Toronto – The federal government has funded large-scale infrastructure projects in other provinces and should be prepared to help develop the mineral-rich Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, according to Kathleen Wynne, the province’s premier..
The capital investment for industrial infrastructure is expected to be up to $1-billion, plus another $1.25-billion to construct all-season access roads to the remote region 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
“Ontario is prepared to make a substantial contribution to the infrastructure needed to access the resources,” Wynne said in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “We expect your government to come to the table with matching funds.”
The letter lists specific federal contributions to projects in other provinces, including $508-million in direct spending in “the fossil fuels sector,” $130-million for the Northwest Transmission Line in British Columbia and $6.3-billion in a federal loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador.
“Investing in Ring of Fire related infrastructure is a good investment because of the economic opportunity estimated to be on the order of $60-billion,” wrote Wynne. “It is as transformative as opportunities arising from other energy and resources developments that your government supports.”
The province also announced it was creating a new development corporation for the Ring of Fire to bring together private and public partners, including First Nations, mining companies and both levels of government.
The government has faced lawsuits from companies that can’t reach agreements with First Nations in the area, and one of the major players—Cliffs Natural Resources—threatened to pull out last month because it couldn’t build an access road to the Ring of Fire across land controlled by a smaller company.
The development corporation will try to head off any more conflicts that are slowing development, said Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle.
“There were challenges related to the companies’ not necessarily being able to come to an agreement in a fashion that would allow the project to move forward,” Gravelle said in Thunder Bay, Ont.
“A development corporation is a model that can, at the very start, bring people together, allow opportunities for a number of partners to become involved and allow us to make some decisions.”
However, the New Democrats worried the corporation was just the latest in the dozens of consultation and advisory panels the Liberals have set up this year.
“I truly hope that this not just another committee, another plan to develop a plan to implement a plan,” said NDP northern development critic Michael Mantha. “It’s concerning to me that it took this government seven years to finally realize that they need to develop an actual plan to move the Ring of Fire forward.”
The government also needs to set up a specific framework and guidelines to spell out exactly how First Nations will benefit from the Ring of Fire development and what share of revenues they will receive, added Mantha.
“That’s the white elephant in the room, until this government takes a leadership role instead of passing it off to industry,” he said.
The Progressive Conservatives said Ontario’s Liberal government should stop looking to Ottawa to bail them out whenever they run into trouble.
“I think that the Ontario government needs to take a role when it comes to developing the Ring of Fire, not blaming the feds and going with their hand out all the time,” said PC critic Monte McNaughton.