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Ontario’s New Mines Minister, George Pirie. Will he put a ring on it?

Aug 23, 2022

By Kevin Vincent, Mining Life

There are all kinds of ways to describe the task that Ontario’s new Mines Minister, George Pirie, has been handed by Premier Doug Ford. For argument’s sake, you could call it Ontario’s hot potato.  
After a resounding win against an incumbent New Democrat MPP in Timmins in the 2022 provincial election, Pirie was instantly being touted as a potential cabinet minister.
Pirie, whose low-key and non-confrontational style also helped him handily win the mayor’s race in Timmins in 2018, is a veteran mining executive with international experience and a long history of working with First Nations leaders.
When Premier Ford announced his new cabinet in early July, Pirie was handed the Mines portfolio with a special mandate to develop the Ring of Fire.
From the time he was first elected as premier in 2018, and with the savvy and skilful assistance of then Minister of Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Relations, Greg Rickford, Ford set out to dramatically alter the course of the Ring of Fire’s destiny which had been mired in Liberal/NDP limbo for 15 years.  
Ford and Rickford personally sat down with the chiefs of the Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations during the their first term in office and re-established a collaboration with community partners which Ford sees an essential ingredient that had been missing from getting the ambitious project in motion.
The Ring of Fire development has the potential to create thousands of new jobs in the mining industry and bring hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits and opportunities for Indigenous communities throughout the region, including easier access to everyday goods like groceries, fuel and water.
Premier Ford adds that the critical minerals extracted from the site will make Ontario a “resource powerhouse,” allowing the province to become a leader in electric vehicle production in North America.
Greg Rickford meanwhile, has stated often that “There is no green economy without mining.”


Enter George Pirie.

The former President of Place Dome Canada, a mining company, which, under his direction at one time operated 13 gold mines in seven different countries. Pirie was instrumental in helping to develop one of Canada’s first Impact Benefit Agreements (IBA’s). The Musselwhite Agreement (signed in 1992 and renewed in 2019) is one of the first comprehensive agreements between First Nation communities and a mine in Canada. It was Pirie who led that effort.
The latest agreement(s) for Musselwhite include: Mishkeegogamang First Nation North Caribou Lake First Nation; Cat Lake First Nation; Wunnumin Lake First Nation; Kingfisher Lake First Nation; Windigo First Nation Council; and the Shibogama First Nation Council.
Pirie says the perfect launchpad for the Ring of Fire project is the current buy-in of Marten Falls and Webequie. “We’ve got two proponents and that’s Marten Falls, and Webequie,” said Pirie. “They’re the proponents and this is an extremely important point that they’re the proponents for these projects.”
“These projects” are the environmental assessments and the construction of a billion dollar year-round access road into the region.  
“They’re working through their environmental assessments that they have to get done. But there’s some incredible dates that are coming out right now in August and September. And, of course, these are cooperative agreements between the federal government and the provincial government, and it’s critical that these roles, these best projects will be advanced.”
Pirie says one aspect of the project that needs to be settled is the federal government helping to fund the road.
“It’s just really encouraging that the federal government acknowledges that their regional assessment will not impact on the approval timelines for any of the three road infrastructure projects.
I was also very encouraged with the first conference that we had with the federal government where I was involved with the Ministers of Energy and Mines across all the provincial and territorial officials, as well as the federal government and Minister Wilkinson (Jonathan Wilkinson – Federal Minister of Natural Resources).”
“He started that conference with a sense of urgency about Ukraine and the impact that situation is having on energy to the impact on climate change and the requirement to move as fast as possible to a green economy,” said Pirie.
“From my point of view, and I think we all agreed that it was a great way to start the conference, because we know the urgency to get the Ring of Fire developed, and then moving into production with these critical minerals. Because, if in fact, the federal government is going to meet their climate goals, we have to get these projects completed. And we know that, if we’re going to be green, we’re going to be mining.”

Once the roads are finished, then what?

“There’s a number of things that have to happen. Again, the environmental approvals that are required, they should be happening simultaneously and they’re not mutually exclusive. So, these will happen at the same time, so that as soon as possible, the projects, once they’re approved can move into energy production.”
Pirie is keen to point out that the new roads will have a massive impact on the region. “The road is more than access to mining, it’s also about building off-season road infrastructure that’ll connect all the remote First Nations communities to the highway network for the first time. And again, these projects will unlock the access to health and social services most importantly, broadband connectivity and again, move away from diesel generated electricity in the Northern First Nations for the first time - so again, these communities will be connected to the grid.”
“It’s not just about moving production from the Ring of Fire. Obviously, that’s the biggest thing. But the whole region gets stronger because we’re developing these projects. So let’s say, I just think it’s an extraordinary opportunity in the Ring of Fire region to be part of the multi-generational potential to produce nickel, gold mines, and other critical minerals,” added Pirie.

Mining Life:

“Is it also fair to say that the table, so to speak, was set for you by both the Premier and Minister Rickford in terms of the groundwork, that they were able to lay over the last four years?”


“Without a doubt. Again, every single meeting I’ve had in the last few weeks, I think the people that have been involved in the development of this critical mineral strategy is incredibly exceptional and allows really good work to put this critical map and strategy in place. And again, it just matches so terrifically well with the Province’s leadership towards moving to a green economy.”

“Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard about that phenomenal $1.5 billion investment in building battery plants. And we know already with the Electro Battery Metals Corporation and is going to do with the battery minerals park in Cobalt, the investment with geoscience and also funding vehicles to ensure that you can drill and find this stuff. So, it’s a well thought out strategy with all the important parts meshing together to ensure that we’ll be able to do this, not only to transfer to a green economy, but the minerals that are required to transfer into a green main economy will come from northern Ontario. And as I said before, if we want to be green, we’ve got to mine.”

Mining Life:

“George, you have a history of being both innovative and forward thinking when it comes to resource development and First Nations communities. How much of that experience, how much of your background do you see coming into play in this particular role with this particular mandate?”


“Well, virtually, all of my experience. We want to get these projects built, we want to get them built as soon as we possibly can. I think, we’ve got to obviously work very, very closely with all stakeholders. And key to that happening is relationships with the indigenous communities in the Ring of Fire area. And obviously the other key part will be the federal government. And that’s why I’m so encouraged with the sense of urgency that Minister Wilkinson had at that first conference.”

Pirie says if we’re serious about meeting our climate goals, we have to transform our economy to a green economy. “And to transfer the economy to a green economy, we need the minerals. And it’s not going to be acceptable to get cobalt out of the Congo. With the quantity of nickel that’s going to be required, it’s going to go to require projects like nickel to come to fruition.”

Lastly, Pirie sees a green energy boom as well.

“The deposits that are in that Ring of Fire, literally, there’s still a vast amount yet to be discovered. So, when you think about the amount of energy that’s going to require to transform us from a fossil fuel economy into a battery economy. You can look at the projects that are there - 5 and 10 years out and see exactly why these projects are extraordinarily important, not just for this region, in Timmins or northern Ontario in general or the Province, but quite frankly for the globe. These are projects that are important globally.”


Building relationships with all indigenous communities in the Ring of Fire is the key!







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