Premier Doug Ford and Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford announced a partnership with remote First nations on the Ring of Fire access road. The partnership with Marten Falls and Webequie was made this morning at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention, which includes 25,000 delegates from 132 countries around the world. The province expects the Ring of Fire to be the largest mining development in a century.

"After 15 years of delay by the previous government, we said we would build a road to the Ring of Fire, and we are working with our incredible partners in the Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation to do just that and make sure we do it right," said the premier in a prepared statement. "Together, we can bring jobs and prosperity to communities across the Far North. Promises made, promises kept."

Today's signing puts aside lobbying for the east-west access road, which was backed by Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance. 

“Our request was that all access routes to the Ring of Fire be considered,” he said in a release issued earlier today. “We are pleased to see the announcement of the Federal Regional EA (Environmental Assessment) process – and are here today to remind both senior levels government of the importance of considering all routes.”

During the media conference after the announcement, Greg Rickford -- the minister responsible for Northern Development and Mines -- said the east-west access road option remained an option on the table. The minister also emphasized the importance of the resource project to prosperity in the area. 

"Our government is proud to partner with Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations to support the development of reliable, all-season road infrastructure and move forward with our shared goal of bringing economic prosperity to the region," said Rickford in a prepared statement. "Together, with First Nations partners, we are creating a clear path forward to unlock unprecedented social and economic prosperity in the Far North."

Last fall, the province also announced $30 million for improved access to broadband internet access for Nibinamik, Neskantaga, Eabametoong, Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations

Rickford's view was also shared by the chiefs of both Marten Falls and Webequie.

"We look forward to working together with Ontario to ensure the sustainable development of our ancestral territories," said Chief Bruce Achneepineskum of Marten Falls First Nation. "Marten Falls First Nation takes seriously our right to make decisions for the betterment of our community. We are moving ahead with this agreement so all communities in the region can connect to the next phase, which is to secure and bring good-paying jobs in mining, construction and other skilled trades to our communities."

"Webequie First Nation supports responsible development in our territory," said Chief Cornelius Wabasse, Webequie First Nation. "We have been working together with Ontario for many years to reach this point. We believe that road development will help bring prosperity to communities across the region and better infrastructure - both on and off-reserve. We understand that road development will impact our traditional territories but believe this is a positive step forward to unlocking new opportunities that will benefit all surrounding First Nation communities."

The signing marks a new partnership between the government, Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation to advance planning of critical road infrastructure that would provide reliable, all-season road access to potential mine sites and connect First Nation communities to Ontario's provincial highway network.

Darrel Morgan, the president of Morgan Fuels, described the potential impact of an east-west access road.

“Important transportation assets such as rail, road connections to the TransCanada highway and air service can be accessed via an east-west alignment. The Sioux Lookout Regional Airport already serves as a key air access hub for 31 First Nations in the region.”

Cat Lake First Nation Chief Matthew Keewaykapow added, “An east-west road would provide access and benefits for many remote First Nations communities. All season road access to my community of Cat Lake is critical to our future. It is important for health care for the elders and the economic and education opportunities of our youth.”