS PARK – MPP Michael Gravelle was up during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on Thursday. The former Minister of Northern Development and Mines was seeking information from Minister Greg Rickford the Progressive Conservative Minister of Northern Development and Mines.
Full Exchange in Queens Park
Mr. Michael Gravelle: My question is to the Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs.
Speaker, the Ring of Fire is truly a multigenerational economic and social development resource project that will positively impact the economy all across the north. I believe that the minister will agree that two of the keys to this project moving forward are the building of regional infrastructure to bring the minerals to market and a continued partnership with First Nations to see that benefits go to their communities.
We know that three First Nations are working on all-season roads to open up access to the provincial highway network and the Ring of Fire. When we were in office, we committed $1 billion to ensure that these access roads are indeed built.
The government’s support for these all-season roads is totally crucial. My question for the minister is this: Will the minister commit to making the necessary investments to see that the all-season roads are built? And will the minister continue to work in partnership with these willing First Nations to move the Ring of Fire forward?
Hon. Greg Rickford: Thank you for the question. I appreciate the member opposite’s efforts over the past; unfortunately, they haven’t accomplished much. I was involved, obviously, in the other place in my capacity as the minister for FedNor, and from time to time, we had a project or two that we were able to work successfully on in an effort to open up corridors for hydro and road access to First Nations communities, improve all-season roads and actually get a road into the Ring of Fire, to create jobs and economic development for Indigenous communities.
Instead, what we’ve seen is a bit of a bog. These communities are now no longer involved in the direct activity, the benefit and the opportunity—save and except for a couple—of actually participating in the things that the Ring of Fire can offer.
I’m pleased to say that, moving forward, the Ring of Fire is a top priority for us and those communities and all of northern Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary?
Mr. Michael Gravelle: Thank you very much for the response, Minister, and I’m very pleased that it’s a top priority for your government, as it was for ours. I think it’s important to reiterate the question.
The willing First Nations who are indeed working to move those all-season access roads forward are going to be crucial to the development of the project. Certainly, all other northern communities are extremely keen on this, and I’m hoping that the minister, when he’s at the AMO conference, will be meeting with northern communities to discuss, and update them on, this project.
But my question again is: Will you make the investment necessary to move that all-season road access forward? And will you continue to partner with the First Nations who are willing partners in this project?
Hon. Greg Rickford: The answer can be yes, if the member is willing to admit that there is a dramatic deficit of road access to that region and that for 15 years, very little got done in that respect. Okay? Let’s call it for what it is.
The Ring of Fire represents a legacy opportunity, not only for the jobs it will create in mining extraction, not only for the economic opportunity of Indigenous communities and municipalities’ smelting opportunities, but the legacy infrastructure required to support that development is as big as the prospect of mining extraction activities itself.
We’ve seen that when Indigenous communities get involved in the economic development aspects of this, like Webequie, a small business centre that played a pivotal role in the exploration activities, like communities farther to the south who are now partners with Noront to make sure that they get jobs, economic opportunities and infrastructure that can create and contribute to vibrant, dynamic Indigenous communities and municipalities—
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you.