Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci will jump into Northern Ontario's Ring of Fire as the province seeks to start massive mining projects in the remote area and create thousands of jobs.
Queen's Park announced Mr. Iacobucci's appointment as its lead negotiator Tuesday in talks with Chiefs of the Matawa Tribal Council, which represents local First Nations. Matawa's negotiating team is headed by former Ontario premier Bob Rae.
Mr. Iacobucci, who will report directly to Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, said he was "honoured" to take the post.
"I feel passionately about involving First Nations in decisions about development in their communities and traditional lands and ensuring they benefit from the economic opportunities to be realized from development in the Ring of Fire," he said in a statement.
Mr. Iacobucci said he is hoping for an invitation to visit First Nations communities in the area before sitting down for formal talks.
Among the top issues to be worked out between the two sides will be deals on resource revenue sharing to ensure First Nations receive a share of the wealth generated from the mines, environmental protection and infrastructure building.
The Ring of Fire, a region more than 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay in a low-lying wetland, contains large deposits of chromite and other minerals.
Both the province and the federal government, which has compared the Ring of Fire to the oil sands of Northern Alberta, believe developing the region could create thousands of long-term jobs with economic spin-off benefits for locals and net the treasury piles of money in resource royalties.
However, Queen's Park must find ways to develop the area without compromising wetlands.
"The province is taking a smart, sustainable and collaborative approach to resource development in the Ring of Fire," Mr. Gravelle said in a statement. "We want development to deliver social and economic benefits for all Ontarians, while collaborating with First Nations and ensuring environmental responsibility."
The 76-year-old Mr. Iacobucci, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2004 after 13 years, has worked on First Nations issues for the province before. Earlier this year, he finished an investigation that found First Nations people are discriminated against in the courts, and made recommendations to change the situation.
With a report from Josh Wingrove