Premier Kathleen Wynne is reportedly getting tough with northern First Nation chiefs over hold-ups in the construction of a Ring of Fire road.
The Globe and Mail obtained a recent letter from an impatient Wynne to the nine Matawa chiefs indicating her government can’t afford any more delays and is prepared to start one-on-one negotiations with individual communities that do want development, if consensus can’t be reached.
For three years, the Ontario government has promised to invest $1 billion for mining-related transportation infrastructure but the money hasn’t been released in three successive budgets, including this past April’s spring budget.
At the same time, the provincially-created Regional Framework process, launched in April 2014, to address environmental concerns among the Matawa communities, and to define how Indigenous people will participate in natural resource development, appears to have no end in sight.
The government wants consensus on the road from the nine communities before proceeding with a plan.
Since the departure of Cliffs Natural Resources from the Ring of Fire in 2015, the Wynne government needs some positive news on this file heading into a June 2018 election.
Noront Resources, the lead mine developer in the James Bay region, has been making it known in recent months that investors are getting weary with the delays in advancing the nickel and chromite properties as the Toronto company waits on the province to table an infrastructure plan.
The company may consider mothballing its McFauld’s Lake exploration camp this fall.
“I think everyone’s feeling frustrated that nothing’s happened all this time and this is the time to get it done,” Noront CEO Alan Coutts recently told Northern Ontario Business.
After being shut out in the budget, Coutts said he was reassured by provincial mining ministry officials that road funding for the Ring of Fire remains in the government’s fiscal plan.
Coutts was recently in Sault Ste. Marie, addressing business leaders and MPP hopefuls prior to that community’s upcoming byelection on June 1. The company is considering the city as a potential site for a ferrochrome smelter to process Ring of Fire chromite ore for export to stainless steel producers in the U.S.
In addressing delegates at the FONOM/Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MMA) Northeastern Municipal Conference in North Bay, May 11, Wynne insisted that the funding is there but reaching consensus with the Matawa communities hasn’t been easy.