“The Liberals were doing a lot of announcements, a lot of ribbon cutting and making a lot of hay, but weren't doing the behind-the-scenes work that needed to be done to keep that Cliffs promise alive,” Andrea Horwath said Wednesday, after she toured Stack Brewing with Sudbury NDP candidate Joe Cimino.
Development of the vast chromite deposits in the Ring stalled in 2013, with Cliffs Natural Resources announcing it was suspending work because of a series of delays in getting environmental assessments and determining exactly how ore will be transported from the remote site in northwestern Ontario.
Cliffs is the largest stakeholder in the area, and planned to invest $3.3 billion developing deposits worth an estimated $60 billion. First Nations in the area also objected when the company announced plans to build a chromite refinery in Capreol to process the ore. And a recent Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner's ruling denied the Cleveland, Ohio, miner land access to its deposit atop the mining claims of a rival company.
With the ruling, Cliffs said it made no sense to continue work in the absence of a government plan on how to develop road or rail access to the future mining camp, located 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
Horwath said these problems can be traced to the Liberal's failure to come up with coherent policies on how mining and other resource development in remote parts of Ontario should work.
“We've been critical for a long time of the way the government approaches mining in the North — and the Far North in particular,” Horwath said.
She said the Liberal's Far North Act failed to provide a real road map for how such development should proceed. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources website, the Act “sets out a joint planning process between the First Nations and Ontario.”
In particular, it aims to encourage “the environmental, social, and economic objectives for land use planning for the peoples of Ontario.” It also mandates consultations with First Nations as part of the process, to ensure development happens in concert with them, rather than in opposition.
Horwath said the province ignored warnings from cities, First Nations and even chambers of commerce across Ontario that the act was of little practical use.
“The Liberals basically put together a plan to make a plan,” she said. “So six years later, it should be no surprise to anybody that that plan hasn't produced any fruit.”
When asked what an NDP government would do to get the Ring back on track, Horwath said they would look at what other provinces have done to develop similar projects. In particular, she praised Plan Nord, Quebec's policy for resource development in the remote areas of the province. Created with the James Bay Cree, it covers details of how all manner of natural resources development in the Far North should proceed.
“I'm not in government at this point and time, but I would certainly be taking my cues from jurisdictions that have been more successful,” Horwath said. “They put together their northern development plan, but it included time frames, targets, investments — real meat on the bones of their plan.
“You don't have to recreate the wheel.”
Horwath's appearance in Sudbury increased speculation that she's almost ready to vote with Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives to bring down the minority government of Kathleen Wynne. Horwath said informal consultations with the public indicate the electorate wants a chance to pick a new government. But she wants to go through a more formal process before making a final decision.