New Cliffs smelter a sign of hope for the North

News that the City of Greater Sudbury will be the site of Cliffs Natural Resources’ new $1.8 billion chromite smelter was greeted with jubilation in that city, with plenty of good reason. The 450 full time jobs the smelter will create will be heartily augmented by an equal number of jobs in the construction phase of the facility. Add to those numbers the many spin-off, support and ancillary occupations that will be employed both during construction and over the many years that the smelter will process the natural resources largesse of the Ring of Fire and you have what might very well be one of the good news stories of the century for the North. The Ring of Fire has just begun to reveal its treasures and those riches already explored will support mining activity for a century.

Northern Ontario has been the recipient of repeated and heavy blows to the body economic over the past decade, as has Ontario in general. The rising value of the Canadian dollar and the recent stumble in the American market, the main customer for Ontario’s manufacturing, has seen this province’s once mighty economic juggernaut humbled into accepting equalization payments from its more prosperous provincial brethren. The prospect of losing that smelter operation to neighbouring Quebec or Manitoba must have given the denizens of Queen’s Park some very restless nights.

Although the news that the City of Timmins would not be getting the Cliffs smelter came as a devastating blow to a region still reeling from the massive loss of 675 jobs associated with the Xtrata smelter pullout two years ago and the more recent news that the Ontario government plans to divest its Ontario Northland Transportation Commission operations (effectively cutting a key economic development lifeline for much of the North) for Ontario overall the news is tremendously positive although the ore once processed in Timmins will now travel to Quebec to be rendered into salable product.

The provincial government’s decision to boost the Northern Ontario economy through the use of $150 million in energy may not have been enough to save the jobs at Xtrata, but it seems the province’s flexibility on energy costs may have turned the trick for the Cliffs smelter. The announcement of the decision to locate the smelter to the north of Capreol comes with the caveat that an energy deal is still to be worked out.

It is often said that a rising tide lifts all boats, and certainly good economic news for Sudbury invariably proves a boon to Manitoulin. Perhaps the creation of a chromite processing facility in the North may also present other opportunities for economic development in Northern communities.

Ferrochromite is a key ingredient in the creation of stainless steel, the material which forms the very bones of modern industrial economic prosperity, and perhaps having an abundant nearby supply of both nickel and ferrochrome will make stainless steel production a possibility in the steel mills of Sault Ste Marie so the value-adding can be done at home, in the North.

The Ring of Fire discovery in Northwestern Ontario, along with other lesser mineral discoveries across Northern Ontario, bring with them a resource that people in Northern communities have not seen for quite some time: hope. Here’s to hoping the tide continues to rise.