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Ontario pledges $1 billion for Ring of Fire, urges Ottawa to match funds

TORONTO - Ontario's governing Liberals say they're willing to put up $1 billion to develop an all-season transportation corridor to the Ring of Fire.

They're calling on the federal Conservatives to match the funds to build the infrastructure that's needed to develop the mineral-rich deposit in northern Ontario.

They say the project will create jobs and boost the province's hard-hit northern economy.

The province has maintained that Ottawa should be as actively involved in the Ring of Fire's development as it has been for other projects, such as the Alberta oilsands.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has estimated that the project could generate $9.4 billion in new economic activity over the next decade and support 5,500 jobs a year.

It said it would also provide the federal, Ontario and municipal governments with almost $2 billion in revenue over that period and $6.7 billion over 32 years.

But the lack of a transportation route has been a major barrier to developing the region.

The project suffered a major setback in 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, said the province's commitment is a "vital milestone" that will benefit remote First Nations communities.

"Mining and the associated job creation can't happen without infrastructure, so we are pleased to see the province make a clear public commitment to funding a transportation corridor in the Ring of Fire," Noront president and CEO Alan Coutts said in a release.

The Liberals say they've been asking Ottawa for months to commit money to developing a route.

They've asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pay for half the $2.25-billion estimated cost of building both roads and industrial infrastructure.

Greg Rickford, the federal minister responsible for the file, has said it's up to Ontario to apply for infrastructure funding under the new Building Canada fund.

The Ring of Fire, more than 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont., is believed to contain one of the largest chromite deposits in the world, a key ingredient in the making of stainless steel.

The Canadian Press

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