Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
While critics accused her government of “dropping the ball,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday she wasn’t rattled by this week’s announcement that Cliffs Natural Resources will stop working on its environmental assessment for its big Ring of Fire project.
In a conference call with Northern media outlets, Wynne dismissed a suggestion that Cliffs is upping the pressure on the province to get its chromite mine approved in a more timely manner.
“I’m not seeing it that way,” she said. “I’m seeing it as the natural course of things.” On Wednesday, Cliffs ferroalloys vice-president Bill Boor said the company is temporarily halting its work on its environmental assessment process because, after two years, the parties involved still can’t agree on what the project’s terms of reference should be.
Boor also cited “unfinished agreements with the government of Ontario that are critical to the project’s economic viability.” Wynne said Boor’s announcement “doesn’t change our position to see development in the Ring of Fire.”
The Ring of Fire mining belt, about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is a “complex” file “and we have to get it right,” said Wynne.
Among other things, she said, negotiations with First Nations in the Ring of Fire can’t be given short-shrift. “If we want this to go forward, we have to do this work upfront,” she said.
Matawa First Nations, which is seeking in the courts to have Cliffs’ chromite project subject to an independent environmental review panel, said Thursday it was reviewing Cliffs’ decision to suspend work on the environmental assessment.
Boor’s announcement recalled a perception in the North that the province hasn’t been as proactive on the Ring of Fire file as it could be.
“There are no shortcuts to Northern development,” MPP Mike Mantha (NDP-Algoma Manitoulin) said in a news release.
“This government needs to show some leadership, and start working with communities and industry in the North to get this project back on track.
“The Ring of Fire has the potential to be a massive economic driver for decades to come, and the Liberal government is dropping the ball every step of the way,” Mantha said.
On Thursday, after being reminded of the thousands of direct and indirect jobs the Ring of Fire is expected to create, Wynne said the province is “engaged” and “committed” to the mining belt’s development.
“It’s an historic development the likes of which this province hasn’t seen in a century,” she said.
Greenstone Mayor Ron Beaulieu said he supported Wynne’s position to ensure First Nations interests are paramount.
“These are the people who live on the land, so they have to be listened to,” said Beaulieu. “You just can’t go up there and bulldoze people.”
Boor said Wednesday that discussions with First Nations in the Ring of Fire belt have been productive. Beaulieu said Wednesday’s announcement by Cliffs is a “setback, but I’m confident the process will get back on track.”