TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – The Minister of the Canadian government’s economic development organisation for Northern Ontario (FedNor) Tony Clement was on Monday promoting the federal government’s commitment to bring together all role-players from the private and public sectors, including the First Nations, to map the way forward for developing the Ring of Fire.
Clement underscored the economic development potential of the Ring of Fire and reaffirmed the Harper government’s commitment to mining development in the region and within the country.
“It's kind of like a ‘Rubik's cube’ of public policy development and the sequencing of events. No one said it was simple. No one said that you could easily tie up all aspects in a nice neat bow.
“All aspects will be reiterative and in five or ten years from now there will be similar issues that we would have dealt with already, that will lead to economic development,” Clement said.
Clement was in recent weeks placed in charge of coordinating the federal government’s efforts to develop regulatory and public policies with regard to developing the minerals-rich north of Ontario.
“Being named lead political Minister on the Ring of Fire was a recognition by the Prime Minister [Stephen Harper] to [the need for] a whole-of-government approach to the Ring of Fire,” he said.
Clement said he would work in coordination with his colleagues at Aboriginal Affairs, at Infrastructure, at Natural Resources and at 12 other federal departments, to ensure government speaks with a single voice.
The fact that the Ring of Fire comprised many projects that could stretch over a century of mining is the main driver in the need to develop suitable policies that would in future benefit the development of the mining industry, in Ontario and in Canada.
Clement reiterated that the Ring of Fire could mean billions of dollars over many years for the local and national economies. The project has the potential to be economically equal to or larger than the Alberta oil sands.
With mineral content estimated at potentially more than $50-billion, the Ring of Fire could create up to 5 000 direct and indirect jobs in Northern Ontario alone.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. No one has a road map on this, it will develop over time, but the federal government wants to be a part of this,” he said.
Chief among the issues to be dealt with on the road to exploiting the new mining district were its inaccessibility, including road and rail construction.
However, Clement said it was not up to government to dictate modes of transport or even timeframes for development to take place. “It is the project developers’ prerogative to tell us what they require, and then we will look at it in collaboration with all stakeholders to find the best solution,” he said.
There were currently two environmental-impact assessments under way. Diversified miner Cliffs Natural Resources expected to start production from its Black Thor mine in 2017 and last year it announced its intention to locate a $1.8-billion ferrochrome refinery near Capreol, near Sudbury.
Exploration junior Noront Resources also planned to develop a nickel mine by 2016, and KWG Resources was continuing exploration activities for nickel, copper and diamonds.
Both Cliffs and Noront have moved from exploration to the environmental assessment stage and have submitted project descriptions to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Meanwhile, Clement emphasised there also needed to be a meaningful process and discussion with the First Nations groups, of which business and government must form part. He recently met with seven of the nine chiefs of the Matawa First Nations, which would be affected by Ring of Fire mining, during a visit to Thunder Bay.
“No one was saying don’t do the project. Although everybody were eager for answers on the issues at hand, this collaborative approach will ensure we maximise investments, avoid duplication and work efficiently with First Nation partners, industry and other stakeholders,” Clement said.
He pointed to government; municipalities; and communities, including First Nations communities, which were currently busy with capacity building. FedNor had been a significant contributor in the past seven years that Clement had been the Minister.
“The project is a real game-changer. We’re looking at thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs,” he said.
The private sector and stakeholders positively received his appointment. Clement also on Monday addressed a meeting of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
He said one could draw a direct connection between financial center Toronto and remote mines in places such as Labrador; Flin Flon, in Manitoba; and Kirkland Lake, in Ontario.
“All Canadians have a stake in a healthy domestic mining industry and that is a story the industry needs to share. The Ring of Fire represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create jobs, and generate growth and long-term prosperity for Northern Ontario and the country.”