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The Esker mining camp owned by Ring of Fire Metals, in Sept. 2022.Handout

Ring of Fire Metals has tapped two Canadian mining veterans for top leadership positions, as the Australian nickel company renews its push to develop one of Canada’s highest-profile critical minerals projects.

Long-time Glencore PLC GLNCY executive Kristan Straub has been appointed chief executive officer, taking over from Stephen Flewelling, who is staying on as an adviser. Mr. Straub was previously the VP of exploration for Glencore’s nickel team. He was also president of the Glencore-owned Raglan Mine in Nunavik from 2014 to 2018. Earlier in his career, he worked at Falconbridge Ltd., a former giant Canadian nickel miner that was acquired by Xstrata PLC in 2006. He is a band member of Henvey Inlet and French River No. 13 in Ontario.

He said in a statement that he’s looking forward to working with First Nations, local communities and both levels of government “to realize the development of our projects and place them at the forefront of developing the critical minerals that Canada and the world need to advance the energy transition.”

Joining Ring of Fire Metals as chief financial officer is Annie Sismanian. In her 20-year career she has worked at Barrick Gold Corp. ABX-T, Kinross Gold Corp. K-T, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, among others. Current CFO Greg Rieveley is leaving the firm.

Located 550 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, the Ring of Fire region’s critical minerals projects have been championed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and others as among Canada’s most important. That’s in large part because of the potential to produce metals such as nickel that would feed into Southern Ontario’s nascent electric vehicle battery industry. The region, however, has remained undeveloped for the better part of two decades – the result of astronomical development costs, a lack of infrastructure, unproven economics and mixed relations with First Nations communities.

Over the past few years, as worries have grown over China’s dominance in the Canadian critical minerals industry, national security experts and politicians have stressed the importance of creating far more North American supply. Ring of Fire Metals believes it has enough support and momentum to finally develop mines in the region, after U.S. mining giant Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. failed in a big push last decade. Last year, Perth-based Wyloo Metals Pty Ltd. acquired Ring of Fire Metals (then Noront Resources Ltd.) for $617-million after beating out fellow Australian miner BHP Group Ltd. in a bidding war.

Still, the company faces many hurdles before mining can begin, including navigating the morass of regulatory approval in Canada, overcoming concerns regarding the environmental impact of mines and related infrastructure, as well as securing funding to offset the cost of development. Furthermore, some First Nations remain on the fence on the merits of development. Late last year, the federal government’s top critical minerals expert, Jeff Labonté, told The Globe and Mail he had doubts about whether the project would ever be developed against this backdrop.

While Ontario has repeatedly promised to invest $1-billion to develop roads and other infrastructure into the Ring of Fire, Ottawa remains on the sidelines.

“We need the federal government to match Ontario’s $1 billion in funding,” George Pirie, Ontario’s Minister of Mines, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe.

But Ottawa has been clear it isn’t anywhere near making a decision.

“Before any decisions on mining development in the Ring of Fire are made, its potential impacts must be thoroughly studied, and meaningful consultation with impacted First Nations must be undertaken,” Anthony Ertl, a spokesperson with Natural Resources Canada, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe.

Six provincial and federal environmental studies are under way into the proposed construction of roads into the Ring of Fire. One has been in process since 2019 and isn’t expected to be finished until 2026. An additional federal review that proposes to look at how mining development will affect the entire region was ordered in 2019, but so far stakeholders have been unable to even reach agreement on its terms.

Last year, Ottawa vowed to find ways to reduce red tape in order to move Canadian resource projects along, after facing criticism that the country risks being left behind in the global scramble to secure critical minerals.

Natural Resources Canada acknowledged that getting a Canadian mine for such minerals into production can take up to 25 years, far longer than in jurisdictions such as Australia. Ottawa said it would work to avoid the duplication that happens when the federal government and the provinces are involved without jeopardizing the constitutional duty to consult First Nations.

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Tickers mentioned in this story

Study and track financial data on any traded entity: click to open the full quote page. Data updated as of 12/04/24 3:59pm EDT.

SymbolName% changeLast
GLNCY
Glencore International Plc ADR
+2.31%11.94
ABX-T
Barrick Gold Corp
-0.16%24.63

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