A Progressive Conservative government would develop the mineral-rich Ring of Fire in northern Ontario through a
public-private partnership scheme if elected on June 12, Tory Leader Tim Hudak said Wednesday.

Hudak said he would bring the federal government to the table along with mining companies, but didn't say if he'd ask Ottawa for money to build a much-needed transportation route to the remote area.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying he's not coming to the table with a billion dollars to build the route. She's also tried to paint Hudak as a weak leader who won't stand up to his federal cousins to get it built.

Money from Ottawa isn't the holdup, Hudak says

Federal cash isn't the real problem, Hudak said. The governing Liberals have "dithered and delayed" instead of coming up with a plan to develop the massive chromite deposit.

"They've neglected the north," he said from an electronics store in London, Ont. "They've let that incredible investment fade away."

The Tories estimate the project could create 4,400 jobs over eight years in the hard-hit region.

"This can be for Ontario what the oilsands have been for Alberta, what potash has been for Saskatchewan," Hudak said. "That's what it can do for job creation in our province. The Liberals have spoiled that opportunity ... I'd make it happen."

The lack of a transportation route has been a major barrier to developing the Ring of Fire — about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay — which is believed to contain one of the largest chromite deposits in the world, a key ingredient in the making of stainless steel.

The project suffered a major setback last 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, has praised the Liberals for vowing to come up with $1 billion to build a route if the federal government matches the funds.

Hudak, who served as a mines minister under the former Conservative government, said he'd also "combine the strengths" of the Ministry of Natural Resources with the Ministry of Northern Development of Mines to create one powerful northern minister.

The Tories have also promised to repeal the Far North Act, saying it would open up the north to more investment opportunities and jobs.