Could Northern Ontario manufacture its own stainless steel using chromite from the Ring of Fire?
It was a popular topic of conversation during the 2019 gathering of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM).
Held May 8-10 in Sudbury, the conference welcomed close to 200 representatives from member municipalities scattered across northeastern Ontario, who discussed best practices, along with new challenges they’re facing following the April release of the provincial budget.
With the conference following on the heels of the announcement that Noront Resources had selected Sault Ste. Marie for its chromite smelter to process ore from the Ring of Fire, industrial energy costs was another hot topic amongst attendees.
FONOM president Danny Whalen said FONOM is pushing for the government to “at least maintain the programs they had for industrial hydro rates,” which will come into play once the smelter is operational, slated for 2028.
“Now’s the time to be investing in it,” Whalen said.
But buzz around the smelter announcement had participants thinking beyond energy costs and speculating about what kind of spinoff opportunities would be available once the facility is up and running.
Rather than ship the chromite offshore to be processed into stainless steel, Whalen said attendees were discussing the possibility of processing it at home in Northern Ontario.
“We're going to put (the metals) on a ship, ship them to China, they're going to create stainless steel and ship it back to us,” Whalen said.
“If we can look five years down the road at the Ring of Fire, why can’t we look 10 or 15 years down the road at producing our own stainless steel, because we have all the ingredients.
“It’s not a project we could start tomorrow – it takes a lot of planning. But so did the Ring of Fire, and we finally got an announcement.”
Beyond industrial matters, Whalen said the announcement that the government would cut back on funding to public health units was particularly concerning, for both the northeast and the northwest, and could threaten Northerners’ level of care.
“In the North, we don't have walk-in clinics; or emergency rooms, in lots of instances, aren't open 24 hours,” he said.
“Our health units are our walk-in clinics, basically. We can lose a little bit on the management level, but the front-line workers we can't afford to lose.”
The 2019 conference marked the first time FONOM has hosted the event without participation from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, but Whalen said he was pleased with the level of participation.
FONOM is an advocacy group representing 100 municipalities across northeastern Ontario, with the aim of improving the economic and social quality of life for its members.