The New Democrat MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane, John Vanthof, believes the Ford government has dealt the Ring of Fire a major setback.

Premier Doug Ford has been removing people in key areas put in place by the former Liberal government and one of the appointees who’s gone is Frank Iacobucci, Ontario’s lead negotiator at the Ring of Fire.

For the last several years Iacobucci has been negotiating with the Matawa First Nations to ensure they are included in the Ring of Fire before the chromite mining begins.

“For the Ring of Fire to be developed, the First Nations have to be treated as partners,” said Vanthof.

“If they’re not treated as partners, then it won’t help the Ring of Fire development, it will actually hurt it.”

Vanthof says because the land belongs to the Indigenous people, everyone needs to ensure that they’re fully onboard with the project.

He says they also need to feel comfortable with who is negotiating on behalf of the province.

“But at this late stage to remove (Iacobucci) is a sign of concern,” Vanthof said.

He wonders if the Tories will appointment another lead negotiator and what it mean for all the work Iacobucci did with the Matawa First Nations when he was at the helm.

Vanthof admits it’s routine for any new government to make changes, but he cautions that the Ring of Fire is a tricky situation.

“The Indigenous people have to be handled respectfully and that hasn’t happened yet,” Vanthof said.

Vanthof is reminding northerners that during the election campaign, Ford said he would get the Ring of Fire started even if he had to get on a bulldozer himself to get the project moving.

The New Democrat highly doubts First Nations would take kindly to that comment.

“When you’re negotiating with multiple partners, everyone has to have confidence in the process,” said Vanthof.

“From what I’ve seen so far and what the Ford government has done with Indigenous relations, I’m not sure that confidence is being built very well.”