Stephen Harper to meet Kathleen Wynne to talk Ring of Fire
Ontario premier also expected to raise issue of pension reform
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to meet Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on Parliament Hill Thursday afternoon to discuss Ontario's Ring of Fire, a mining development project worth an estimated $60 billion.
Wynne is hoping to break the current impasse and convince the prime minister to match the costs of developing the mineral rich region, 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, in northern Ontario.
The Ontario government told CBC News last week it was surprised to hear the prime minister dismiss the development in the Ring of Fire as a provincial issue, given that repeated calls for the federal government to play a role in the project had gone unanswered in recent weeks.
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Harper recently said "this is a project that is primarily under provincial jurisdiction because ultimately resources belong to the provinces and resource development is a provincial responsibility."
Rich in chromite, nickel and gold, the Ring of Fire is considered to be mining jackpot for the province, but Wynne is making the case that the federal government has a responsibility in the development and funding of the infrastructure required.
In a letter to Harper on Nov. 8, Wynne said "there is precedence for the federal government playing a role in infrastructure investment that yields national economic benefits."
She pointed to the $130 million the federal government provided to support the building of the Northwest Transmission Line project in B.C. and the $6.3 billion it gave Labrador in the form of a federal loan guarantee to support the Lower Churchill project.
The Ontario government has estimated the total capital investment for infrastructure in the range of $800 million to $1 billion, with the estimated costs of connecting the Ring of Fire communities to all-season access roads at $1.25 billion.
Wynne wrote to Harper on the same day she announced the creation of a new development corporation that would bring together private and public partners "to develop, construct, finance, operate and maintain the infrastructure" that supports access in and out of the Ring of Fire. The Ontario premier was hoping to count the federal government as a partner.
Adding to the challenges of developing the region, is a decision by Cliffs Natural Resources, a major U.S. mining company, to suspend its operations in the area.
Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath's New Democrats have blamed Ontario's Liberal government for botching the project.
Bob Rae, the chief negotiator and counsel for the Matawa First Nations, has called on both levels of government to stop squabbling over provincial jurisdiction and create some level of certainty for businesses and First Nations.
Wynne is also expected to raise the issue of pension reform with Harper, a topic that came up during the fall meeting of the premiers and territorial leaders in Toronto last month.
Ontario has said it will create a provincial retirement income plan if it can't convince Ottawa and the other provinces to enhance the Canada Pension Plan.
Provincial finance ministers will be meeting with federal finance minister Jim Flaherty to discuss the issue of pension reform this month.
Wynne's meeting with Harper will be her second since being elected leader of the Ontario Liberals in February.