When it comes to the Ring of Fire, former Ontario Premier Bob Rae believes things are finally starting to move in the right direction. Rae was one of the featured speakers at the Spark the Fire event held at the Best Western on Lakeshore Drive on Friday. Mining leaders and politicians came together to discuss the controversial issue and its future. The Ring of Fire is expected to generate nearly $2-billion in tax revenues and up to 5,500 full-time jobs in the first 10 years of mining activity according to reports.

Rae says the groups involved, including the provincial and federal governments, are beginning to realize the importance of working with the Indigenous communities in the area because this is all taking place in their traditional territory. He says it’s literally in their backyards, it’s their land as they see it. But Rae says at the same time, he thinks there is a growing recognition among the First Nations that there is some considerable benefits to embracing the possibilities of change. Rae says if people are looking at this as a resource play, then they’re kind of missing the point. He says we’re not going to have the same kind of resource plays we’ve had in the past where the Indigenous communities surrounding projects like the Ring of Fire saw no net benefit. Rae says that won’t be the case this time around.

The Ring of Fire was initially found back in 2007 by Noront Resources, and is a massive chromite mining and smelting development project. When asked if he was surprised that the development has taken over 10 years to get moving, Rae says he isn’t. He says the hard reality is the mining industry is facing some price challenges and has been for some time. Rae says when he got involved in 2012, Cliffs Natural Resources were still involved and they had a big plan and big ideas. He says the First Nations were concerned at the time that they needed to be involved, and nothing ended up happening as a result. Then in 2013, Cliffs sold its Ring of Fire assets to Noront Resources for $20-million, less than four per cent of the $550-million Cliffs paid to acquire and develop the properties. Rae says at that point it became a matter of understanding that while companies involved in the process might change, the needs for making decisions about infrastructure and making sure Indigenous communities in the surrounding areas directly benefit hasn’t changed.

Rae says while the process is taking some time, it’s time well spent. He’s been telling people involved that the development is only going to get started once the First Nations are completely satisfied that the project is going to work to their benefit and not just benefit the people who traditionally have always been able to take advantage of it.