May 9, 2023

Ontario’s Minister of Mines George Pirie is feeling very optimistic these days about the province’s prospects for major growth in the mining sector, and its correlating industries.
Pirie, a former mining executive and City of Timmins mayor, says the biggest building block is that of the long anticipated Ring of Fire development in the remote reaches of Northern Ontario. A recent development has plans to finally get a permanent transportation network to the area, including Webequie First Nation (Webequie Supply Road) and Marten Falls First Nation (Marten Falls Community Access Road).
“During PDAC (Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada) we announced the final approval on the terms of reference for the Northern Road Link, which will connect the two communities with the highway network, and the Ring of Fire,” he told Mining Life.
The basic idea is to connect the mineral deposits to the manufacturing sector throughout the rest of the province.
“This is really about improving the lives of the First Nations and trying to unlock the critical minerals in the Ring of Fire.”
All 3 of those highway links are now undergoing the environmental assessment process with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. Pirie gave credit to the hard work and leadership of Chief Bruce Achneepineskum of Marten Falls and Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie First Nation for leading the way in progress.
The proposed highway would run somewhere between 117 and 164 kilometres in length, and cross the Attawapiskat River. Those links would then connect at Nakina to the rest of the provincial road network.
The Province of Ontario is investing approximately $1 billion dollars in legacy infrastructure in the Ring of Fire region including the all-season roads, broadband connections, and other supports.
“We’re all on the same page – our government, Webequie First Nation, Marten Falls First Nation – we share the same goals,” said Pirie, adding that connecting the communities and the resource bases will secure a more prosperous future.
“We will ensure that economic reconciliation happens for all the communities in the Ring of Fire.”
With Marten Falls and Webequie on board, Pirie is hoping to see other communities become a part of the burgeoning development.
“We’re there to support all of the First Nations in these projects. I myself, am personally open to any discussion at any time.”
Pirie met with the Chief of Fort Hope, also known as Eabametoong First Nation, last fall, and said that much of the consultations taking place are being led by the Chiefs of Marten Falls and Webequie, which he hears has garnered interest of other FN communities. “I think those are very positive signs,” he said.
“We certainly want to streamline the process, and they want to see the process streamlined. We’ve got a real good working relationship.”
As it stands, rail connections to the Ring of Fire are not in the plans, and Pirie maintains that despite the obviously challenging terrain in the area, constructing a high quality, four seasons road with proper maintenance standards and capabilities is very feasible, and not without precedent.
“The easiest thing about this project is building the road,” he said.
“A large part of the road will be running on an esker. The parts that are in muskeg will be no different than the road that was built in the 90s to get to Musselwhite.”
There have been some environmental concerns relating to the area’s muskeg acting as a delicate carbon sink.
“I think that’s very important for everybody to understand. There’s very little of that muskeg that will be disturbed,” said Pirie, adding that the construction of such roads is an ‘amazing process.’

Throughout the rest of Ontario, things are looking up.

‘Building More Mines Act’

“Right now, Ontario is the leading jurisdiction for mining exploration in Canada. So I think the fruits of our labour in the critical minerals area are being seen. On top of that, I believe that capital is mobile. Capital will be attracted into jurisdictions where mining is supported.”
Bill 71, or the ‘Building More Mines Act’, which is an amendment to the province’s mining act, aims to stimulate and expediate the overall time it takes to get shovels in the ground.
“It can’t take 15, or 17 years to permit a mine,” said Pirie.
“The example I often use is Kidd Creek Mine. It was 3 years from the point of discovery to production, as opposed to something like Côté Lake that took 17 years. That’s just totally unacceptable.”
He said the amendment aims for the ministry to become more ‘flexible’ and ‘accountable’ and doesn’t reduce or invalidate any current environmental standards or responsibilities, which he feels are some of the strictest anywhere in the world.
“The Building More Mines Act is basically making this more efficient and effective within the ministry itself. It does not change any of Ontario’s environmental standards.”
The Act introduces amendments to the Ontario Mining Act and it is hoped to lessen fees of applications and allow easier access to permits for recovering minerals from mine tailings as well.
In the latest budget introduced by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, another $6 million was announced for the Ontario Junior Exploration Program (OJEP) bringing the total to $35 million in total investments since Premier Doug Ford took office.
The program assists junior mining companies finance early exploration projects.
He also points to the $5 million dollar Critical Minerals Innovation Fund, which was announced in late November, as another way the province is doing its part to boost development and encourage new technology.
The province is aiming to see more rare earth mineral projects, such as VR Resources project near Otter Rapids, develop so that Ontario can become a major player in a secure and responsible supply chain of the growing electric vehicle sector, which Pirie calls a ‘revolution.’
He said Ontario has a good working relationship with the federal partners, and had hoped to see the feds match the roughly $1 billion the province is putting in towards Ring of Fire development. However, it was not mentioned once.
Still, he is optimistic and excited for the near future.
“25 percent of all exploration expenditures in Canada are happening in Ontario. That’s a huge win for us,” said Pirie.
“With the capital attracted, you create jobs, and you create jobs not only in Southern Ontario, you create jobs all over Ontario, including the Indigenous communities. Its a win-win-win, and I think we’re just getting started.”

Minister George Pirie will be giving the Ontario State of Mining Address at this year's Canadian Mining Expo during the Projects in the Pipeline Conference in Timmins, June 8th at lunch hour. He will be joined by 10 other guest speakers during the conference. Tickets are still available and one can view the complete list of speakers online at www.canadianminingexpo.com or you can call 705-264-2251 and ask for Audrey to reserve your seat. Seats are limited and lunch is included.


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