Canada Uses Protest Lesson to Develop C$50B Ring of Fire

The Canadian federal minister overseeing projects to develop C$50 billion ($48 billion) of mineral deposits said he’ll use lessons learned from aboriginal protests to temper resistance that has slowed other projects.

Increased job training, infrastructure and participation in environmental reviews are helping build trust with aboriginal communities adjacent to the so-called Ring of Fire deposits in northern Ontario, Greg Rickford said in an interview. The Idle No More protest movement that emerged last year showed anger with “politics at every level” and demonstrated that aboriginals want to share the benefits of resource development, he said.

The protests “give us important guidance on how to proceed, and we have been following that playbook,” Rickford, minister responsible for Ring of Fire and economic development in northern Ontario, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Ottawa newsroom.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he wants Canada to become an energy superpower, those efforts have been slowed by protests against projects such as Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline to bring Alberta oil to the west coast for export. Development of the Ring of Fire by companies like Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. and Noront Resources Ltd. of Toronto have also been slowed by disputes over road construction.

Rickford said it is up to Ontario to resolve those issues. “I have had very frequent, very serious and very frank discussions with both Cliffs and Noront,” he said. Disputes about roads “are squarely within the provincial jurisdiction,” he said.

May Reconsider

Cliffs may reconsider its project unless the province grants road access to the site, Canadian Press reported Oct. 21, citing an interview with vice president William Boor. Cliffs didn’t immediately respond to e-mail messages today.

“The federal government’s roles and responsibilities at this point in time in the Ring of Fire ought to be focused on things like job readiness, aboriginal skills training,” Rickford said in the interview.

The federal government is also in charge of an environmental review and there are “very positive” signs of aboriginal support, Rickford said. “We want to do this right, it has to be inclusive,” he said.

The Ring of Fire is an area about 1,200 kilometers (740 miles) north of Chicago, and holds deposits of nickel and copper that may be worth between C$30 billion and C$50 billion, the government said in March. Mining could create 5,500 jobs from North America’s biggest deposit of chromite, which is used to make stainless steel.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.