Skipping the 20th century in the northwest.

AuthorRobinson, David
PositionEconomically Speaking

It's time to get back to the future. Take a look around at the technology of the 21st century: we have wind and solar power systems, effective power storage, satellite-based internet, small nuclear power systems for remote mines, and even modern high-capacity airships that can service the North cheaper and better than anything we have used before.

Northeastern Ontario has no roads, a tiny population, and almost no export products. We are at the very first stages of bringing the region into the global trading system. The rapidly growing world population needs the North's metals. The world will need more metals than have been produced in the entire history of humankind. The world also wants those metals produced with no carbon dioxide emissions.

The world will also be demanding that the partially integrated Aboriginal communities of the region are given a reasonable opportunity to develop with some autonomy and cultural protection while also being given a large share of the benefits of the global culture we live in.

Can we do what has to be done relying on 20th century technology? We certainly haven't inherited the low-carbon technology we need from the 20th century. Our mining technologies are not up to the task of producing a lot more metal from low and declining grade reserves. Our ice roads are horribly unsatisfactory and uneconomic, and will cost more than they're worth within 15 years.

Building all weather roads in the region will cost billions. The planned electricity transmission system will cost billions. Every new mine will cost hundreds of millions to connect to roads and transmission lines. Those roads and transmission lines are far more environmentally destructive than the mines or the communities.

The truth is that developing Ontario's northwest was not economic with the technology of the 20th century. It is still not. So let's imagine development by a 21st century government.

We start by building the hover barge proposed by the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation at Laurentian University in Sudbury. For $20 million we can build a machine that will let construction begin at the Ring of Fire in two years. Why wait five to 10 years for the road to be completed?

Saving on ice roads would more than cover the cost of building a hover barge fleet. The ice road to the DeBeers diamond mine alone cost about $5 million a...

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