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NEWS: McGuinty’s mining plans for Ontario’s Far North

The Toronto Star reports, “Directly above the Albany (River in Ontario’s Far North) lies the Ring of Fire — more than 5,000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness that is believed to contain a $30 billion deposit of chromite, the ore used to make stainless steel. Prospectors also say a treasure trove of platinum and diamonds lies underneath.”

“But the pursuit of these riches means (companies) must blast, bulldoze and bigfoot through the Albany watershed, the surrounding boreal forest and the swampy peatland of the Hudson Bay lowlands. …The monstrously tall, old-growth cedar and spruce trees found (in the boreal forest that stretches from the Manitoba border to James Bay and Quebec) are referred to as the ‘lungs of the earth’ for their ability to trap carbon gas emissions. …(And) railway bridges would have to be built to cross both the Albany and the Attawapiskat rivers (which separate the resource-rich north from the ever-growing south). …(Furthermore) KWG Resources…wants to build hydroelectric dams on the rivers the railway would cross. The dams would provide the power to process the ore.”

“The race to develop the ring is already furiously underway. International mining companies have staked more than 9,000 claims covering 480,000 hectares. …It’s now up to the federal and provincial governments to rule on the development proposals. …Last month, Harper appointed Tony Clement minister for the federal economic initiative for Northern Ontario. Three mining giants have put forward project plans (that include open pit and underground mines, as well as the hydroelectric dams) that now must be assessed environmentally by both Ontario and Ottawa officials.”

“A coalition of environmental groups (including the Albany River Coalition and the Wildlands League) is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to create a federal joint review panel — a body of experts that would closely monitor the mining — to ensure development adheres to environmental standards.”

And “Marten Falls First Nations, located almost on top of the Ring, has blockaded their airstrips, preventing mining companies from landing. …(The neighbouring) Constance Lake First Nation is currently in mediation with Zenyatta Ventures Ltd. following a court battle. About 800 people live in Constance Lake, 300 kilometres west of Timmins along Hwy 11. Many live off the land, hunting and fishing. However, the water is not clean enough to drink and bottled water must be brought into the reserve. Chief Arthur Moore says while Zenyatta has met with his community, they went ahead and began to drill on traditional lands without their consent.” In September 2010, the Ottawa Citizen reported, “Native leaders are worried they will lose control over traditional lands under the (Ontario government’s) proposed Far North Act… The legislation opens half the northern boreal region — about 42 per cent of the province — to development such as the kind being planned in the so-called Ring of Fire, a pristine 5,000-square-kilometre swath of land set to be mined for its rich ore deposits. Native leaders were at Queen’s Park to demand the bill be halted.”

It should also be noted that the European Union wants to restrict the ability of countries to implement export restrictions to protect their environment or to preserve an exhaustible natural resource. It was reported in July 2010 that, “The European Union has included a provision on raw material export restrictions in its trade agreement with Korea and will seek to include provisions in other bilateral and multilateral pacts (including with the Ukraine)… The European Union established a working group which has concluded there are 14 raw materials that are particularly critical, including antimony, cobalt, gallium, graphite, and rare earths elements, among others.” Though chromite doesn’t appear to be currently on the initial list of 14 raw materials, a French study has identified chromite on a list of short to medium-term risks to supply, and the European Commission has already said their list could be expanded to include chromite.

While the McGuinty government is promoting mining exports from the Ring of Fire, as would Conservative leader Tim Hudak, a subsequent provincial government might choose to restrict the export of chromite to protect Ontario’s Far North (after all, that area supports one of the earth’s largest, continuous wetlands through which half of Canada’s largest dozen rivers drain). If that were to happen, the European Union could potentially use the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) to challenge that environmental protection.

Past campaign blogs on the Ring of Fire are at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?s=%22ring+of+fire%22. To read about Premier Jean Charest’s similar resource extraction plan for Quebec’s North, see http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=7899. The Toronto Star article is at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1006854–rafting-down-the-albany-river-to-the-ring-of-fire?bn=1.