Ontario is asking the federal government to help pay for infrastructure to kick-start development of the Ring of Fire, a vast region of mineral deposits in the province’s north.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne estimates constructing the necessary infrastructure for the area will cost as much as $2.25-billion. She asks Mr. Harper to split the cost evenly with her.
Under Ms. Wynne’s plan, the infrastructure would be built by a new development corporation that would co-ordinate between governments, private companies and First Nations.
“The Ring of Fire presents an historic, multi-generational opportunity to transform the region, create thousands of jobs, and enhance the future economic prosperity of Canada,” Ms. Wynne writes in the missive. “On behalf of the people of Ontario, it is my sincere hope that the federal government will come forward as a partner with a critical strategic investment in the development corporation.”
The Ring of Fire promises to pay major dividends to Ontario’s sluggish economy – about $60-billion worth, according to the government’s estimates – but its remote location makes it hard to exploit.
More than 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, the region needs roads to transport workers in and ore out, as well as utilities to service future mines. The government must also make deals with First Nations in the area and take steps to protect the environment.
The federal cabinet minister responsible for the Ring of Fire, Greg Rickford, said his government wants to help in the area, but that it has to know more about the development corporation the province is proposing. So far, the province has not said how the development corporation would be structured.
“We need quite a few more details before we respond to a blanket kind of letter asking for our participation,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Rickford pointed to several projects the federal government has already undertaken in the Ring of Fire area, including building an electricity generation plant for the Webequie First Nation, resurfacing the runway at the local airport and constructing a centre for small businesses.
“We want to work collaboratively with all levels of government,” he said. “We understand the value of improving the quality of life of the First Nations communities that are in that area, and for the towns and cities in Northern Ontario that could benefit from that activity.”
This summer, Ms. Wynne appointed former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to lead Ontario’s negotiations with local First Nations, represented by former Ontario premier Bob Rae.
Earlier Friday, Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said the new development corporation was necessary to co-ordinate the various plans for infrastructure development in the area.
“In recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear to me, that we need to determine exactly what those infrastructure needs are, and we need to do it now,” he said in a statement. “What will serve development of the region best, what will serve the people of Ontario best.”