He said he'd work with the federal government along with mining companies, but didn't say if he'd ask Ottawa for money to build a much-needed transportation route to the remote area.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying he's not coming to the table with a billion dollars to build the route. She's also tried to paint Hudak as a weak leader who won't stand up to his federal cousins to get the cash.
Federal money isn't the real problem, Hudak said. The governing Liberals have "dithered and delayed" instead of coming up with a plan to develop the massive chromite deposit.
"They've neglected the north," he said from an electronics store in London, Ont. "They've let that incredible investment fade away."
The Tories believe the Ring of Fire could create 4,400 jobs over eight years in the hard-hit region.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce estimates it could generate $9.4 billion in new economic activity over the next decade and support 5,500 jobs a year. It said it could also provide the federal, Ontario and municipal governments with almost $2 billion in revenue over that period and $6.7 billion over 32 years.
"This can be for Ontario what the oilsands have been for Alberta, what potash has been for Saskatchewan," Hudak said.
"That's what it can do for job creation in our province. The Liberals have spoiled that opportunity ... I'd make it happen."
Wynne said the Tories haven't recognized the amount of groundwork it requires, such as a negotiation framework reached with aboriginal communities earlier this year.
"The work that we've been doing for the last couple of years has been to make sure that we have an agreement with the First Nations, that we have those fundamentals in place so that we can move forward in a way that will mean that everyone in the north, all of the communities, can benefit," she said at a campaign stop in Waterloo.
The lack of a transportation route has been a major barrier to developing the Ring of Fire — about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay — which is believed to contain one of the largest chromite deposits in the world, a key ingredient in the making of stainless steel.
The project suffered a major setback last November, when a big mining company that was going to pour $3 billion into the Ring of Fire suddenly pulled out.
Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. suspended its operations indefinitely, saying it couldn't keep spending money while the question of whether it would be able to build an all-weather road to the remote site remained in doubt.
Noront Resources Ltd. (TSXV:NOT), which wants to develop its Eagle's Nest and Blackbird mining projects, has praised the Liberals for offering $1 billion to build a route if the federal government matches the funds.
The Harper Conservatives say it's up to Ontario to apply for infrastructure funding under the new Building Canada fund, but the Liberals say the fund is insufficient because the province's share, which is aimed at supporting all kinds of projects, is only $2.4 billion over 10 years.
Hudak, who served as northern development and mines minister under the former Conservative government, said he'd also "combine the strengths" of the Ministry of Natural Resources with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to create one powerful northern minister.
The Tories have also promised to repeal the Far North Act, saying it would open up the north to more investment opportunities and jobs.
Tory officials said they have no date yet for a northern visit, but Hudak will visit the area during the campaign.
— with files from Will Campbell