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Ontario Hansard - Statements by Members, Question Period, Petitions

Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Ontario Hansard
April 25, 2006 No. 65A (afternoon)

Native Land Dispute

Statements by Member


Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): Last night, my staff joined me at the large rally at the Caledonia fairgrounds. Premier, there is clearly an emergency in the Caledonia area, and people want to know why you continue to hide. As I walked through the crowd, I was asked, "Where is McGuinty? Why won't he come to Caledonia? Why is he indifferent to our turmoil? If McGuinty knew about this for a year, why did he do nothing to prevent it?"

All sides feel abandoned by this government. As I told many last night, the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs bounced this to Ottawa, saying it was their responsibility. April 12, he changed his tune, saying the province was on top of the situation. But native spokesperson Clyde Powless counters in the media that Ramsay "keeps sending his bum boys to us. This is the biggest reserve in Canada."

The Premier said he was seeking a peaceful solution, but the site was raided less than 18 hours later. McGuinty and his government were AWOL last night, letting down thousands of people who want to hear something. Double speaking, finger-pointing and Premier McGuinty's strategy of hiding under his desk won't fly in our area. People from all sides are saying, "Step up to the plate, tell us what's going on, and show some leadership."

Oral Questions

Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question is to the Premier. We all watched with concern last night as the situation in Caledonia reflected, I think in an all-too-visible way, some of the anger and frustration that exists among a number of different groups in and around that community.

I told the House yesterday, and I tell the Premier, that my own visit there indicated to me that there's a very real desire on the part of the people who live and work there to try to ensure that nothing comes along that will take away from the very peaceful coexistence that has existed for many years between the different peoples in that community. But of course we all know that that will require leadership. I wonder if the Premier might give us, first of all, a general update on the situation in Caledonia and, secondly, an update on his own personal involvement in trying to bring this matter to, as he put it last week, a peaceful resolution.

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): I'm pleased to receive the question and to report to the House that I had another briefing at noon today to give us some better sense of what in fact occurred last night. What occurred last night was, indeed, unfortunate. While I'm sure all members of the House can understand the impatience and frustration on the part of both sides, I think, in fairness, it's incumbent upon all of us to ensure that none of the parties on either side loses sight of the fact that if we are going to resolve this peacefully, both sides have to continue to bring to the table goodwill and patience -- two of the most precious commodities in addressing this issue.

So my advice, certainly to the members of the community and to those who are protesting on either side, is that it is going to be important for us to be calm, to be cool, to remain collected, to respect the law and to remain patient.

I'll report more with respect to your supplementaries.


Mr. Tory: Premier, yesterday I questioned the minister on this matter and I indicated that following a personal visit I had made there, as I mentioned -- and it wasn't a matter of what I thought -- I heard from people that more and better information coming to the people about what's going on was going to be helpful if we're going to keep tensions down and help get things resolved, but most importantly perhaps, to keep tensions down while things are getting resolved.

The minister responded because I had mentioned that we had been told of the efforts of the OPP going door to door, but of course the degree to which they can convey information about matters other than policing and security is very limited. Their role in going door to door to inform people has to be limited.

I say to the Premier, I believe that you and your minister have an obligation to show some personal leadership on this issue. I want to know specifically what you are prepared to do, as elected representatives and people in responsible, elected positions in the government, to inform people and have them get information directly from people in their government, on the ground. What steps are you prepared to take to show some leadership on this?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: I can understand the Leader of the Opposition's desire for the government to rush into this, but that's not something we're prepared to do. We are working with all the parties involved -- representatives of the First Nations community, the federal government and the community of Caledonia -- in order to ensure that discussions continue. They started on one day of the weekend at 4 in the afternoon and continued until 4 in the morning. The First Nations representative asked for some time to retire to consider the results of that discussion. Those discussions, the minister tells me, will resume tomorrow, and we look forward to getting back to the table. I don't think there is a better venue for us to resolve this than at the table itself, where the parties are all being represented.

Again, it's going to take some time. I wish we could say that this is going to be resolved in the immediate future, but I have no reason to believe that's going to be the case. So I think it's very important that we all remain patient and supportive of the process we have put in place.

Mr. Tory: I appreciate the fact that the discussions are taking some time and that they're going on and so forth, but to some extent the Premier missed the point of the question. For example, by analogy, the chiefs of the confederacy, when they take a break from the table, take some of that time to go back to their community and inform the people they represent of what is going on. At the moment, there is nobody from your government who is doing the same thing with respect to other residents of the community, including people in the native community, frankly, who may wish to hear about what the government's perspective is on what's going on. It's information that's going to help to keep the tensions down, to keep people properly informed. There's no one there doing that.

Another thing I was told on my visit is that there were some real tensions in the schools yesterday, when they reopened, between students from the First Nations and other students. There apparently were physical and verbal confrontations in the hallways. May I ask what specific steps have been taken by your government and by you to help the school board, the schools and the teachers to make sure these kinds of tensions in the schools are kept down? What leadership is your government showing on this?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: I think we should be mindful of the advice offered by the Ontario Provincial Police in a release it just put out. It reads as follows: "These are extraordinary times. This situation is complex and it requires the kind of understanding and co-operation that we have always shared as neighbours here in Caledonia and the Six Nations and it will require negotiation to achieve a lasting, peaceful resolution. I'm appealing to everyone, all the people of Caledonia and the Six Nations, to be patient while a lasting resolution is sought."

I'm not sure I could have put it any better myself. I understand there are some frustrations in the schools, in homes and in the business community on the Caledonia side, and on the First Nations side there are some long-standing frustrations there as well. But I think the best advice we can offer everyone is to remain cool, calm and patient as we pursue what I think is the best possible venue to achieve a long-term resolution, and that is through this process of discussion.

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): New question?

Mr. Tory: I really don't disagree with a word that has been said by the Premier on this, but I think all I have --

Mr. Greg Sorbara (Vaughan-King-Aurora): Then get onto another topic.

Mr. Tory: I don't know why members opposite have to heckle on a matter like this. I'm simply trying to ask questions, and I'm trying to ask them in a respectful and professional manner to try and elicit some information.

I don't disagree with what you said about the need for patience, but I am also trying to point out that I have been there. I listened to people, and what they said was they don't know, they're not being adequately informed with respect to what is going on, what is taking place. I found the briefing offered by the government very helpful. There's no reason why some of that information -- for example, historical, legal and other information -- couldn't be shared with the people who live there and who are affected by this.

I'm asking you now, what specifically are you prepared to do to make sure somebody from the government takes some leadership, not abandoning patience, not abandoning negotiations, but merely to inform the people who live in those communities of what's going on on a more fulsome basis so they can understand?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs.

Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): The question the leader makes today in the House was also made to us in our briefing to the community, the mayor and the council yesterday afternoon. We have come back with that question and are planning to set up some mechanisms so that people can find out what's going on because, as the member rightly says, there are gaps of time when there's consultation going on in the negotiations. We are looking at easily accessible 1-800 numbers where information will be posted, websites, and using the community radio stations to give information immediately to people, as well as the door-to-door process that the OPP initiated, which has worked very well.

I understand where the member's coming from. We are working on developing mechanisms very quickly so that information can get directly to people.

Mr. Tory: I want to thank the minister for answering exactly what I asked the Premier three times without success, and I appreciate it.

I would suggest to the minister and ask him if he would consider -- in some appropriate way where it can be done peacefully and in an informative way and in the proper kind of environment -- going there, or having someone else go there, whether it's the Premier or someone else, and sit with the residents and listen to them but, more importantly, inform them.

I do think the measures you mentioned, the 1-800 numbers and other things you're thinking about, are a step in the right direction. In that regard, there was mention made in the briefing yesterday of the fact there are some very specific groups affected by this, such as the developer, the tradespeople who are working on the houses, some of the businesses and so on. Could you outline for us what specific measures you have taken to sit down with those groups and work with them to try to understand the difficulties this is causing them and to better inform them as to what's going on? What specific things have been done there?

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: The Ministry of Finance has given us the name of a candidate that we have now employed to work with the developer and the contractors who have suffered losses with this incident. They are in discussion today to talk about that situation, to explore ways that maybe the Ontario government can help them through this, because we know and understand that they have put their life savings into this investment, that this subdivision investment is very important to the community and to the workers in the community, too, who are losing employment right now. So all that is being explored at this time as we go on with the large table negotiations.

Mr. Tory: Finally, again to the Premier, I think the thing that as much as anything else is contributing to the tension and the dislocation, frankly, for people who live there is the blockage of the roads. I was in a gas station in Caledonia where, for example, the owner is having trouble getting supply for his gas station because of the configuration of the roads there. Other people are finding it difficult to commute to and from work and so on. I think there's a different kind of symbolic and legal aspect to the road closure which makes it more of a flashpoint in the community and contributes to the tension.

Can you tell us specifically what you and your government are trying to do to prioritize the reopening of the roads, especially the bypass, perhaps even starting on an intermittent basis, to get the community working properly again and, I believe, to reduce the tensions? What leadership can we expect from you specifically on the question of the bypass and the roads, which I really think are making more of a contribution to tension in the community than anything else?


Hon. Mr. Ramsay: This is being handled by the government on two levels. This weekend, returning the community to normalcy was one of the first incremental steps that the table of discussion engaged in, knowing that that is one of the first things that has to be repaired and proceeded with. But also, the OPP has been handling this because it's a security and safety issue for the community, and they have been having their own ongoing discussions with the First Nations on how to return the community to normalcy.

The member is right to say that this does become a flashpoint, because the everyday lives of the people of Caledonia have been disrupted. We are very sympathetic to that. We know we've got to return both communities to a sense of normalcy as we give ourselves some time to work out a long-term arrangement here.

The Speaker: New question. The leader of the third party.

Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Premier. Premier, last night we witnessed an ugly spectacle unfold at the standoff in Caledonia. The media describe an angry mob marching towards and hurling racial taunts at the Six Nation protesters. What's more remarkable about this is that your government has known about the potential for a standoff at Caledonia for over a year. Six Nation members have held numerous information pickets in many locations over that time raising the issue. My question is this: Why did it come to angry mobs and racial taunts before your government really started to take action?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: First of all, I'm not prepared to accept that those who may have behaved in a fashion described by the leader of the NDP are representative of the goodwill still to be found in the community of Caledonia. I'm not prepared to accept that. I think the leader of the NDP knows -- certainly a representative of his party was given the opportunity to get a full briefing on this -- that our government has been involved in the larger land claim issues for at least a couple of years now. We've been involved actively in discussions since this occurred, since this protest first became an actual occupation, and we will continue to have discussions on an ongoing basis with those involved.

I think it's important to keep in mind as well that the developer involved here actually obtained the consent of the elected leadership to the First Nations community affected by this and, in reliance on that, proceeded with his development. So I think that many of us thought that this had been addressed, and obviously that did not prove to be the case. Now we find ourselves where we find ourselves, and we are doing the best we can, and I say that it's not only our government but all the parties involved, to bring this to a peaceful resolution.

Mr. Hampton: Premier, I think what people have a hard time understanding is this: The warning signs were all there. The warning signs were getting louder and louder, yet your government decided to appoint a mediator only 11 days ago. And then, just after the appointment of a mediator, the OPP resort to use of force. That's one of the other questions that people have. Just after the OPP resorted to use of force, the public was told it was because of confidential new information that the OPP had. But yesterday, your Minister of Community Safety said that they resorted to use of force because of the court order as a result of the private legal action. What we do know is that the use of force by the OPP escalated the tension and escalated the conflict.

So I'm asking you, because people are having a hard time understanding this: You've given two reasons. Which one is the real reason for the use of force by the OPP in what has all the possibilities of becoming a very serious conflict?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: When I met with Commissioner Gwen Boniface earlier today, during the course of the briefing, I took the opportunity to express to her my deepest appreciation for the patience and determination to resolve this peacefully. I think if the leader of the NDP is looking for any kind of philosophy that informs the OPP, it reveals itself in this press release put out earlier today, which expresses a strong determination to resolve this in a peaceful way. The police have a special obligation in our society to act when they feel that public safety demands it. They have acted because they felt that that was an issue. That's as far as I'm prepared to speak to that. We are not going to direct our police when it comes to operational matters. But again, I think we need to ensure that the police know they have our support as they express restraint, and all of us should be determined to bring this to a successful conclusion through patience and goodwill.

Mr. Hampton: And I think you have a responsibility, Premier, to ask the tough questions. One of the questions that remains unanswered is: Why, really, did the OPP resort to use of force? The original rationale was that they had new confidential information. When I asked your Minister of Community Safety yesterday, he didn't refer to that at all. He said it was because of the court order, as a result of private litigation. Is that how these issues are going to be determined under the McGuinty government, simply private litigation, and then the police act as a result of the court order flowing from the private litigation?

It seems to me, Premier, you've got a responsibility to the people of Ontario to show some leadership here. You had a warning of over a year. Now we have further escalation as a result of the OPP use of force. Please tell us: Where is the direction from your government, where is the leadership from your government, on this important issue?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: I think now we have it. Now we've come to the crux of the position taken by the NDP. They believe that the government of the day should be providing direction to the Ontario Provincial Police on operational issues. We see things differently. We think it's important to understand that we do not, in fact, live in a police state. We have a privilege here in this House of making laws, the judges have the opportunity to interpret those laws, and our police have the special responsibility to uphold those laws. This is not a police state; it is a democracy. The leader of the NDP should understand that the police have to exercise judgment. They have to exercise discretion from time to time when it comes to moving on these things. The fact of the matter is, yes, they were bound by a court order issued by an Ontario court. How long is the leader of the NDP suggesting that they not comply with that order? Maybe he's got another answer that he might be able to provide us with, but we have confidence that our police will do the right thing in the circumstances.

Mr. Dave Levac (Brant): My question is for the --


The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): The member for Niagara Centre will come to order.


The Speaker: I can wait. Order. The member for Brant would like to ask a question.

The member for Brant.

Mr. Levac: My question is for the Minister of Education. The leader of the official opposition has fairly asked a question about our students in the surrounding area from our school boards to their concerns regarding the Caledonia issue. As a principal and a guidance counsellor, I helped design some of the programs that are necessary to help our kids through circumstances that are beyond their control. I would like to ask you clearly what we are planning to do, what we are doing, what we can do to help our students during this particular crisis that is going on. I consider it a crisis regarding our students, because they're quite fearful. We want to know exactly what is going on to assure the parents that our students are being dealt with and that our school boards collectively have something in place to take care of our students.

Hon. Sandra Pupatello (Minister of Education, minister responsible for women's issues): I think it's important, especially for members of the opposition, to understand that the field offices of the Ministry of Education have been in constant contact, not just with the schools but with the boards in the area. They have been involved with the police to see that everything is safe; I think that's everyone's primary concern.

Secondly, counsellors -- child and youth service workers -- have been in the schools. The director from the board, as well, has been at the school nearest to all of this. I'll just read one paragraph that I think summarizes that the board, the schools and certainly our ministry are very concerned and active and, in a very proactive fashion, doing what we can to assist the situation. This is just one paragraph of a letter that went home to parents through the children:

"During our time today, the staff and students had the opportunity to get together and discuss the situation that is going on. We stressed mutual respect and the ability to work through our problems in a productive manner. We also took some time to pray for a speedy and safe resolution to the problem."

Thankfully, our board of education in the area is certainly concerned and acting in a very appropriate manner.



Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): I have a petition titled "We Demand Leadership in Land Dispute," directed towards the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"Whereas the McGuinty government was notified of this land issue over a year ago; and

"Whereas the standoff has been ongoing since February 28, 2006; and

"Whereas there has been no leadership from senior levels of government;

"We, the undersigned, demand the McGuinty Liberals start showing some real, consistent and timely leadership in dealing with the current standoff in Caledonia."

These names were gathered late last night, and I affix my signature to this.

Mr. Tim Hudak (Erie-Lincoln): I'm pleased to read a petition like that of my colleague from Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant. It reads as follows: "We Demand Leadership in Land Dispute

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the McGuinty government was notified of this land issue over a year ago; and

"Whereas the standoff has been ongoing since February 28, 2006; and

"Whereas there has been no leadership from senior levels of government;

"We, the undersigned, demand the McGuinty Liberals start showing some real, consistent and timely leadership in dealing with the current standoff in Caledonia."

In support, I affix my signature as well.

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