Smelter decision raises concerns

Last week, Cliffs Natural Resources announced its plans to locate a chromite smelter, which will be used to process raw ore from the so-called “Ring of Fire,” in Sudbury.
While many are disappointed that the smelter—and 450 potential jobs—will be located in Sudbury, Cliffs Natural Resources is a privately-owned company and the decision, with its estimated $1.8 billion price tag, is theirs to make.
That said, I have concerns with the way this process was handled by the provincial government, not only in its failure to involve regional leaders but also in the fact that there appears to be many side deals that have been made but not announced.
The fact is, the government needs to be the party facilitating a co-operative approach to ensure the potential of the “Ring of Fire” project is maximized. By leaving community leaders out of the first stage of planning, and making decisions without them, they risk making the wrong decisions.
While the only firm commitment that has been announced is the location of the smelter, the fact that this decision was made in the backroom leaves us to guess as to what other promises have been made.
In this case, the devil really is in the details. While a formal announcement has not been made, there are strong insinuations the government has agreed that the ore will be accessed using a north-south corridor, which bypasses Northwestern Ontario—along with its economic benefits, and raises environmental concerns due to it crossing as many as 14 rivers.
Both the government and Cliffs have been keeping mum about the rest of the details, though, which begs the question: what kind of other promises have been made?
One also can assume that the government has made promises regarding subsidizing hydro costs, which is understandable given the high rate charged across the north—to industry and individuals alike—but I believe there still needs to be transparency on these types of arrangements.
What is most troubling is that all indications seem to suggest the government is willing to allow Cliffs to export 40 percent or more of the ore to China for processing. This is an outrage for all Ontarians!
To do this, the company will require an exemption to parts of the Mining Act. And at a time when we are trying to build a strong economy at home by creating jobs, a government has to be out of its mind to give away a golden opportunity such as this.
In trying to excuse itself, the government states that other jurisdictions ship their minerals to Ontario to be processed and we “can’t put up walls around Ontario.”
The fundamental difference is that those other countries don’t have the capacity to refine their own minerals. Why ship away what we can do here?
The fact is, these minerals are under our soil and they aren’t going anywhere unless we let them. I believe governments are wrong to allow the export of our raw resources—and the good-paying jobs along with them—and to force us to buy them back at twice the price.
There are many countries that are resource rich and economically poor, and what separates them is the decisions their governments make.
We need to decide if that is where we, as Ontarians, want to go.