Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford doubled down on his promise to build a $1-billion road to the Ring of Fire during a campaign stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on Saturday.
The mineral deposit located about 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., has taken on new importance as the province has shifted its sights to the production of electric vehicles and mining the critical minerals needed to produce their batteries.
“As we build new EV battery facilities and secure massive new investments from the auto companies, these resources have never been more important,” Ford said on Saturday.
“I want the minerals extracted here in the north.”
Ford said the province has formed partnerships with Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations to plan a northern road link to the Ring of Fire.
“It will help create thousands of new mining jobs and bring countless benefits and opportunities for Indigenous communities, including easier access to everyday goods that most of us take for granted, like groceries, fuel, health care and water,” Ford said about the Ring of Fire.
In April, Australian mining company Wyloo Metals purchased Canadian miner Noront Resources, along with its Eagle’s Nest project in the Ring of Fire.
The company noted the Ring of Fire has one of the largest high-grade nickel sulphide deposits in the world, and the Eagle’s Nest project could become a leading producer of battery metals.
During his campaign visit to Sault Ste.Marie, Ford remained critical of the records of the Ontario Liberals and New Democrats on the Ring of Fire.
“And I just need to remind everyone here in the Sault that Kathleen Wynne and Stephen Del Duca, they had their chance,” Ford said, referring to the former and current leaders of the Liberals.
“They started talking about building this road [to the Ring of Fire] in 2011. That’s over a decade ago.”
Ford noted the NDP “is opposed to building anything.”
Michael Mantha, the NDP candidate for Algoma-Manitoulin, said both the Liberals and Conservatives have failed to properly consult with First Nations on the Ring of Fire.
“Both the Liberal and the Conservative government have missed the boat.,” Mantha said.
“You need to sit down and have respectful conversations, and you cannot forget the traditional and historical significance of these lands to First Nations people.”
While Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations have signed agreements with the province, other First Nations have not done so.
Last November, Neskantaga First Nation, located in northwestern Ontario, took the province to court over “inadequate” consultations on the Ring of Fire.
The remote Oji-Cree First Nation has been under a boil-water advisory for 26 years and a state of emergency since 2013, when seven people died by suicide in less than a year.
Mantha said that ensuring remote First Nations can meet basic needs, such as access to clean drinking water, are the “true issues that we need to address along with development.”
Promises for northern highways
In addition to commitments around mining and critical minerals, Ford said roads and highway infrastructure would continue to be a priority for a PC government.
“In 2021 alone, we put $641 million into expanding and repairing northern highways,” he said.
When asked about four-laning Highway 17 north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ford said his government will “get the shovels in the ground as soon as possible.”
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