Silver Linings in Cliffs Ring of Fire Rumble

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Ring of Fire KWG ResourcesSilver Lining in Chromite Storm

THUNDER BAY – Opinion – The announcement by Cliffs Natural Resources on the Ring of Fire should not come as a major shock to anyone who has been following the story. Cliffs has maintained for a long time that the project was in the feasibility stage. 

There are several potential silver linings in all of this rumbling.

First is it a surprise? Honestly no. This has been coming for a while with Cliffs Natural Resources.

Some of this is due to ham-fisted bungling on the provincial level starting at the very top of the political pyramid. The Premier has not taken this project as seriously as it should have been taken in the view of many. 

Ontario has not taken the steps to ensure job training on a massive level was possible. The federal government has stepped up there, but Ontario didn’t.

Cliffs has been Clear for a long time

“Without access to the surface lands to develop the needed infrastructure, there is no project. Our proposed development has the scale needed to develop the road access and is therefore a catalyst for other smaller mining opportunities in the Ring of Fire. Cliffs is very disappointed in this decision, but beyond our project, it is clearly an issue for anyone interested in seeing these opportunities in the Ring of Fire becoming realities,” commented Bill Boor, SVP Global Ferroalloys with Cliffs. “While we are open to possible solutions, without a pathway developing quickly to overcome this major setback, it is going to be difficult for us to justify continuing with the project at this point in time.”  (Source: September 21 13 NNL)

Over the summer the Ontario Government has telegraphed its moves very clearly that getting the “Ring of Fire Right” is critical.

Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle has made that statement so many times that some might have thought they were hearing things. A week ago last Friday, from Thunder Bay, Minister Gravelle announced the province was creating a Ring of Fire Development Corporation. 

Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce

Chamber President Charla Robinson states, “The recent decline in mineral prices has impacted many mining companies in our region, each of which must take the steps they deem appropriate to meet the needs of their shareholders.  I am hopeful that continued dialogue between the federal and provincial governments, First Nations, and mining companies with stakes in the Ring of Fire, will lead to solutions that allow development to proceed as soon as possible.”

Ring of Fire Development Corporation Announcement

It must be disappointing to Minister Gravelle, in effect the announcement by Cliffs is the first response to that proposal.

Marten Falls First Nation

“From the beginning, Marten Falls disagreed with the staking of mining claims along the corridor without our consultation,” commented Chief Eli Moonias of Marten Falls First Nation. “Now, the decision by the Ontario Government, that allows these claims to effectively block development of infrastructure that will be of great benefit to our community, is unacceptable. While we have a long way to go with questions about the environmental impacts as well as the future benefit agreement before our community supports the development, we have decided to work with Cliffs to address these questions. The decision along these historically contested claims to once again block our interests is troubling to say the least.”  (Source: NNL)

Minister Greg Rickford in Action

Federal Minister Greg Rickford has been quietly putting pieces of this very complicated puzzle together. The Minister has also been sharing that information very clearly.

Silver Linings? Here are some Business Solutions

Perhaps by now you are wondering what those silver linings are in all of this.

First: This sends the message to Ontario Premier Wynne that this project demands full and serious attention. Minister Gravelle has been making all the right steps, but has not been, obviously given all the needed authority to make all the right decisions.

Former Premier Dalton McGuinty, and now Premier Wynne seem at times to think that Northwestern Ontario isn’t as critical to the future of Ontario as it really is.

This move by Cliffs is a loud and ringing alarm bell. It is not too late yet to start fixing the issues – and those issues will likely be fixed by bringing in new partners to the table. 

Second: Minister Gravelle has repeatedly stating that “We have to get it right”. 

Ontario’s unofficial “Minister of Positive Thinking” is absolutely right on this. Perhaps now is the time to really get the project right.

That should include a complete plan that ensures that jobs in the Ring of Fire project and monies in the Ring of Fire project are maximized in Northwestern Ontario. Very bluntly put, once the minerals are gone, there must be a large Alberta style Heritage Fund that First Nations, and Northwestern Ontario can fall back on.

Third: Now is the time to put the pieces in place, like Minister Greg Rickford has been doing with efforts like the Ring of Fire Training Alliance (RoFATA) with the Matawa First Nations. In many cases, the Harper Government gets a lot of critical commentary on how the Aboriginal files is handled. However the federal government is putting millions of dollars into skills and job training is taking very needed steps that Ontario needs to follow.

Fourth: For communities across the Northwest, this move tells us that we can’t be putting all our eggs in any single basket no matter how exciting that basket might look. 

Right now is the opportunity to ensure that not only will minerals mined in Northwestern Ontario be processed in Northwestern Ontario, but we need to be putting in place the bigger plans. 

All Levels of Government Work Together

Once minerals are processed, all four levels of governments: Federal; First Nations; Provincial; and Municipal, need to be working together to make sure we wring every benefit for our region out of every rock. Manufacturing of finished products from the minerals mined in our region should be happening in our region too.

Governments need to be working closely with business and communicating the efforts carefully and completely to the public. 

Northwestern Ontario has a number of opportunities here to get the Ring of Fire right.

It is now up to each resident of the region to make their voices heard.

It is now up to government to listen and act.

James Murray

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