Greg Rickford has only been in his new role a month, but he vows he will do things differently as minister of state, science and technology, FedNor and the Ring of Fire.
But FedNor’s mandate will stay the same.
“With respect to FedNor, we will continue to remain focused on our core principles: community economic development, business growth and innovation, and economic development initiatives,” said Rickford, who was appointed to his new role after a July cabinet shuffle, during a stop in Sudbury at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
By a show of good faith, he’s hired on a Northerner in the newly created role of senior policy advisor, who will answer directly to Rickford’s chief of staff. Mark Wright, a Lakehead University grad and the former director of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, will be exclusively focused on Northern Ontario, FedNor and the Ring of Fire, which Rickford deems “a legacy project.”
With a value of $93 billion in 2012, products from Canada’s mineral industry make up more than a fifth of the country’s exports, Rickford said. Projects like the development of the Ring of Fire chromite deposit, located in the James Bay Lowlands, are poised to add even more value to that sector.
But the industry needs to put measures in place that will encourage the growth of the mineral exports sector, and that means creating a welcoming environment for investors, Rickford said. With a severe skills shortage on the horizon, it’s a government priority to put conditions in place that allow First Nations communities to fully participate in mineral-extraction projects, he said.
“If you listen closely to what people in the industries are saying, they are telling us that we are on the precipice of a critical human resource shortage,” Rickford said. “We can no longer fool ourselves. First Nation Canadians represent a significant part of a skilled labour force moving forward, particularly here in Northern Ontario.”
To that end, on Aug. 8, the federal government announced a $5.9-million agreement with the Matawa First Nations that will provide training to 260 people in the mining sector.
Consultation with First Nations, along with careful environmental assessments, is part of the government’s commitment to responsible development, Rickford said. Along with the Ring of Fire, 10 major projects in the advanced stages of development in northwestern Ontario, and the government wants to ensure they get approved efficiently but carefully.
“Our plan is not just about developing resources efficiently,” he said. ‘It’s about developing them responsibly.”
After Cliffs Natural Resources announced earlier this summer it’s suspending the environmental assessment of its Black Thor chromite project in the Ring of Fire, speculation has run rampant that the project will be shelved indefinitely and Sudbury will lose out on the chromite smelter that was slated for construction in Capreol, just north of the city, along with the 600-plus jobs that are projected to come with it.
But Rickford remains positive about the project, saying he’s “very hopeful” for the development.
“I think we want to be involved with projects or aspects of this that make sense,” Rickford said. “There are reasons why certain things should go in certain places and we’ll continue to work with our stakeholders to ensure that that’s what transpires.”
Referring to the ongoing negotiations for a cheap source of energy to power the Ring of Fire operations, Rickford said it was a complicated issue, but the government would look for the “most environmentally and most efficient ways that can occur.” The government would look beyond the Ring of Fire project to find alternative sources of energy that would assist communities in isolated and remote communities, he added.
“The penultimate goal, of course, is to get secure conductivity for those communities that has a smaller environmental footprint and is more reliable,” Rickford said.