THUNDER BAY -- The Ring of Fire ball is now in the federal government’s court, after the province on Monday committed $1 billion to pay for infrastructure needed to turn the mining dream into reality.
A trio of Liberal ministers made the announcement Monday, promising the money will be allocated in Thursday’s provincial budget.
In committing the cash, Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle, Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Bill Mauro called on the federal government to step up to the table with an equal or greater share.
“The impact of this project will be felt for generations to come … and from coast to coast,” Mauro said. “But we need help. It is fundamental to the future economic success of Ontario. And it’s national in its scope.”
Mauro added the federal government talks a good game, but has to come forward with something more concrete than promises.
And it should be done outside the Building Canada fund, he said.
“They can do this as a standalone. They’ve done it in other cases and they can do so with this project,” Mauro said.
The provincial money will be used to develop plans to build all-season transportation corridors and bring communication and power to the Ring of Fire, a multi-billion dollar mineral deposit long touted as Ontario’s economic saviour.
The multi-company project has hit plenty of roadblocks, including resistance from neighbouring First Nations communities and last year’s decision by Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. to halt all development in the Ring of Fire, citing too many obstacles to make their project happen.
Matawa First Nations signed a memorandum of understanding with the province earlier this month. Representatives from Cliffs were on hand for Monday’s announcement, but when asked for comment, a spokesperson said they weren’t ready to comment at this time.
Noront CEO Alan Coutts called it good news.
Without infrastructure, there is no Ring of Fire, he said.
“Infrastructure is the big enabler of everything that’s going to come,” said Coutts, whose company is eager to get going on its Eagle’s Nest mine site.
“It allows us to focus on things like training, skills, job development. And at the very end of that road is a mine. The great thing is all of these kinds of benefits can move from this kind of an infrastructure support.”
The money is contingent on the budget passing. Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has unequivocally stated he won’t support the budget under any circumstances and has called on the NDP to bring down the government and force a June election.
Orazietti asked for sober second thought on the matter, underscoring the importance of the project to the province’s future.
“That’s why it’s so important that we not have any gamesmanship and we move forward with initiatives that matter to northerners,” Orazietti said, imploring opposition parties to vote for the budget or risk losing the billion dollars.
However, The NDP’s mining critic called it nothing more than pre-election grandstanding.
“The Liberal government has had over five years to come to the table, with not only funding for infrastructure, but a real plan for the Ring of Fire that benefits First Nations and Northern communities, creates jobs and tackles infrastructure and the high price of electricity,” Michael Mantha said in a release.
“But instead of a plan that could create an estimated 5,500 jobs annually, this government stood by as companies walked away from Ontario. More money for infrastructure in the Ring of Fire sure sounds like a good step forward, but Northerners are tired of broken promises and are worried this investment is coming too late.”
PC critic Norm Miller said the province has been virtually silent on the Ring of Fire development corporation, which will work with stakeholders to decide how to spend the infrastructure money.
He added there is no timeline for development and no decision on the orientation of the transportation link.
“This announcement seems to be yet another empty promise from a government that has bragged about developing the Ring of Fire for years now, even suggesting a production date as early as 2015.” Miller said.