OTTAWA - The Ring of Fire mineral region is no closer to development than it was a year ago, says an Ontario Chamber of Commerce report card that gives the federal government an F for not making it a "national economic development priority."
The chamber's 35-page study blames both the provincial Liberal government and the federal Conservatives, who have argued publicly over infrastructure needs in the remote region of the James Bay lowlands.
The Ring of Fire holds one of the world's richest chromite deposits as well as nickel, copper and platinum, which have been variously valued at anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion.
However, years of delay have "soured" public perceptions of the region as a viable economic investment, says the chamber report.
"Without significant progress over the next year, we risk lapsing into a self-fulfilling prophecy — that is, the lack of momentum will contribute to fatalism and a long-term dampening of investor sentiment in this opportunity," states the study.
The report cites the absence of an agreement with First Nations, problems with issuing permits and Ottawa's reluctance to commit federal funding as the most significant barriers to development.
The province has earmarked $1 billion for infrastructure, including a transport corridor and hydro, but the chamber says the federal government should be matching those dollars.
Ottawa and the province did commit last week to each spend almost $400,000 on a feasibility study for a year-round transportation corridor that would link several First Nations communities to the TransCanada highway and open the region to mining operations.
"We will continue supporting the province's efforts to develop the Ring of Fire," a spokesman for federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in an email Tuesday.
Chris McCluskey said both levels of government have agreed to further co-operation "with a particular focus on specific, tangible infrastructure projects to support extractive activities and access to remote communities."
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