The province is prepared to make a “very significant” infrastructure investment in the Ring of Fire, said Michael Gravelle, Ontario's Minister of Northern Development and Mines during a visit to Sudbury, March 27.
“Our commitment to a major investment is locked in. It's real,” Gravelle said in an interview after speaking at a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “We have not spoken about that figure specifically and I'm not in a position to do that right now.”
Gravelle made the comments a day after the province signed, what he called, an “historic landmark” framework agreement with the nine communities of the Matawa First Nations on how to move forward with mineral and community development in the Ring of Fire, a string of massive chromite and nickel mineral deposits in the James Bay lowlands.
The framework agreement, Gravelle said, will set out the principles and guidelines for more formal discussions on issues such as resource revenue sharing, enhanced environmental assessments and socio-economic support for First Nations.
Gravelle said it is hoped the federal government will match whatever the province invests into infrastructure — especially much-needed roads — to kick-start development.
Gravelle said he has been in ongoing discussions with Greg Rickford, the new federal Natural Resources minister and Ottawa’s lead on the Ring of Fire.
“Whatever transportation structure is put in place, it should include opportunities for access to communities,” Gravelle said.
Road access to the Ring of Fire has been a contentious issue. Ohio-based miner Cliffs Natural Resources has mothballed its exploration program at its chromite deposit in the Ring over the lack of a north-south access route, while its exploration neighbour, Noront Resources, has said an east-west road would make more economic sense and would benefit the nearby First Nation communities.
KWG Resources has the only staked corridor to the Ring, but their exclusive route is being challenged in court by Cliffs.
The lack of an agreement with First Nations in the area had also been a major hurdle to development.
Gravelle said with a framework agreement in place and the establishment of a provincial Ring of Fire development corporation steered by Deloitte Canada, First Nations will be included in all deliberations.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has said the Ring of Fire is expected to generate $25 billion in economic activity across numerous sectors in the province over its first 32 years of development. In the same period, it would generate an estimated $6.7 billion in government tax revenues.