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Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie Continues Building Bridges in Ring of Fire Territory

Dec 14, 2022

There’s a sense of progress on all sides that the resource-rich Ring of Fire region of Northern Ontario is on the brink of a breakthrough. Ontario’s new Mines Minister George Pirie has been tasked by Premier Doug Ford with getting the Ring of Fire across the finish line.

Minister Pirie was the keynote speaker at the Central Canada Mining Expo held recently in Thunder Bay. Pirie brings more than three decades of mining experience to the portfolio but his core strength in his new role, is a deep and personal commitment to ensuring that First Nations communities share in the Ring of Fire’s extraordinary economic benefits.

“I want to show my respect for the contributions of First Nations and recognize the role of treaty-making in what is now Ontario,” said Pirie at the outset of his remarks.
Today, those contributions include a high number of communities that rely on Ontario’s mining industry.
“In the mining industry, there’s 45,000 people. And as you know, the 45,000 people are largely employed in Northern Ontario. And by Northern Ontario, I mean from North Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, to Timmins and Thunder Bay.” Pirie pointed out that there are 90,000 people employed in Ontario’s auto sector. “And as we know, they’re all south of North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Southern Ontario holds nine tenths of the population. Canada is driven by 90,000 people that contain nine tenths of the population of Ontario. Put that into perspective. Do you realize how important mining is in Canada? Do you really realize how important mining is in northern Ontario?”

Pirie’s passionate delivery landed with those in attendance. “With 45,000 people employed and in a geographic area with 1/10th of the Ontario population? Does everybody here realize how important you are?” said Pirie to the audience.

“Every single citizen, everybody, you realize the impact we have on the economy?”

The Minister underlined the enormous untapped volume of economic power in the north.
“I want people to listen to this very, very carefully. I was elected June 2nd. I was sworn in on June 28th as an MPP and on June 29th, I was sworn in as the Minister of Mines. Within the first week, I was at a national energy and mines conference in St. John’s.”
The conference was hosted by Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s federal Minister of Natural Resources. Pirie says he and Wilkinson are on the same page, despite the fact that they are from two different parties.
“What he (Wilkinson) said was music to my ears. He focused on three things. And he spoke with a sense of urgency. He talked about the energy crisis globally caused by the invasion of Ukraine.”

Pirie said every mining person needs to understand the importance of energy. “If you’re thinking about, or you’re developing a mine, you’re going to say, where is the power going to come from?”
Pirie was intimately involved in that discussion as the President and CEO of Placer Dome Canada and the development of the Musselwhite Mine. “We built that road, we built the power transmission line. It was a very expensive capital project, and not the most efficient way to get a transmission power line.”
The minister says the company had serious conversations about drawing power from Manitoba because they could potentially buy that electricity at about 3.2 cents a kilowatt hour. Pirie drew a contrast with Quebec as well. “At the Detour Lake Mine, in the late 90’s, we were trying to survive in depressed gold prices.”


Pirie article pic

The Detour Mine is just a few kilometres from the Quebec border. At the time they could have tapped into the James Bay Hydro system at about 2.8 cents a kilowatt hour.
“Both times in those conversations, we refused to do that. Because power, as every political jurisdiction knows, is a matter of sovereignty. Germany just learned that when they cut off the natural gas, and Ontario views their power in a very similar fashion. If you lose your ability to control your power, independently, it’s a threat to your sovereignty,” Pirie stressed to the audience.

The minister reminded the audience that prior to the election of the Doug Ford Conservative government, the Liberal/NDP regime were skyrocketing energy costs. “In fact, they needed to unwind some of these very, very expensive power contracts that were put in place by the Liberals subsidizing wind at about 78 cents a kilowatt hour, and solar panels at about 52 cents a kilowatt hour. Because they’re not sustainable,” he added.

Pirie says when your operating costs become prohibitive, you lose your ability to fund the programs that you need to fund within the province. Pirie told the audience that “Energy is a key component of mining. Without a doubt, everybody in this room has an idea about what it would take. A couple of years ago hydro (Hydro One) thought they had enough energy. In recent conversations, they realized they don’t - that they’re way behind in that opportunity.”

Pirie says there’s ample opportunity to generate new, clean energy, especially in Northwestern Ontario and Northeastern Ontario. “And of course, these projects will be driven by the indigenous people. Five Nations Energy is a power transmission company in northeastern Ontario and is 100% indigenous owned.”
Pirie continued. “As everybody knows, the winter roads are not sustainable, they’re not reliable. And flying in diesel into these communities is not going to be sustainable, there is a better solution. When Minister Wilkinson is talking about the crisis in energy and what has to be done. The important role that this plays in the critical mineral strategy, is that indigenous people across the North are going to help make this happen.”
“The second thing that he (Wilkinson) talked about was climate change, if we’re going to be green, we’ve got to be mining, you have to mine these minerals. There’s no other way to get these minerals, other than mining.”

The minister says all of Northern Ontario will be required for the energy and green economy solutions to get critical minerals out of the ground that the world needs. “Principally, the indigenous people. Because we know nothing is going to happen without the indigenous people being involved in these industries, full stop, full partnership.”


For this article and more visit the digital copy of: The Northern Ontario Mining Report

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