Threats of litigation and conflict aside, Ontario Premier Doug Ford isn’t backing down from his government’s commitment to develop mines in the James Bay lowlands.
“We’re building that Ring of Fire as sure as I’m talking to you,” said Ford in a media scrum in Brampton on May 11 for an unrelated announcement.
Ford responded after one Queen’s Park reporter asked him if his government will rethink its development plans in the Far North and if he’s “prepared to get on that bulldozer?” after absorbing much criticism and protests by Indigenous communities and leadership, and environmental activist groups, over his government’s approach to introducing Bill 71 in early March.
The reporter said from his research, mining experts have told him Ontario doesn’t need mining in the Ring of Fire to establish a domestic electric vehicle supply chain.
“It's going to benefit First Nations community,” replied Ford. Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations, he said, are leading the environmental assessments and reiterated his government’s $1-billion commitment to build the roads network to reach the proposed mine sites and to connect these two remote communities to the provincial highway system for the first time.
“But this isn't just going to bring opportunity and employment to First Nations community. It's going to bring proper health care to the community, it's going to bring fresh food to the community. These communities are fly-in communities and they're struggling. And we're going to work with the First Nations community. We'll always be collaborative.”
Ford is fresh off the passage in third reading this week of Bill 71, the Building More Mines Act, a piece of legislation designed to quicken the pace of approval and permitting times to put more mines into production quicker. Royal assent is needed before the bill becomes law.
More mining of critical minerals is needed to support the billions of investment dollars by automakers and government in electric vehicle battery manufacturing plants under construction in southern Ontario. Ontario wants to be the global mining jurisdiction of choice to create a domestic mines-to-auto plants supply chain.
The NDP and Green Party opposed the bill based on the lack of an adequate consultation framework with First Nations and concerns over new amendments on closing and rehabilitating mine sites.
Some Indigenous communities in the James Bay region have strong objections to mining-related development on their traditional lands on the basis of environmental concerns and what they deem inadequate consultation with the provincial government.
Ford said not all the Matawa First Nations are opposed to mining in the Far North, only “a few, and I think one's 300 kilometres away. But we're going to work with them anyways. It's going to benefit everyone. And we need those to be a leader in electric vehicles. We need lithium, we need cobalt, we need nickel. We need the processing plants to process these right here.”
Ford was asked if he's prepared for conflict with communities like Neskantaga and blockades to access road and bridge construction.
“We don't like conflict. We want to work with them hand-in-hand and be collaborative. I don't think the other First Nations community would be too happy about it. And that's something we'd sit down with them and the other communities to work things out. But this is critical to the future of Ontario to be one of the leaders when it comes to critical minerals, not just in Canada and North America but around the world.”