“The reality is we need to get going,” said Josh Hjartarson, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce's vice-president of policy and government relations. “People in Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timmins understand what the Ring of Fire is and the potential. People in southern Ontario don't have the same understanding.”
The chamber report, titled “Beneath the Surface: Uncovering the Economic Potential of Ontario's Ring of Fire,” said the Ring of Fire is expected to generate $25 billion in economic activity across numerous sectors in the province over its first 32 years of development. In the same period, the Ring of Fire would generate an estimated $6.7 billion in government tax revenues.
Hjartarson said at a public forum in Sudbury on Feb. 27 the project is expected to generate 4,500 to 5,500 long-term and well-paying jobs. He added the federal government needs to show the same commitment to the Ring of Fire as it has to Alberta's oil sands — making it a national priority.
The report's authors — including Dalton McGuinty's son, Liam — called on provincial and federal governments to design and fund a plan to address inadequate transportation infrastructure in the region, which they cited as a significant barrier to development.
Looking to keep the pressure on, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce plans to release a one-year report card on the project's progress in 2015. Although the Ontario chamber has said the Ring of Fire should be a national priority — like Alberta's oil sands — it has not said if it will be looking for the support of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to help get the pan-Canadian lobbying effort its hoping for.
Matthew Cramer, Cliffs Natural Resources' director of furnace technology, attended the forum and said the company can't move forward with development until there government moves forward on the project.
The company ceased work on its $3.3-billion Ring of Fire development in 2013 due to a number of major hurdles. Those included a lack of agreements with First Nations in the area, and a lost appeal to the Ontario Mining Commission late last year that would have allowed the company an easement on the property to begin planning the necessary infrastructure.
Cramer said Cliffs has not withdrawn from the Ring of Fire altogether, but will not resume work until it sees action from government to resolve the outstanding issues.
Noront Resources, another company with stakes in the Ring of Fire, said it could begin work on its Eagle's Nest project in the Ring of Fire by 2017.
Unlike Cliffs, Noront has continued to invest in its claim.
Paul Parisotto, Noront's chairman and director, said despite a number of obstacles that have brought development of the Ring of Fire to a near halt, Parisotto said he remains optimistic about his company's stake.
“We're very committed to building this mine as soon as we possibly can,” Parisotto said Thursday. “Things have moved slowly for a number of reasons. That's in the past. We are where we are today.”
The Eagle's Nest project includes nickel, copper and platinum group elements, and the company's Blackbird Deposit contains high-grade chromite.
Noront has poured around $200 million into the Ring of Fire so far, where the company has its only mining properties.