Good lobbyists know that advancing an agenda works best when the stars align.
That's the moment when what you want is in sync with what the government wants.
Take the Ring of Fire – a mineral-rich, but untapped swath of northwestern Ontario.
The problem (beyond the immediate inconvenience of depressed commodities prices) is that the area is essentially cut off from the world. There are no roads, rail links or power supply to get at the vast deposits of nickel, chromite, copper and platinum buried in the belt, located 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
Enter Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He's committed to spending billions of dollars on infrastructure. He also wants to forge a new relationship with indigenous Canadians, involve them in resource development and create economic opportunities for troubled northern communities, such as Attawapiskat.
Then, consider that Mr. Trudeau's Liberal government came to power intent on forging closer economic ties with China, possibly through free trade and expanded investment.
And so along comes a subsidiary of state-owned behemoth China Railway Construction Corp., which wants to build a $2-billion, 340-kilometre rail line into the heart of the Ring of Fire. Chinese engineers are working on the proposal with KWG Resources Inc., a Toronto-based junior mining company that has hundreds of mining claims in the area and has plans to develop a chromite mine.
A series of common interests may be lining up. Pushing development of the Ring of Fire checks off a number of important boxes for Mr. Trudeau – trade, infrastructure, indigenous policy, the economy and perhaps even climate change.
Mining development would require putting the area on the power grid, allowing remote First Nations communities to stop using dirty gas-fired power plants.
A delegation of Chinese engineers, along with executives of KWG, made a timely visit to Parliament Hill last week to talk up their railway road project with MP Marc Serré, who chairs the Liberals' Northern Ontario caucus.
"This is an international trade deal," KWG Resources chief executive officer Frank Smeenk said, spinning the broader trade implications. "From the Chinese perspective, this is an opportunity to begin the relationship with Canada that they have long aspired to and one that is really mutually beneficial."
Earlier this month, executives of Noront Resources Ltd., which also owns extensive mining claims in the Ring of Fire, also met with a group of Liberal MPs in Ottawa.
It's still unclear whether this confluence of common interests will lead to anything more than chatter.
The Ring of Fire, discovered in 2007, has been a serial disappointment for mining companies eager to get at its riches. Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. invested heavily in claims and talked of spending billions of dollars there, but walked away in 2014, worried about falling commodities prices, eventually selling its chromite deposits to Noront at a loss.
Without roads, rail lines and power lines, the Ring of Fire will forever be the next great thing.
The big question is: Who will pay for that infrastructure? Ontario's Liberal government has promised $1-billion to develop infrastructure for the Ring of Fire, but hasn't spent any of it yet, still hoping for matching funds from Ottawa.
And that's where prospects may be looking up. Interest (and money) from Ottawa, combined with Chinese investment, might be the catalyst that finally gets the venture moving.
Mining companies clearly think so. That's why they've made the lobbying pilgrimage to Ottawa.
For the federal government, the indigenous angle could be the clincher. Spending billions on Ring of Fire infrastructure to help mining companies is a tougher sell.
It might be considerably more palatable if it were sold as a way to connect remote communities, while delivering jobs, opportunity and clean electricity to a deserving demographic.
The political stars are lining up nicely, and mining companies are eagerly capitalizing on the moment.
But it will take a significant rebound in metals prices before mining companies commit the vast sums needed to turn the Ring of Fire into a winning investment.
The stars are still badly misaligned on the business side of things.