NDP mining critic concerned Ford government stalling on Ring of Fire development

It's been more than a decade since chromite ore was first found in remote Northern Ontario, yet development of Ring of Fire mining project continues to move slowly. A year ago, the previous Liberal government announced an agreement with three First Nations communities to build a road to the mineral rich site.

Michael Mantha says he's asked but has yet to receive updates from Minister of Northern Development and Mines

The chromite deposit is located about 540 km north of Thunder Bay, Ont. and 240 km west of James Bay in an area known as the Ring of Fire.

It's been more than a decade since chromite ore was first found in remote Northern Ontario, yet development of the  Ring of Fire mining project seems to be slow.

A year ago, the previous Liberal government announced an agreement with three First Nations communities to build a road to the mineral-rich site.

It involves many partners: mining companies, municipalities, First Nations and the provincial government.

The new face at the table -- the Ford Progressive Conservative government -- hasn't made its intentions clear, said Algoma-Manitoulin MPP, Michael Mantha.

Mantha is also the New Democratic Party critic for Northern Development and Mines.

He says over the years, the other partners have been working to build better relationships with each other.

"Industry has done a lot of the work, and First Nations have done a lot of work. It's time for government to step in now and that they be held to their role in moving some of the development that we want to see happen in Ontario."

Michael Mantha is the New Democrat MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, and the NDP critic for Northern Development and Mines (Radio-Canada)

Since the Ford government took office in June, Mantha says he's tried to get an update on the Ring of Fire project with no success.

"It's one of the frustrating parts that I'm finding, as a critic who has asked the minister numerous times for a briefing from his ministry to identify some of their priorities, goals," Mantha said.

He adds that First Nations, municipalities, the mining industry, mining and forestry companies are all sitting at the table waiting.

"Where is this government? Why haven't they come to the table in order to have open discussions in order to establish good working relationships?" he asked.

During his election campaign, Doug Ford promised to hop on a bulldozer himself to start building the roads to the mining development. But since being elected he's been tight-lipped about his government's goals for the project.

"We need First Nations to help us"

Mantha is especially concerned about the province's relationship with First Nations.

"First Nations people want to be part of the solutions."

"We need First Nations to help us and guide us in making sure that they are part of the solution in order to develop the Ring of Fire." Mantha said.

"It's about time that this government starts recognizing that and building their own bridges, building a relationship of trust, accountable, openness and sitting down at the table in order to move development forward."

Mantha was concerned that while at a media event last week opening Harte Gold's Sugar Zone mine, neither the Premier, nor the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Greg Rickford, acknowledged the traditional territory of the Pic Mobert First Nation.

Conservative cabinet minister Greg Rickford. (Martine Laberge/CBC)

Rickford takes duty to consult "very seriously"

In an email to CBC News, Rickford said he and Premier Ford were both honoured to partake in a smudging ceremony at the event. He adds that any suggestion that proper respect was not paid to the First Nation partner is inaccurate.

Also in his email, Rickford told CBC News the Ring of Fire is a top priority for the provincial government, and as the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, he takes the duty to consult 'very seriously'. He added that consultation on the Ring of Fire is ongoing with First Nation partners, municipalities and stakeholders.

About the Author

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 13 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca