MPP Mike Mantha, who represents the NDP in Algoma Manitoulin and is the party’s critic for northern development and mines, wants to know if the Ford government has created a setback for the Ring of Fire.

Mantha was reacting to the departure of Judge Frank Iacobucci, the man the former Liberal government appointed several years ago to act as the province’s lead negotiator with the Matawa First Nations.

Mantha told Moose News that several weeks ago he began hearing rumours that Iacobucci was going to be dismissed by the Ford government and last week, word came out that Iacobucci tendered his resignation.

“For years the Liberals dragged their feet and created barriers between them and First Nations (with the Ring of Fire) and now we see the same steps taken by the Conservative government,” Mantha said.

Mantha believes the Tories are sending out the wrong tone and message in an effort to move the chromite project forward.

He says it’s the wrong message to First Nations, the mining companies and municipalities.

Iacobucci is expected to have developed a lot of paperwork while meeting with the First Nations and Moose News asked Mantha what could happen to this information.

“It’s an interesting question,” responded Mantha.

“Is it useful information for them?  Are they going to move forward with the information or are they going to clean slate and start the process over again?”

Mantha says if the Tories choose the latter option he believes it will frustrate the First Nations, industry and the communities that stand to benefit from the mega mining project.

The New Democrat is trying to line up a discussion with Greg Rickford, the minister in charge of Northern Development and Mines.

Rickford also leads the Indigenous Affairs portfolio.

Mantha says one point he wants clarification on is the posting on the government website saying it’s looking for a senior policy advisor to the Ring of Fire.

Mantha told Moose News he doesn’t know if this person would carry out the same duties that Iacobucci did and he wants Rickford to spell matters out.

He also wants to know what the government plans to do with the information gathered to date between Iacobucci and the Matawa First Nations.

Mantha also intends to reach out to First Nations to learn if they have any concerns with the departure of Iacobucci.

“I’d like to know how the talks with Mr. Iacobucci were progressing and were they going in the right direction,” Mantha said.

While the province is without a lead negotiator, Mantha said the mining companies at the Ring of Fire are continuing their own discussions with the First Nations which the NDP MPP adds “is the right thing to do”.

Mantha says everyone is holding onto the hope that the Ring of Fire, which people characterize as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, will happen.

He acknowledges that mining supply companies in centres like North Bay and Sudbury must be frustrated.

“They’re holding onto something that possibly could happen,” he said.

“We are in year 14 of a huge (mining) potential.”

Mantha adds only time will tell if the Ring of Fire becomes reality or not.