Government red tape may strangle another major natural resource opportunity
The “Ring of Fire” mining project is in the news again. And it’s looking eerily familiar to the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project, which went through interminable on-again-off-again cycles of regulatory approvals and delays before the company that proposed the project withdrew and the federal government purchased the project. The pipeline is now being (slowly) completed at a wildly inflated cost.
The Ring of Fire is an area in northern Ontario some 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, covering 5,000 square kilometres. The Ontario government’s website lists five metals (including chromite and nickel), which are plentiful in the area and of potential use in making good on the federal government’s plans to “transition” Canadians into battery-electric vehicles.
According to the Ontario government, the metals and minerals in the area could be worth a trillion dollars, though Wyloo Metals, the company currently holding the majority of mining claims in the area, puts the estimated value at one-tenth as much. Still, that’s not chump change, and as mentioned, Canada will need all the minerals it can get for Prime Minister Trudeau’s electric car dreams to come close to fruition. Remember, Ottawa wants 35 per cent of all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales to be “zero-emission” vehicles by 2030 (from a 2021 level of 5.3 per cent). Yes, only seven years from now.
All this assumes, of course, that the federal government can actually facilitate getting the Ring of Fire project (and other necessary infrastructure) built, after decades of planning, speculation, debate and discussion.
But back in December, Andrew Forrest, billionaire owner of Wyloo Metals, sent a letter to the prime minister warning that “Timelines to advance environmental assessments, permitting and construction of the infrastructure corridor and Eagle’s Nest [the largest potential mine in the area], as well as far-reaching consultation requirements are placing the viability of the project at risk.” And if “these standard processes continue without amendment, there is no prospect of commencing development of the Ring of Fire, or of the [associated] battery metals plant, before mid- to late 2030s.” And if that was not clear enough, Forrest said that if delays continue, his company might abandon the project altogether.
So, will government step up? The omens, as they say about such things, are not good. At least, not according to the Fraser Institute’s Annual Survey of Mining Companies, which shows that among major global mining jurisdictions, Ontario ranks relatively low (18th) in the eyes of mining investors in terms of government policy. Despite Ontario’s strong mineral potential, in this year’s survey, mining company execs expressed increased concern over Ontario’s infrastructure, socioeconomic agreements and community development conditions, and uncertainty regarding disputed land claims—precisely the areas critical to developing the Ring of Fire.
Canada has a problem, nowadays, in getting Big Things Done. Whether it’s large oil or gas pipelines, large mining projects or large infrastructure projects, the red of Canada’s Maple Leaf now often represents red tape. Increasingly, we’re gaining a global reputation as the place that natural resource investments go to die.
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