Tony Clement, Canada's Treasury Board president and FedNor minister, has officially taken on federal responsibility for the massive Ring of Fire mineral discovery in northern Ontario.

Speaking Tuesday afternoon to members of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, Clement said he would be co-ordinating the government's engagement with stakeholders, in conjunction with several federal ministries such as Aboriginal Affairs, Industry, Natural Resources, Environment, Health, and Infrastructure.

Clement said he is very familiar with the development because he is also responsible for FedNor, the regional development agency for northern Ontario.

The minister told reporters he planned to meet soon with first nations' leaders to discuss issues concerning the Ring of Fire.

Project will be ‘complex’

Clement said he didn't expect his new job to be "easy-peasy," but he added he is looking forward to moving the project ahead. Clement called the mineral-rich area in northwestern Ontario "a generational opportunity," offering the prospect of several decades of mining and thousands of jobs.

"I don't believe this is an opportunity we can afford to let pass us by," he said during his speech.

"The Ring of Fire is no ordinary mine development. It is a unique platform from which to materially improve the quality of life for thousands ... We can't allow this development to stall and become mired in paralysis and uncertainty."

With so many stakeholders, the project will be "complex ... But that is not a reason to shrug your shoulders and walk away," he said.

Clement also told reporters that he has been in touch with the office of Michael Gravelle, Ontario's new minister of Mines and Northern Development.  The two are expected to meet in the near future.

Additional funding for Thunder Bay

During his Thunder Bay visit the minister also announced FedNor funding worth more than $4 million.

A total of $1.5 million went to the Thunder Bay airport to expand its industrial park.

The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre received nearly $750,000, partly to establish an advanced manufacturing lab.

During a news conference held at the airport, Clement also announced almost $700,000 to help two Thunder Bay businesses with the development of a digital mammography device (XLV Diagnostics Inc.)  and a management software system (Qwan Technologies Inc.).

Later on Tuesday, the minister visited the PARO Centre for Women's Enterprise and announced a FedNor investment of $1.5 million to fund workshops and training sessions for women entrepreneurs and business owners in northern Ontario, including outreach activities for aboriginal and Francophone women.

With files from Canadian Press