One more Conservative decision and one more reason why our next federal election will be an important one
This month, another important part of our Canada and Northern Ontario was almost lost. Wawatay Communications is an organization that publishes a bi-weekly community newspaper as well as a magazine for northern teens. It operates a broadcasting station, produces television shows, provides translation services and manages a multimedia website – all of which serve the needs of 60,000 northern First Nation people and the communities in which they live.
At www.wawataynews.ca you will see why this organization has won so many awards (16 national and provincial awards in the last 4 years alone) and why, over 36 years, it has quietly earned a reputation as a solid and well run non-profit business that meets many important needs.
The Department of Canadian Heritage, through the Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting Program, supports organizations like Wawatay throughout Canada’s north. Since 2007, Wawatay has received annual funding. These monies, and its advertising revenue, allow Wawatay to serve communities that stretch from James Bay to the Manitoba
Unfortunately, Steven Harpers’ government did not respond to a funding application that was submitted in January until this week. Wawatay has been operating in crisis mode for some time now. For four months it had no funding. Its employees have been laid off and, while it waited and waited for a decision to be made, it risked closure.
Many might ask why we should care. After all, many good businesses in Northern Ontario have had to close their doors. Everyone has been affected by the economic crisis. Why should this organization be somehow immunized from the inevitable cutbacks in government spending that we all know are coming?
Wawatay is important to Northern Ontario. Those who live and work in the far north rely upon it to send and receive their news. It is, as one employee noted, “the means by which they are involved in Canada”.
Wawatay communicates in both English and indigenous languages and plays a key role in preserving, maintaining and enhancing the culture and language of northern First Nations. Organizations like Wawatay are needed because they are the ones that communicate news, issues and information. We know that the challenges faced by many northern First Nations are serious.
As we look forward to an era in which the development of northern resources will be increasingly important to the economy of Northern Ontario and to the future of those First Nations, many of us will, perhaps for the first time, be challenged to recognize, and then address, these issues. Quite apart from treaty obligations and constitutional rights, if we believe in a Canada in which important questions are determined on the basis of informed discussion, if we believe in a Canada where everyone has access to news and information that is relevant to them, and if we believe in a future for First Nations that is different than the present reality, then Wawatay Communications is important to all of us.
It is hard to understand why a straightforward funding decision had to be so delayed. Wawatay is now in crisis.
If this is how Steven Harper manages the business of government, then he is no manager. If this is just another example of a government quietly rendering ineffective those programs that don’t fit its right-wing ideology, or only acting when public pressure is applied, then we should not allow it to happen quite so quietly.
This is no way to govern. Like many other decisions that we have seen from this Government, (and make no mistake, delaying a funding decision until an organization is on the brink of collapse is in fact a decision) this one reflects a view of Canada that ignores the evidence of need, the evidence of success and the requirements of our citizens. Our future should not be determined in this manner. How the government has, up to now, handled this decision should not come as a surprise. With what we have seen in other cases, it no longer even qualifies as a wakeup call. It reflects a view of Canada, an approach to governing and a view of how issues should be handled that is very different from the one I believe in.
There is some good news. I, along with other Northern Ontario Liberal candidates and sitting members of the Liberal Party, wrote the Minister of Canadian Heritage asking him to act quickly to save this organization. As I write this letter, Wawatay has now received news that there is a “confirmation of funding”. It is still not enough for its bank, but perhaps the rest of what needs to be done to save this valuable organization can now be completed. This is no way to treat anyone. Wawatay – and everyone who deals with our Government – deserves better.
That is why the next election will be an important one.
Federal Liberal Candidate, Thunder Bay – Superior North