Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Mines on Friday slammed comments made Thursday by former NDP leader Howard Hampton on what he said was a lack of progress developing the Ring of Fire.
Michael Gravelle said he was startled and offended by how “flippant and dismissive” Hampton was in saying the province has done nothing in a decade to move the multi-billion-dollar project forward.
“I had to ask myself the question, ‘Has he actually looked at the regional framework agreement that we have signed and negotiated with the Mattawa First Nations?’”
Calling the framework historic and unprecedented, Gravelle on Friday said the process is anything but superficial and certainly more than just firing off occasional press releases, as Hampton, now a paid Ring of Fire advisor of the federal NDP, intonated a day earlier.
The minister said the Ring of Fire isn’t going to happen overnight and the right steps are being taken. The framework sets in place guidelines for regional infrastructure and takes into consideration enhanced environmental monitory, socio-economic issues and supports and resource revenue sharing.
And if anyone should know this process will take time, it certainly is Mr. Hampton,” Gravelle said.
He added while many question why the chromite development project is taking so long to get shovels in the ground, they’re also the same people who insist that the proper consultations take place with all interested stakeholders, including First Nations.
“We are determined to get this right and there is movement,” Gravelle said, pointing to a joint transportation corridor study being conducted by the federal and provincial governments.
“(Hampton’s) comments on that are also wrong. He talks about a 1999 study that was done. Indeed there was one done, but if he looks at that study, it related specifically to winter road realignment, rather than the community-access, all-weather road that we hope and expect this particular study will lead to.”
Hampton, who is widely expected to challenge Conservative Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford in this year’s federal election in Kenora, said the $1 billion promised by the province was nothing more than a “nice pre-election promise” and actually a re-announcement of the 1999 survey.
Gravelle said he first saw Hampton’s comments on tbnewswatch.com and felt he had to defend Ontario’s Ring of Fire plan.
“Certainly I believe he is more informed than his comments would have suggested,” Gravelle said.
“It’s not an easy process. I’ll recognize that as well. But I did find his comments startling and wrong.”
The minister noted there are a number of gold mines coming on stream in the next few years in Northern Ontario, adding that while Cliffs Natural Resources appears to have pulled out of the Ring of Fire, Noront Resources is moving full steam ahead and there are other companies interested in picking up where Cliffs left off.
Commodity prices will also affect the timeline, as mining companies will want to ensure they can make a profit if they invest.
“To be fair, (Hampton) is speaking as a paid political advisor to the federal New Democratic Party and that’s fair game,” Gravelle said.
“But the fact is the development corporation has been put in place to bring partners on board – particularly First Nations, industry, governments of all levels – to make the decisions related to the transportation access that’s needed.”
Gravelle rebuffed comments made by Hampton that if the project was happening just outside of Toronto it would be handled much differently and at a much quicker pace.
“This is a project in a very remote part of the province that’s never had any resource development at all,” he said.
“That’s why it’s so important to get it right. And the first party that would be saying that would be the NDP.”