The Ring of Fire mining development could be Canada’s next oil sands, says federal minister of FedNor Tony Clement.
Clement, who was appointed earlier this year as the federal government’s point man on the Ring of Fire, told the Huffington Post that the mining development will change northern Ontario for the better.
“It has the potential to transform what was hitherto a very poor, underdeveloped area of Ontario and give people who live there, particularly First Nations people, a chance for a decent life,” Clement said.
Clement, also Treasury Board president, said the Ring of Fire could eventually be worth $120 billion, including the smelter and additional economic activity tied to mining.
“You’re looking at $120 billion, right in line with the oil sands or some of these other major developments,” Clement said. Clement is not the first Conservative politician to compare the Ring of Fire to Alberta’s oil sands. Provincial Conservative leader Tim Hudak made similar claims in 2012 after visiting the mining area.
“In many ways, the Ring of Fire is Ontario’s oil sands – an enormous wealth beneath the earth that can break open a new frontier for job creation and investment in our province,” Hudak said in June 2012. “Sometimes we look with wonder and awe at what Alberta can do; we can do that in Ontario and we can do that with the Ring of Fire.”
First Nations in the region have also made comparisons to Alberta’s oil sands – but without the enthusiasm shown by the Conservative politicians.
Chief Eli Moonias of Marten Falls has expressed his concern of a potential “Athabasca River” situation on his traditional lands.
First Nations downstream of Alberta’s oil sands have long claimed that the Athabasca River, which runs from Fort McMurray through the oil sands region and north into the Northwest Territories, is being polluted by industry. Recent scientific studies, notably those done in 2010 by eminent freshwater ecologist David Schindler, have also shown a correlation between oil sands development and increases in toxic chemicals on the land and in river water.
The Matawa First Nations have also taken the federal government to court to try and get a stricter environmental assessment process used for Cliffs Resources’ chromite project in the Ring of Fire. That judicial review should come before the courts later this year.
Clement acknowledged that getting First Nations on board with the Ring of Fire is essential to the Ring of Fire’s success.
“The only way this project is going to work is if First Nations people are included as partners,” Clement said. He promised that the government would consult with First Nations and develop plans to allow them “to participate in the economic activity that this project is going to generate.”