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From the Editor: May-June 2014

The Ring of Fire - What approach will work to develop the needed infrastructure?


June 11, 2014
By Andrew Macklin


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The political football has been bounced around in Ontario the past few months as the province is embroiled in another election.

The political football has been bounced around in Ontario the past few months as the province is embroiled in another election.

In the days leading up to the release of the 2014 Budget, the document that ultimately led to the defeat of the Liberal minority government, the party announced that funding would be provided to “develop strategic all-season industrial and community transportation infrastructure” of the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario. Additionally, it called for the federal government to match the funding commitment to help boost the northern economy.

Just a few weeks later, amidst the throes of the election, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives presented a different approach for the development of the infrastructure needed for the Ring of Fire – proposing that a public-private partnership was the only real solution for the development. The Ontario NDP have committed that funding will be available for the Ring of Fire, citing it as part of a larger 10-year, $29-billion commitment to tackling transportation infrastructure issues in the province.

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 The 5,000-square kilometre Ring of Fire is believed to contain the largest deposit of chromite in North America. Located in the James Bay lowlands, the area is over 400km northeast of the closest major centre, Thunder Bay. Current Treasury Board President and Conservative MP Tony Clement once pegged the estimated value of the development at $120 billion.

The greatest stumbling block remains a permanent, all-season road network that will allow equipment and personnel to move in and out of the region. Several mining companies have pressed both the provincial and federal government for financial support to establish the road network, but those requests have not been met to this point.

But the project has been vaulted back in the national spotlight in the past six to eight months. Last November, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. pulled its potential $3-billion investment from the region, in part, as a result of the lack of the road network. Noront Resources Ltd., whose founder Richard Nemis coined the Ring of Fire name for the region (after the famous Johnny Cash song), has also pleaded with government officials to provide the necessary infrastructure to allow his company access to his Eagle’s Nest and Blackbird mining projects.

But the project is now in the spotlight as one of the issues rising to the forefront during the insanity of the provincial election. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Facing a cash crunch and expansive deficit, the development of resources in the north is estimated to create around 8,000 jobs and could generate huge tax revenues for the cash-strapped province.

So, then, what is the solution for developing the necessary infrastructure to establish permanent access to this massive resource development? Depending on the party that has been elected, the right solution may be replaced by the party solution.


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