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Wynne, Harper hold ‘constructive’ talks on Ring of Fire development

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks in Toronto on Dec. 3, 2013.


Ontario and the federal government have begun to resolve their differences over the Ring of Fire, after a tête-à-tête between Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The pair met on Parliament Hill on Thursday afternoon to discuss issues including ambitious plans to develop Northern Ontario resources.

The province wants the federal government to help pay for infrastructure, including a road or rail line, to develop the Ring of Fire, an area 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay that contains an estimated $60-billion in minerals. Ontario is planning a development corporation with representatives from industry, three levels of government and First Nations to oversee construction.

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Mr. Harper's spokesman said the two had a "productive, constructive discussion."

"They both agreed that the two levels of government will continue to collaborate on this important development," Jason MacDonald wrote in an e-mail. "They also agreed that any investments by either level of government must represent a public benefit, including for First Nations."

An Ontario government source said Mr. Harper was open to the idea of the development corporation, and that he agreed on the importance of infrastructure in the area. The Premier felt more optimistic after the meeting than she did going in, the source said.

No firm deal was reached on how development will proceed, but the positive tone was a change.

Mr. Harper angered Ontario last month when he suggested developing the region was primarily a provincial responsibility.

Earlier Thursday, other Tories on Parliament Hill said Ms. Wynne has not worked well with Ottawa, such as not telling them about the development corporation before announcing it.

"If we had a message for the province today, it would be to emphasize collaboration," said Greg Rickford, the federal minister of state responsible for the Ring of Fire.

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The Premier said Ottawa and Ontario have plenty of time to determine how they will work with each other and First Nations.

"The development corporation, that idea, is necessary for us to move forward in terms of building the infrastructure," Ms. Wynne told reporters before the meeting. "On the issue of consultation, there's plenty of opportunity right now to talk about the shape of the [corporation], to be able to be part of the formation of that."

Industry and government also need to ensure the area's aboriginal communities support any development on traditional lands.

The region's Matawa First Nations have hired former federal Liberal MP Bob Rae, also a former Ontario premier, as a negotiator. Mr. Rae said last month it was "deeply troubling" Ontario and Ottawa can't agree on their respective responsibilities in the Ring of Fire.

Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. – a mining firm that was planning a $3-billion investment in the region – announced in November that it was suspending its operations there indefinitely because of the lack of clarity over whether a winter road will be built.

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