The federal NDP is positioning itself as a pro-mining party that would revive stalled negotiations on Ontario's Ring of Fire development while keeping federal regulations "lean."
Speaking with The Globe and Mail during a global mining conference in Toronto this week, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said his party would seek buy-in from First Nations communities to speed up new developments. The annual convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada has become a global attraction, drawing nearly 30,000 delegates and dozens of MPs.
Mr. Mulcair pointed to the fact that the NDP has a critic for mining issues – MP Claude Gravelle, from the Nickel Belt riding in Northern Ontario – as evidence his party takes the topic seriously. "We're very interested and we want you to succeed," Mr. Mulcair said he told industry representatives.
The NDP stepped up its presence at this year's PDAC convention, with 16 MPs attending the event – four times the number present last year and a sign the NDP wants to show the mining industry it takes its concerns seriously.
On Sunday, Mr. Mulcair invited media to follow him on a formal tour of the convention, while his party touted the expertise of Mr. Gravelle and Romeo Saganash, who was involved in negotiations between the Quebec government and Cree communities in the province. Mr. Saganash met with Ontario NDP MPPs on Tuesday to discuss negotiations to develop the Ring of Fire mineral deposit in Northern Ontario.
Asked why the NDP had increased its presence at the conference, Mr. Mulcair pointed to the size of the mining industry and the tax and royalty revenues it provides. "Also, in terms of the long-term future of the country, the best thing that we can do is to make sure that we get things right in terms of mineral exploration and extraction," he said.
That means finding a way to involve First Nations communities in mining projects, Mr. Mulcair said, adding that he would take a similar approach to natural resource development at the federal level as he did when he was Quebec's environment minister.
"My approach has always been to make sure that on the regulatory side it's as lean as possible," he said, citing a Quebec decision, taken during his term as environment minister, to allow simultaneous review of projects by the federal and provincial officials.
On the Ring of Fire, Mr. Mulcair said he views it as "a shame" that negotiations appear to be breaking down. The mineral deposit, situated more than 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont., includes the largest deposit of chromite ever found in North America.
Both the federal and provincial governments are keen to attract investments in the area, saying its development would provide significant royalties and improve the lives of those in nearby First Nations communities.
Mr. Saganash said he told MPPs at Queen's Park on Tuesday that aboriginal rights can be a part of mining development – rather than a barrier that makes it difficult to move projects ahead. "I think people need to be continuously reminded that in any development, respecting aboriginal rights is good for development, and it's also good for the economy," he said.
Kim Mackrael is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.