11/04/2014 05:55 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST

Howard Hampton to advise federal NDP on Ontario's Ring of Fire

In a bid to try and push ahead the ill-fated development of the Ring of Fire mining project in northern Ontario, the federal NDP is bringing a well-known Ontario face on board to help. 

CBC News has learned federal New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair will announce former Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton as a special adviser for the party. Mulcair will make the announcement before the party's weekly caucus meeting tomorrow.

Sources says Hampton will start working for the federal party immediately as a liaison on the complicated development file.

Hampton, who spent 24 years as a member of provincial Parliament, or MPP, for the northern Ontario provincial riding of Kenora-Rainy River, has experience at Queen's Park, but has also worked extensively with First Nations communities in the region, as well as with mining companies.

As an adviser for the Official Opposition, Hampton will only be able to lay the groundwork for how and what the NDP would do if the party were to form the government after the next election.

The appointment speaks to the party’s interest in the project. But it’s also about politics.

Northern Ontario ridings key for NDP

The NDP hold five out of 10 northern Ontario ridings (it had six until Bruce Hyer left and joined the Green Party). Keeping those ridings and potentially picking up others will be critical to the NDP’s electoral success in 2015.

The development of the Ring of Fire remains very much in question as the new chief executive of the major company behind the project, Cliffs Natural Resources, recently told the Financial Post he has "zero hope" the mining project will go ahead.

Other mining companies are said to be interested, but may not have the financial backing needed to get it off the ground.

When most recently asked by the NDP about when the federal government will make the project happen, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said the government was still optimistic.

"We will continue to work collaboratively to ensure that we maximize the enormous economic potential for the Ring of Fire and the infrastructure that is required to support those projects," Rickford told the House of Commons on Oct. 30.

The potential for economic development in the area, some 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, has been much touted, but access to the remote site is an issue, as is the recent downturn in commodity prices.