Feds reluctant partners on Ring of Fire: Gravelle – by Staff (Northern Ontario Business – November 27, 2013)

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The Ontario government’s repeated calls for Ottawa to buy into development of the Ring of Fire appear to have gone straight to voice mail.

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said it’s time for the feds to put its money where its mouth is by working with Queen’s Park on infrastructure and fully realize the 100-year potential of the mining district.

Gravelle fired off a Nov. 24 letter to FedNor Minister Greg Rickford, his federal Ring of Fire counterpart, asking that Ottawa participate in the province’s newly created Ring of Fire corporation.

“You’ve stated repeatedly that you know the significance of this project but we have yet to see that turn into action,” wrote Gravelle, in alluding to past statements by the Harper government that resource development is essential to Canada’s long-term economic growth.

The cash-strapped Wynne government is being hammered by the Opposition and Northerners for bungling and inaction on the Ring of Fire file that’s pushed back mining in the remote James Bay region by years.

The flak only intensified after last week’s decision by Cliffs Natural Resources to ice its proposed $3.3-billion Black Thor chromite project.

The Ohio miner cited a lack of progress in talks with Queen’s Parks over power rates, the environmental assessment process and the lack of commitment on infrastructure and direction in order to reach its stranded deposit.

In one recent news report, Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to the Ring of Fire as a pure resource development play that falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Gravelle took issue with that in his letter.

He reminded Rickford that Ottawa is responsible for the “well-being of First Nation communities” and a federal investment in the Ring of Fire is a “meaningful way” to hold up its obligations.

Gravelle said the spinoffs from the potential mines will be felt Canada-wide through jobs and increased tax revenues, along with the social and economic benefits to area First Nations.

“Development of this scale is not about jurisdictional boundaries or placing blame — the Ring of Fire development is about much more and that is why we continue to urge your government to be a committed partner for investment and collaboration in the development corporation,” said Gravelle.

On Nov. 8, Gravelle announced the creation of the Ring of Fire development corporation designed to bring key industry, First Nation and government partners to the table to map out a development model.

Premier Kathleen Wynne immediately sent a letter to the prime minister asking for Ottawa’s participation.

However the corporation’s governance structure is unclear and the Ontario government has not yet committed infrastructure dollars but it is asking Ottawa to provide matching funds.

Provincial officials assigned to the corporation have met in private one-on-one meetings with mining companies such as KWG Resources and Noront Resources, but Ottawa has not yet responded to Queen’s Park’s invitation to be participate in the process.

According to Gravelle’s letter, the province’s repeated requests for Ottawa to team up have fallen on deaf ears, citing correspondence dating back to last year on May 8, June 1 and Sept 6.

“In fact, as recently as November 7th, in Ontario’s Fall Economic Statement, we renewed our call on the federal government to step up to the plate. That call went unanswered.”

While the Ring of Fire mining project milestones are few, Gravelle said the province has produced a “number of ground breaking initiatives,” including the naming of ex-Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci as its chief negotiator with the Matawa Tribal Council.

Gravelle said those negotiations led to the Matawa chiefs withdrawing their legal challenge on the federal environmental assessment process.

“This is an investment not just in Ontario’s, but Canada’s future,” said Gravelle. “Now is the time to act and support resource development, jobs and growth in Northern Ontario.”

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