Beausoleil First Nation – VIEWPOINT – It’s official: the Ontario Progressive Conservatives have selected Doug Ford over Christine Elliott as their new Leader. In doing so, the PC Party has jumped onto the populist bandwagon that has swept the United States and is likely to sweep Ontario. All four of the leadership hopefuls were big on political slogans, but short on policy details. During the leadership campaign, not once did the candidates highlight the issues that are impacting First Nations people in Ontario.
Coming from an isolated community such as Beausoleil First Nation, which is reliant on a 68-year-old vessel on the verge of sinking, I see first-hand the issues that plague First Nations communities. It is deeply concerning and very troubling that Doug Ford, the probable next Premier of Ontario, hasn’t brought our issues to the forefront.
In June, Ontario’s voters will choose between experienced politician Premier Kathleen Wynne and political novice Doug Ford. All indicators show that Wynne’s Liberals will be swept from power and replaced by a new government, ending 14 years of Liberal rule in Ontario. This will be a result of a myriad of issues voters have with the Premier: dissatisfaction over her political calculations and miscalculations, sexism, and yes, homophobia.
We do know that Doug Ford, if elected Premier, plans to roll back progress made on women’s reproductive rights, turn back the clock on the curriculum, and end a carbon tax that would have paid for his party’s platform.
For First Nations people, we don’t know what he will do to combat racism and the deaths of students in Thunder Bay, help end the suicide epidemic sweeping Ontario’s northern First Nations communities, and better the lives of First Nations people living on-reserve.
During the leadership race, I contacted Tanya Granic-Allen via e-mail to inquire about her plans for First Nations people. Instead of laying out her vision, she responded by adding me to her mailing list. I believe this is a big indicator of how serious the PC Party takes the everyday realities that First Nations people face every day.
When asked how he will develop infrastructure in the James Bay lowlands, Ford said: “If I have to hop on that bulldozer myself with Vic [Fedeli] on the other one, we’re going to start building the roads to get to the mining.” There is absolutely no mention of him planning to consult with First Nations in the region or to respect their wishes. What we can deduce from that comment is that we will soon have a Premier who will gladly choose to run roughshod over the rights of First Nations, instead of taking the time to consult and accommodate.
First Nations people in Ontario need to be especially wary of a Ford government. It is easy to overlook the progress that Kathleen Wynne and her government has made with regards to First Nations people. However, in the grand scheme of things, this Liberal government has achieved far more than Ford can ever hope to.
In 2015, the Ontario government and the Chiefs of Ontario signed a Political Accord, which guides their relationship. The Ontario Hydro First Nations Delivery Credit took effect in August 2017, which eliminated delivery charges to consumers living on-reserve. Both Premier Wynne and her Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, David Zimmer has been consistent in meeting with First Nations leadership.
I have seen the hard work that is done on all sides. Under Premier Ford, the progress made will stall. First Nations leadership will lose out on the opportunity to move important files forward, such as child welfare, climate change, criminal justice, social services, truth and reconciliation, and many other critical issues. For many years, First Nation leadership have fought to have a seat at the table. We cannot risk losing out on the many opportunities that are being presented to us.
Instead of Ford focusing on Wynne, he needs to focus on bringing hope back to young people in First Nations communities, such as Attawapiskat First Nation, which is one of many reserves plagued by intergenerational trauma, suicide, and addictions. First Nations people need a provincial government that cares, not one that that plays to the heart of populism.
If First Nations people are to protect the progress that has been made, we need to prepare to dig in our heels and fight Premier Ford if he runs roughshod over our rights. He cannot forget that all governments within the nation of Canada have a responsibility to adequately consult with and accommodate First Nations communities. Should Ford fail to do this, then he will be failing as a leader and letting down the next generation of Indigenous youth.
Time will tell how this relationship will play out.
Lance Copegog is the former Deputy Youth Chief of Beausoleil First Nation and an Indigenous youth leader in Ontario.
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