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Timmins Mayor says Northeastern Ontario needs an energy revolution

Apr 22, 2021

George Pirie doesn’t mince words when it comes to the future of northeastern Ontario’s premiere mining city – a huge attitude shift would lead to enormous benefits.

By Kevin Vincent
In an exclusive interview with Mining Life, the Timmins mayor outlines an aggressive and comprehensive vision of how the city and region could benefit with government and private sector investments in transportation and energy.

“The area where there’s huge potential is rare earth elements,” says Pirie. He points to the Kapuskasing structure as an example. “You’ve got this package of rocks between two Archaean zones. It’s a structure that’s just been boiled and chewed and it’s virtually unexplored.”

Pirie points out that there have been a number of relatively new discoveries that prove the city has massive unexplored upside. “The Borden gold mine by Chapleau, and then we had the phosphate operation near Kapuskasing, and now we’ve got REEs everywhere, we’ve got niobium, that’s a plethora of minerals which is exactly what you’d expect in a situation where the earth has been re-mobilized and boiled over at high temperature. You don’t know what you’re going to find. And there’s only one thing you can do - and that’s drill.”

Pirie says Ontario is moving closer to Quebec-style economic incentives. “The Ontario government gets it now – they’ve announced a critical minerals initiative. But it’s one thing to announce the initiative, the follow up is we have to provide the incentives to drill because this is huge and Timmins sits directly in the middle of it all. It’s the largest center in the north and all of those activities can be centered from here.”

Pirie points out that regional geologists say Timmins has everything in its backyard “Meaning a regional perspective we can take advantage of finding those metals here. You put that in combination with a circular economy, where do you want manufacturing? They should be here in Timmins. The potential for economic cooperation from Northwestern Quebec in northeastern Ontario is right there.”

It’s a theory that has been talked about for years. Pirie’s predecessors and successive city councils defaulted to the suggestion that Timmins was geographically isolated to consider manufacturing as a potential industry.   

“If we’re going to maximize the potential of the area, then the manufacturing should be centered here,” said Pirie. “Why should it be here? Number one, we’ve got the room. We’ve got what the world needs. And a big part of what they need is space. We do it without congestion, and we can do it properly here. Number two. We have the elements that go to the rest of the world, they will drive the rest of the world’s economy on the back of these minerals.”

“I’ve said over and over and over again, the tough part is the railroads. We’ve got the shortest trade routes to the rest of the world. Battery technology, green technology, it has to be mined. And this is where these minerals will be sourced. So why would we ship container loads of raw metals? Well, we wouldn’t. We could ship the finished product, as it should be, to maximize, not just the development of Timmins, but number to minimize the carbon footprint, export the finished product, not the raw product.”

Mining Life asked Pirie point blank, what has held the city back from becoming a major manufacturing centre?

“Ultimately I think the reason why it hasn’t been done is more about attitude and vision than anything else. The transportation corridors should be connected from Timmins right back through to Sault Ste. Marie. That connects the rail lines right through the middle of the continent and in combination with James Bay, so that in fact you can say we’re in a world trade route. That’s the first thing.”

“First and foremost, we’ve mentally surrendered to this idea that this is what Timmins is, or Northern Ontario is. We’ve mentally cashed up our chips. If you take a look at what’s going on in northern Quebec, they’ve announced a new rail line. Take a look at the Quebec side of the Great Northern clay belt, that’s fully developed. It’s a challenge of attitude.”

When it comes to the critical resource of human capital, Pirie is again, an outlier. “I’m one of the few individuals that stands up and says this region will grow. We will not suffer from a declining population, because we’ve got everything the world needs and it’s up to us to make it happen. We’re an incredibly rich region, agriculturally and minerally, and untapped energy.”

Pirie says the key is energy. “For all of this to happen, we have to have an energy revolution. If we’re all going to be using batteries instead of fossil fuels, then the equivalent in kilowatt hours has to be converted to electricity someplace. And we’ve got unlimited potential here, both geothermal, hydro electrical, as well as high temperature incineration.”

Pirie says if he could affect one change immediately, it’s transportation. “We should be a transportation hub here in the North and we should be able to go around the world on the back of that transportation infrastructure - on the back of rail and the manufacturing facilities that we could put in place here. That would be the number one priority.”

The global pandemic set Pirie’s plans back a year. Shortly after being elected, Pirie began a series of talks with major capital investors who were considering massive investments in the region. 

“When we talk to those people, they’re all listening, and they can see the vision, they can understand the vision. We’ve got to mobilize. That’s one of the things we’ve got to do here is mobilize capital. And that’s a tactic. That’s talking to people from all over the world. These are mega projects, and the world is looking for mega projects. This is a great place to have them because again, we’ve got everything that the world needs.


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