I hope you will join me in welcoming an agreement that was reached between the Government of Canada and the leadership of the Couchiching First Nation which resolves a serious public health issue on the reserve and ended a 12 day long toll booth protest on June 1st.
It was a great relief to hear the federal government finally stepped up, after a bit of arm-twisting, to resolve the toxic land issue that is threatening the health of several families living on a small part of the reserve that used to be home to a sawmill. No family should have to live on contaminated soil and go to sleep each night worried about their personal safety and that of their family. Their health and safety was my number one concern throughout this dispute, and I am very grateful that the Minister Strahl has agreed to help them relocate to a safe and clean location.
While I am satisfied that the public health hazard faced by these families on the Couchiching reserve has been resolved, I am very disappointed that an agreement was only struck after public action was taken by the Couchiching leadership. It is my understanding that the federal government paid $1.7 million for two engineering reports that were completed several years ago and showed that dangerous chemicals were present (i.e. dioxins, etc). I’m thankful these families will finally be relocated, but the burning question that I still have is what took so long?
While I am disappointed with the pace of the federal government’s response, I am somewhat heartened by the response of the majority of the area residents to what was without doubt a trying situation. Ninety-nine percent of people on both sides of the issue generally respected the position and circumstances of those on the other side – even if they did not necessarily agree with them. Despite this, I am disappointed that there were still a very few unreasonable individuals on both sides who seemed to want to manufacture a conflict. They were disinterested or even intolerant of the circumstances and concerns of those on the other side of the issue. Thankfully, these people were a very small minority and unable to prevent a rational agreement from being reached between the government and the leadership of the reserve on this matter.
Overall, I have to say it is good to know that the families on the Couchiching reserve will be relocated and that the toll booth has been removed. Will there be some scars in our communities from this action? Has the level of mistrust increased between the groups? The answer to both questions is ‘probably’ but we must remember that the situation would have been much worse had it not been for the understanding, tolerance, and patience demonstrated by the ninety-nine percent majority on both sides of the dispute.
I am hopeful that both the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Couchiching leadership have learned a great deal from this experience and have come to the conclusion that engaging in constructive and ongoing dialogue with one and other on major issues is the best way to resolve any disputes that may arise.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River