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History has proven, you can never be too cautious in your interpretation of mining company rhetoric.
It may not be the most popular position to take on the matter, but the past week’s criticism of the Liberal government’s ‘failure’ to act expeditiously on the Ring Of Fire mining development fails to stir much resentment in this Northwesterner.
With much bluster Cliffs Natural Resources, the biggest player in the development of the massive chromite deposit 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay announced it was suspending its involvement in the project indefinitely – closing offices in Thunder Bay, Toronto and its camp in the far North.
Opposition politicians are falling all over themselves to blame Premier Kathleen Wynne and Provincial Liberals for bungling the file. Even the federal government is distancing themselves from any responsibility.
A quick chat with anyone involved in mining exploration in the region will tell you that times are tough at the moment — commodity prices are down, investment is difficult to secure and most operations are in a holding pattern.
While Cliffs Resources certainly dwarfs its fellow players in the Ring Of Fire, I would strongly suspect that even if the numerous obstacles to development that fall under the purview of the provincial government were magically removed in one fell swoop — that no one in the mining sector at this point in time would have the level of investment they would need to build the estimated $1 billion worth of road and rail access into the Far North to access the area.
That’s if they could, legally.
Behind the scenes, Cliffs’ boardroom conquests to consolidate control of the mineral area has strained relations with the other major player in the area, KWG Resources — who claim-staked the only possible route on which a road could be built into the area in 2009.
In September the Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner ruled that KWG did not have to grant Cliffs access to their staked lands to build the road.
Beyond the corporate intrigue, the people of the Far North have their own issues which need to be resolved.
So the drama continues to unfold while the minerals remain in the ground, much as they have for millions of years.
When it comes to matters geological, it helps to temper one’s expectations to match the slow and methodical manner in which the earth shapes itself.
Ontario Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle is right in saying that speeding headlong into a project as politically and technically complex as this mining development could be a disaster.
While Cliffs is signalling retreat from involvement in the project, Gravelle says the company has not disengaged from the newly-formed Ring Of Fire Development Corporation that was formed to bring the provincial and federal governments, First Nations and business interests together to ‘settle divergent interests.’
Despite how large foreign resource extraction corporations would pressure us to proceed, we don’t live in the Wild West. We have long passed the days where one can easily punch a railroad, or even a road for that matter, into the wilderness without stepping on some toes.
Such beginnings are delicate times and our strategy towards something worthwhile and transformative for the region and the Far North should be built on a solid bedrock of trust, goodwill and environmental preservation.