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Ontario government at forefront of green economy thanks to mining strategy

Apr 15, 2021

Global society is making a massive shift toward a green economy and the Ontario government of Doug Ford is at the head of the class thanks to an aggressive and compelling mining strategy designed to create jobs in the province’s indigenous communities while boosting the supply of critical minerals needed for battery technology and electric vehicles.

Doug Ford set the tone right after his election to the highest office in Ontario in June of 2018. Criss-crossing the province during the 2018 election campaign, Ford witnessed first-hand how Ontario’s struggling mining sector had been handcuffed by a decade and a half of Liberal/NDP stewardship.
The industry was at a standstill. Deposits with massive potential like the Ring of Fire were either shelved or in a permanent state of limbo.
That’s when Ford told Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford to roll up his sleeves and fix the logjam.
“The premier has been such a staunch advocate for what we’re doing in mining,” says Rickford. “He said - Rickford, cut the red tape and get these things moving, and that’s exactly what we’ve been able to do. His leadership has just been amazing.”
The latest example was the 2020 ground-breaking ceremony for IAMGOLD’s Cote Lake project south of Timmins. The project had languished and was, by many accounts, stonewalled by successive Liberal cabinets supported by anti-mining NDP members of parliament.
“The truth of the matter,” says Ford, “Is the Minister (Rickford) is being modest. He’s driving it. Over the last 15 years, from the previous Liberal government, they basically ignored our mining sector and made it next to impossible to open any mine. They’re anti-mining, anti-forestry, they’re anti-everything. Now we have fresh blood in there and Greg’s driving it forward and supporting over 75,000 jobs in Ontario.”
Both Ford and Rickford agree that Ontario’s mining industry is undervalued and underappreciated, especially when it comes to the impact on indigenous communities. Ford says his government needs to get the message out to all Ontarians how important the mining sector is to this province.
Ford and Rickford have presided over four gold mine openings. The first was Harte Gold’s Sugar Zone project near White River.

Harte pic
“I remember driving up there,” says Ford. “It was incredible. We’re deploying SWAT teams to work with mining projects right across the north to make sure we give them assurance that these projects have the permits they need and to get the operations up and running. And we’ve seen how successful our strategy and Greg’s heading it up has been to date.”
While the mutual admiration can be expected, both Ford and Rickford are quick to point out that supporting Ontario’s mining sector is both pragmatic and essential if the province is going to benefit from the so-called “green economy”, which doesn’t exist without mining.
“Ontario’s mining industry is absolutely central to our economic recovery. It’s going to play a massive part and we look forward to the new mines opening and creating prosperity for northern indigenous communities,” Ford said.
“With the opening of the multiple mines, including the first one, the Harte Gold Sugar Zone, and the new fully-electric Borden Mine, and then there were IAMGOLD Cote Lake and the Argonaut Gold projects that have also started construction,” said Ford.
As a cabinet minister, Rickford says his direction came from the top. “The Premier and I sat down very early on and his sensibilities around economic prosperity, tied in perfectly with where things are going in the mining sector in indigenous communities. We don’t want to be a government like the previous where there was an over-dependency on the government and a lack of connection to some of the activities that were going on right in front of them, or near them.”

Indigenous relationships top of list for both the premier and the minister

Rickford says Gogama is the perfect example. “Flying Post First Nation and Matachewan, two great chiefs there stepped in and formed business relationships with IAMGOLD and they’re flourishing. We’ve seen this in the Greenstone Belt. We’re seeing real progress in the Ring of Fire. These are communities that are going to build legacy infrastructure, not just in a business role, but there are people working for them. As the Premier says, that’s the kind of economic security, not just prosperity, that comes afterwards, that we want our northern communities to experience. The good news is, it’s working.”
“When I visit First Nations communities with Greg, the number one, by far number one issue we hear is we need to get our community working, we need opportunity to be prosperous and just help us along. I know the mining sector is working hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder with communities, but it takes a facilitator like Greg to bring both communities together. That’s exactly what he did and we’re going to continue doing it.”
Rickford says his approach has altered dramatically since the early phase of his political career, which included time as a federal MP in Ottawa. “I’ve approached this differently in this chapter of my political career and I’ve torn a page out of the Premier’s book. I’ve always been a busy guy, but I’ve watched the Premier on his blackberry calling the people of Ontario. I tried to pick and choose which constituents he’ll speak to understanding that he’s got a busy schedule. I get goosebumps seeing what this guy actually does in terms of engaging with people.”
“Alvin Fiddler (Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Grand Chief), truth be told, if we’re off the cuff here - we didn’t have a great relationship before. Roseanne Archibald (Ontario Regional Chief), and him and I sat down and said, let’s do this differently. This is a guy that had made a fool of me in front of a community that I’d spent a number of years in, so I had some axes to grind with him. But you know what? I changed my approach - and I started texting back and forth with these guys. I started making more phone calls. Sure, I had great relationships prior, I don’t mean to say that I didn’t. But I changed my approach. I mean, we never stop learning in this business.”
Indigenous relationships are top of the list for both the premier and the minister.  “I always say I am to the indigenous people of Ontario what the Premier has been to the people of Ontario. And that is - very accessible and available to answer their questions and calls. As a result of that, in mining, we have been able to move more projects across more critical mining milestones than the previous government did as the Premier mentioned in a decade and a half. Those are facts, we’re not trumping that up. That’s not just a function of how hot the commodity market is. That’s a new way of approaching things and it’s the Premier’s leadership that set that off on the right pace.”
Indigenous communities are going to play a big role as the province continues to explore ways to provide a regulatory framework for the discovery and production of critical metals and minerals that are essential in the shift to a green economy.
“I think it plays a critical role and one goes with the other,” says Ford. “We’re laser-focused on making sure that, first of all, we cut the red tape and in consultation with the stakeholders and indigenous partners, while making sure that we have the highest standards anywhere for environmental protections. I know Minister Rickford’s recent announcement on developing a critical mineral strategy does exactly that.”
Rickford will be working closely with all stakeholders and indigenous leaders to develop Ontario’s first-ever Critical Minerals Strategy.

Critical Minerals Strategy strengthens Ontario’s position as a leading jurisdiction
“Blazing a new trail. Greg’s doing the strategy which will strengthen Ontario’s position as a leading jurisdiction anywhere in North America for responsible-sourced critical minerals,” said Ford. Our government will continue to support the transition to a low carbon economy by supplying the world with critical minerals sourced right here out of Ontario, which is so important.”
One of the key features of the Ford government approach to the environment has been to work with indigenous communities according to Rickford. “You take a look at the corridor to prosperity, the Premier sat down and said, look, I want to enter into an agreement. The Premier is a business guy, he thinks these kinds of (business) relationships are the best way to go and he’s right. Now we have lead proponents led by indigenous communities. We have all the confidence in the world, not just in the framework of our environmental reassessment, but also in the communities that are helping or completely leading it.”
On the Ring of Fire region, Ford and Rickford are equally anxious to see benefits begin to flow to the area’s First Nations communities. Ford turned heads during the 2018 election campaign when he famously said he would jump on a bulldozer himself to help get the massive minerals deposits into production.
“I can’t wait. And I’m sure as we’re talking, I’m going to get on that darn bulldozer and I’m going up there, because I always like saying - promises made, promises kept. Greg is working with a number of First Nations communities. We have a majority of them onside, and there’s a couple of players that we’re still working with and we’ve got to start off with the infrastructure. We have to make sure that we have the access to get up to the Ring of Fire - that’s critical getting up and bringing product back. I think we’re getting closer as every day passes.”
Rickford and Ford are in lockstep on the massive Ring of Fire potential. “The premier was using a metaphor to encourage us all and inspire us all to move forward on this. Nobody can deny that this hasn’t been a long, torturous road where virtually nothing has gotten done, and that’s changing now because of our approach. And so we have hit some critical milestones and there’s a couple more on the horizon.”
“Just this past week, we had an opportunity to speak with Hatch, a major infrastructure company, and the two lead proponents, Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nations chiefs around the plans for building the road. If that’s not a milestone, I don’t know what is, frankly, and these will be low touches to the taxpayer. There’ll be an expectation that the federal government finally puts their money where their mouth is.”
“And again, decidedly, under the Premier’s leadership, we’ve said, look, mining companies build mines, what we build is relationships to facilitate and move red tape out of the way so that this work can get done. And that’s effectively what is happening. Those things are happening now, the market is responding, and I don’t think we’ve ever been in a better position.”
Rickford says the Abitibi-Greenstone belt is alive. We see a new center of gravity in the central part of Northern Ontario evolving that I think is going to not just improve the fortunes for communities in Northern Ontario, but significantly improve the economic fortunes of people who invest in it and the province of Ontario in so doing.”

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