Bob Rae says progress is being made in negotiations between Matawa Tribal Council and the province over the Ring of Fire.
Rae, lead negotiator for Matawa, said he and the province's lead Frank Iacobucci are in daily contact.
"I'm very happy with the progress we're making," he said before a speech to the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening.
There are still issues to address, which Rae says won't be negotiated in public, and the conversation is still all about setting the framework for the discussions, but the focus remains how to develop the area in a way that's sustainable for everyone involved.\
Infrastructure, from roads to hydro to broadband access for the nine Matawa communities, will also be key.
Rae said the fact that Cliffs Natural Resources have pulled out of the area just as Noront resources ramps up its proposal hasn't changed the discussion at all. Regardless of the project, the conversation is about improving conditions for First Nations communities in the North.
"These have been on the table now for quite awhile," he said.
There's also ongoing discussions with people in those communities about how development would impact and change their communities and building capacity so that those communities can make informed decisions.
Speaking to the chamber crowd Rae said it's fashionable to blame governments, for governments to blame each other, or First Nations for development not moving ahead. But the reality is no one controls market prices, something that companies have to base major decisions on.
"There are issues in the marketplace that we don't conrol," he said.
New chamber chair Uli Walther, who was named Thursday at the chamber's annual general meeting, said First Nations are vital to the region and an important part of the development when it takes place.
"This is very important. Without them we can't do this," he said.
Hearing Rae speak to the chamber, Walther said he's confident that things would have moved a lot more quickly had Rae been involved earlier in the discussions.