POLITICS
02/14/2014 02:43 EST | Updated 04/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Deloitte to help establish Ring of Fire development corporation

The provincial government has gone to the private sector for help to establish a development corporation for the Ring of Fire mining region in northern Ontario.

Mines minister Michael Gravelle announced Friday in Thunder Bay that the government has brought in Deloitte LLP, which a government news release calls one of Canada's leading professional firms in consulting and corporate negotiation.

Gravelle said Deloitte will act as a neutral, third-party resource for key partners in the Ring of Fire, including First Nations, the provincial and federal governments and industry.

The province states that the Ring of Fire has a known mineral potential worth $60 billion and includes the largest deposit of chromite ever discovered in North America. Chromite is a key ingredient of stainless steel.

Deloitte has what it takes to tackle a complex job, Gravelle said.

“These are people and an organization that has a particular expertise,” he said.

“We think this will actually help us move forward more quickly in terms of those decisions being made and bringing the partners together.”

He added the firm will prepare a report about infrastructure, which has proven to be one of the most significant challenges so far in the development of the Ring of Fire mining region.

"This report is going to be crucial,” Gravelle said. “It will provide a neutral foundation to assess the infrastructure proposals. It will be an important resource for the corporation partners as they work to seek consensus on infrastructure priorities."

Some companies planning to mine the area want roads to be built, while others are calling for rail infrastructure.

‘A good, independent grouping’

Having a firm like Deloitte in place is good news for the development, said the Ontario Prospectors Association’s Garry Clark.

“It's very important that the corporation is lead by Deloitte to be set up … they are independent,” he said.

“And when they name the parties that sit on that corporation, there [will be] a good, independent grouping within that.”

Clark said one major challenge the Ring of Fire development now faces is the worldwide down turn in metal prices.

Gravelle said he was disappointed the Ring of Fire was not mentioned once in  this week's federal budget, however, he noted discussions will continue with minister Greg Rickford about the need to have the federal government at the table.

Fedeli pushes rail

Meanwhile, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said the Ontario Liberals are misleading people with claims of any progress when it comes to the Ring of Fire.

“Virtually no progress has been seen on the ground there since I was there last,” said Fedeli, who noted the government admitted today that it still hasn’t formed a Ring of Fire Development Corporation despite announcing it more than three months ago.

In a press release, Fedeli said he made his fourth trip into the Ring of Fire region on Thursday and learned the following:

- Noront Resources is ready to start development on its nickel deposits, but is being held back by the provincial government’s lack of action on transportation infrastructure.

- There’s no exploration currently under way because there’s still no way to get ore to market.

- The reduction in activity in has resulted in severe layoffs among mining supply companies in Northern Ontario.

During his trip Fedeli said he continued to look for opportunities for the Ontario Northland Railway to help develop the Ring of Fire.

“As the mines develop, there’s no question the best way to ship ore is by rail,” said Fedeli.

The NDP's critic for northern development and mines, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, issued a statement sayng that consultants are profiting off the Ring of Fire while the mining industry and First Nations are "left out in the cold."

In the release, Mantha said "it's clear the Liberals have moved nowhere on this file since last year," adding that they have retained an outside consultant to advise them on what should have been done "years ago."