Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
SOMETHING said in the wake of Monday’s federal cabinet shuffle raises concern about jurisdictional squabbling in advance of what is perhaps Northern Ontario’s greatest opportunity.
Greg Rickford, newly installed as minister of state for FedNor, the government’s Northern Ontario development agency, spoke convincingly about what lies ahead for the region economically. He said Ottawa will do what it can to help create the opportunities that will mean jobs.
In particular, he was effusive about the Ring of Fire mineral belt that holds such immense promise. But in the same breath as he pledged federal support Rickford said the province must play its role.
For his part, Ontario mines minister Michael Gravelle qualified his warm welcome for Rickford’s assignment by saying, “There is a very significant role the federal government can and must play with this project.”
That both men, who must work together to ensure this economic bonanza remains on track, felt obliged to place the other on notice in this way suggests that both levels of government are expecting more of the other than has so far been apparent.
It would have given Northerners more confidence to hear both men express only a determination to have the two senior governments move ahead jointly to see the Ring of Fire succeed.
This is especially important after the Ring’s major player, Cliffs Natural Resources, called a halt to its environmental review process, blaming an inability to work through issues with the province and some First Nations. Then, Cliffs’ CEO retired just as plunging commodity prices crinkled the company’s balance sheet.
Much is riding on this project and while Cliffs and other companies remain vitally interested in mine development, confusion about what is expected of and by all players needs to be cleared up.
The appointment of former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci by the Ontario government, and former interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae representing First Nations, to work through provincial issues imbues Ontario’s situation with optimism.
Rickford enjoys the confidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and has shown himself to be an able player in Ottawa with some impressive performances as a stand-in at Aboriginal Affairs when former minister John Duncan fell ill.
After eight years without one, it is good to have a Northerner to keep Northern Ontario issues on the cabinet agenda.