THUNDER BAY – Queen’s Park is in full session. For several days now one of the topics of debate, and of Question Period has been the McGuinty Liberal’s Far North Act. The Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats, First Nations, Chambers of Commerce, the Northern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) are just a few of the major groups seeking for the McGuinty Government to reverse course on the legislation.
Through the week, the First Nations of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation and their supporters have been engaged in a peaceful rally at the Queen’s Park legislature to demonstrate their opposition to the Far North Act. Today Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse joined the rally to show his support and solidarity with the First Nations of the far north in their efforts to protect their homelands.
“Bill 191 proposes to set aside 225,000 square kilometres of far north as a protected area. The Ontario government made this decision without agreement from the affected First Nations,” stated the Regional Chief.
Chief Toulouse indicates that the First Nations of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation have Treaties with the Crown that must be respected in accordance with the Canadian Constitution and Supreme Court of Canada decisions that clearly set out obligations for governments with respect to the duty to consult and accommodate First Nations when a particular action may impact First Nation Aboriginal and Treaty rights.
The message could be that court action could follow to fight the legislation if the McGuinty Government does not change course, or hold meaningful consultations.
Regional Chief Toulouse emphasized that many First Nations in this province struggle with high unemployment, substandard housing and infrastructure, and little economic activity. By attempting to eliminate a significant portion of the traditional territory of many First Nations by a forced designation of protected land through Bill C-191, it will threaten the ability of affected First Nations to pursue economic and resource development activities on such lands in the future should they wish to do so.
Chief Toulouse encouraged the Ontario government to consider all options to end the impasse that the parties find themselves in. Chief Toulouse stated the government needs to understand that First Nations assert jurisdiction within their own territories, and that they want the government to recognize First Nation autonomy with respect to land use planning within their traditional territories. “I believe this can be worked out with good faith dialogue and a willingness on the part of government to ensure that the First Nations feel that their perspectives are taken into account and that their Treaty rights are being recognized and respected,” said Chief Toulouse.
Neither Bill Mauro or Michael Gravelle have commented on the growing opposition to the legislation.