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"We need robust community discussion now or this will become a divisive issue," says former Algoma U instructor

Ferrochrome smelter endorsement from city, university done without consultation, say concerned citizens
20171002-Asima Vezina new Algoma University President-DT

Algoma University president Asima Vezina has called for all “chair, faculty and department” to offer letters of support for the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s bid to house a ferrochrome processing plant.

For Peggy Lauzon, who has taught community engagement for Algoma University in the past, it’s time for the city and its residents to talk about the “artificially divisive environment” that NorOnt has created by “rushing this process.”

“With respect to Algoma University’s position, I am not aware of any consultation with faculty, staff or students, so I don’t think it reflects the wider community,” said Lauzon in a statement sent via email. “I personally know faculty members who are reaching out to express their concerns to the president of Algoma U. Asima Vezina is well-respected and there is a sense among people I know that she was unaware of the contentiousness of the issue.”

“There is hope that the stated position will be walked back. If not, all of us have our individual voices.”

Lauzon organized a meeting at a local library back in November of 2017 in order to drum up opposition not only to the NorOnt smelter project itself, but to how the engagement and consultation process was handled by The City of Sault Ste. Marie and the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation.

“To the folks at the City and the EDC, I would say ‘lead by listening’. We need robust community discussion now or this will become a divisive issue,” Lauzon said in her statement. “It’s completely fine if City staff don’t feel they have all the answers at this point. There is significant expertise among the citizens of this community.”

Kara Flannigan, who describes herself as a “concerned citizen,” also spoke to SooToday about what she feels is a lack of discussion regarding the Ring Of Fire-related ferrochrome smelter.

“I was kind of hoping when they were first talking about that type of facility for our community that they would go forward and do the environmental impact and health impact studies as part of their consideration before even going forward to pursue the opportunity,” said Flannigan. “I think part of the concern is the lack of transparency, and the fact that they said they were going to include the public and I haven’t seen that, so it causes me concern.”

“Whenever there’s an opportunity that looks like it’s going to bring jobs into a community, does the community have to sell its soul or race to the bottom in order to be considered for that?”

Later on in the day, Joanie McGuffin is finishing up stoking the fire at her Goulais River home. She says that she’s “astonished” at the lack of diversity displayed throughout the leadership involved in the endorsement of the ferrochrome facility. Not everything is black and white, and economic diversity can’t happen if “we’re not given the time to talk and use our intelligence,” says the adventure photographer/conservationist.

“There’s a lot that can be done with the cultural and social wisdom of the people who live here,” said McGuffin. “A more diverse economy could be built if we only allowed the voices to be heard and got conversations going.”

“The process - the way this has unfolded, is sadly becoming one where it’s an industry from the outside leading the show.”

When asked about the university’s support of the NorOnt ferrochrome project, McGuffin hinted that there is still time on the clock in order to put the ferrochrome processing plant bid up for discussion within the school.

“I think it’s a wonderful place to show a community that this is a place of conversation and collaborative, cooperative time where we have time to debate and talk and listen,” McGuffin said.