02/20/2014 12:14 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Ring of Fire development needs federal push, report says

Development of the Ring of Fire mineral belt in Northern Ontario could generate billions of dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs, a new report says. But it says that will occur only if governments get serious about spurring development.

The report, by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, says the Ring of Fire is capable of generating $9.4 billion in new economic activity and almost $2 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.

Realizing the full potential of the region, which is about 500 kilometres north-east of Thunder Bay, could also create 5,500 new long-term jobs.

The report predicts that development of the mineral-rich region could generate more than $25 billion in economic activity across Ontario by 2047.

"Our study makes it clear that the short- and long-term economic impacts of the Ring of Fire extend far beyond mining," says Allan O'Dette, CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. 

'National priority'

The Chamber calls on the federal and Ontario governments to commit funds to building roads and other transportation infrastructure. One estimate puts the cost of needed roads, rail, and power line transmission to service Ring of Fire mines at $1.74 billion. 

The report urges the federal government to take a more active role and make the Ring of Fire a national priority. It says Ottawa "at a minimum," should match any provincial infrastructure investment.

It notes the government commitment evident in other major developments like the oilsands, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Churchill Falls and the Confederation Bridge. But government cash has been largely absent so far in the Ring of Fire, it says.

Consultations with aboriginal communities are vital to the development success of the Ring of Fire, with the report's authors noting that 40 per cent of Ontario's aboriginal population and the majority of the province's First Nations communities are in Northern Ontario.

The Ring of Fire area is considered a mining jackpot, rich in chromite, nickel and gold worth up to $60 billion. But the remoteness of the area has posed challenges to its development.

Cliffs Natural Resources, the largest of  three companies in the region, announced in November it was suspending its chromite project because of an uncertain timeline and risks associated with developing infrastructure.