North Ontario not yet ready – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (April 29, 2013)

Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

A SECOND look at Northwestern Ontario’s latest mining boom confirms the good news contained in the first. It also accentuates the fact that the region is woefully short of the mining readiness that is the plan.

Last fall, a business group examined nascent mining developments across the North. They focused on nine of the most promising, including the big Ring of Fire belt. They found $135 billion in unmined metals and minerals, 13,000 new jobs in the Northwest alone and potential tax revenue to all levels of government totalling $16 billion.

The study also identified three potential pitfalls: Aboriginal involvement, labour market dynamics and infrastructure in terms of roads, rail and electricity.

At the annual Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association conference last week, Thunder Bay’s Mining Readiness Strategy confirmed the rosy outlook as well as the fact much remains unready. Thunder Bay is smart to have a powerful strategy group looking into the opportunities and challenges. But the task will require immense participation by all communities in the region, especially First Nations which stand to benefit as much as any.

Ontario is showing remarkable new interest in Northern Ontario since Kathleen Wynne became premier. But a province that desperately needs economic development cannot succeed without a reliable power supply. The two reports into mining confirm the apparent disconnect between power planners and power needs.

Plans to convert Thunder Bay’s big generating station to gas are on hold and potentially dead because the Ontario Power Authority seems to think a long-term plan to expand the main east-west tie line will give the North all the power it needs. Except that completion will not correspond with planned start-up dates for new mines.

Meanwhile, First Nations continue to present a variety of conflicting demands and expectations. Governments and miners want to meet them in order to involve them, but a more common approach is essential. Where will all the miners live?

Thunder Bay hasn’t the housing yet. Who will the mines employ? Even if every jobless person in Thunder Bay were to be trained, there would still be shortages. Get your Grade 12 and subsequent skills that have been identified, city and area students are advised.

Mining will lift the North out of economic stagnation, but only if it can be what the industry needs to get started.

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