OTTAWA – Tony Clement, Conservative minister and Treasury Board President, is claiming the Ring of Fire could be the next Oil Sands.
He was speaking about the economic potential, but critics warn that, like with the tar sands, there is a similar possibility of environmental problems, destruction of traditional indigenous livelihoods, and fears of local native people being shut out of the profits. Cliffs Natural Resources had been trying to force through negotiations with the Ontario government and the Matawa First Nations, but has recently announced that the project is now suspended indefinitely.
The suspension of the project comes just weeks after Ontario announced that they will create a public corporation to help create the billions of dollars of new infrastructure that will be required for the project, which includes not only developing mines but also smelters, power lines, and all-weather roads. There are other mining project possibilities in the area but Cliffs had gone the farthest in planning, and had the most aggressive timeline.
The Ring of Fire is an area which was hit by a meteor in the distant past, putting metals like chromite, nickel, copper and platinum closer to the surface. It was so named because the C.E.O of the mining company NorOnt is a Johnny Cash fan. Chromite, used for stainless steel as well as ‘chrome’, however processing causes a byproduct called hexavalent chromium CR(VI) which is toxic as well as cancer causing. Roads, electrical power lines and railways also disrupt the environment of the boreal forest.
Jocelyn Bananish, an elder from the Long Lake First Nations has witnessed how her community’s lake has been poisoned by chromium and arsenic from a local mine, and she fears the Ring of Fire will bring more of the same. “You don’t bother Mother Earth and destroy her like that, because you’re going to pay. They’re taking everything away from us, and that’s what Ring of Fire’s doing here. It’s going to be worse after.” She said, in an article by the Huffington Post.
Cliff’s proposal had called for an open-pit mine which would have required 300 megawatts of electricity each year, more than any other facility in the entire province of Ontario. Estimates on the cost of project ranged from 800 million to 1.3 billion dollars. Although there were many uncertainties involved in the project, Cliffs had been planning to open the mine as soon as 2016.
There were no details on any kind of revenue sharing with native communities or taxation to the Ontario or Canadian governments.
Mining corporations in Northern Ontario enjoy a 10- year tax holiday from mine royalties as well as tax credits. With the set up of this new development corporation it seems that Ontario will be spending large amounts on infrastructure as well. Ontario continues to plan on developing the Ring of Fire, and another company, NorOnt, is in the environmental assessment process. Revenue sharing and consultation with local First Nations people though, is far from settled.
Big names have been at the negotiating table. In a strange turn of events, Bob Rae, former NDP Premier of Ontario and former federal Liberal party leader, is acting as chief negotiator for the Matawa First Nations tribal Council in their talks with the Ontario government. Ontario Premier Wynne is also pushing the project.
Quebec is similarly betting on big mining projects in the North with the “Plan Nord” project, now supposedly cancelled but actually just re-named after massive protest from native peoples and from the student movement.
The Ontario government is still seeking to push mining in the north by creating a “development corporation” to set up access to what they call “strategic resources”.
This is to be done in partnership with the Federal government – and with the nine Matawa First Nations that are in the area. There are rosy predictions of the possibility of hundreds of jobs. But the Ring of Fire is also located close to Attawapiskat First Nation, which despite promises of benefits from the DeBeers Diamond mine, has remained deeply impoverished.