Mining in the Ring of Fire will hurt Canada. That doesn’t mean we should be

Miners have for generations transformed some of Canada’s deepest and most rugged regions into some of the world’s richest and most beautiful places. Now an obscure “ad hoc committee” at the Ontario ministry of the environment, without public notice or consultation, has ordered Grassy Narrows First Nation members to evict themselves. What’s more, it’s not only Ontario doing this: the Canadian prime minister has encouraged mining companies to focus their energies in Ontario’s Ring of Fire.

What we don’t need is an injunction, according to David Cullen, novelist and activist

During the last century a huge share of Canada’s mineral wealth was extracted from its wildernesses. Though colonial government and various mining companies acted ruthlessly – in the battle against resistance, they set out to destroy rather than resolve.

The worst occurred in Sudbury, Ontario, one of the region’s legendary mining cities. There the Ottawa government used its forestry section to threaten Cree tribe members with extermination if they fought to protect their way of life. The supposed response was that “Ottawa’s concern for everyone in the country far outweighs its concern for this ‘little band’”.

If historical precedent is anything to go by, the PM’s approach to the Ring of Fire area will be no different.

Local, regional and global mineral exploration firms are already lining up for the Ring of Fire. They will likely claim a right to develop land owned by those who have no real interest in the wealth, and will use negative government action to advance their own interests. They will not be motivated by the benefits indigenous people will have from developing the mine sites.

The corporations will secure Ontario’s right to pick and choose what happens to the value of the mineral resources there. They will do so by either declaring their plans legally exempt from any consultation and consent by the government or by resorting to unlawful tactics. If an appeal is necessary, whether by GM and other executives or by the citizens of the Ring of Fire, they will use the courts to ensure that they get their way.

At most, the government claims to plan to amend the Ontario environmental plan and allow First Nations to meet with companies in their community. As we have seen, mining in this context is not worth much. It has not yet generated significant returns. Resources that a mining company might sell to China, for example, are in Ontario’s possession. The high-quality metals at least could return great sums to Ontario. But the government already has proposals to develop high-quality metallurgical coal. It doesn’t have to develop a mine for these and other metals. It can just let this mineral pass through the province for processing.

Miners have for generations transformed some of Canada’s deepest and most rugged regions into some of the world’s richest and most beautiful places

If, as some argue, Ontario is lagging behind other jurisdictions, this is simply because no one is financing mining in the Ring of Fire. If Ontario were an attractive jurisdiction, great companies would have come. Instead, other jurisdictions, unwilling to spend the money for a project in Ontario, have already stepped in with what amounts to a government subsidy. These are smaller operations, not major companies, and they are unlikely to deliver any significant profits to Ontario.

With the coal mines not operational, what are Ontario’s potential mineral treasure left to mine? It’s difficult to envision what is left in the Ring of Fire – after small and mid-size deposits have been discovered and developed. Mining companies spend their time and money exploring and developing large new resources. There’s no obvious reason to do the same for the Ring of Fire.

I was raised by a First Nation chief, the grandson of a leader. We celebrated as he lost his daughter to suicide. I was raised by a mother who lived in poverty and was incapable of providing most needs for her family. I didn’t become involved in the environment for financial reasons. I became involved because I am deeply aware of the harm caused by resource extraction.

What we don’t need is an injunction, according to David Cullen, novelist and activist. “Well, if you’re going to do it anyway, go ahead.”

This is what I am asking of the Ontario government: “Put aside your need to extract value from the Ring of Fire. Sit down with the community, talk it through, build a partnership that benefits the community and includes it in the process. If it’s not

Leave a Comment