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Legislative Assembly of Ontario
May 9, 2006
Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question is to the Premier. It has been some time since we heard from you and your government with respect to the status of the Caledonia situation. I wonder if you could provide us with an update as to where things stand, progress made or lack thereof and how much longer we would expect the discussions to go on and this situation to persist.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): To the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs.
Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): I have to tell you that this is the issue that this government is seized with 24 hours a day. We have many ministries, many deputy ministers right across all the ministries working on this. There are daily conference calls between ministries, also with Ontario's chief lead, David Peterson, as he gives us feedback on his discussions with the various groups, organizations and individuals involved in the Caledonia dispute. We feel we are making progress. We have to be patient with the political and democratic processes of the aboriginal people, such as when we reach certain levels of agreement, then there has to be consultation, and we wait for those responses.
Mr. Tory: Reports from witnesses close to the front lines indicate that things could be getting worse, and not better, while these discussions are ongoing. We've been informed, for example, that the occupation perimeter has now been expanded to north of the Grand River. We've been informed that the protesters are now also occupying the overpass over Highway 54. There are concerns that are increasingly being expressed with respect, for example, to objects falling off the bridge onto the highway below.
I wonder if you could confirm or deny that this is the case, that in fact the area of occupation and some of the things that are being occupied have expanded in the last period of time, and give some indication to us as to what is being done to stop this from happening while the discussions are going on with respect to the original area that was being occupied.
Hon. Mr. Ramsay: I have to say to the member that I'm not aware of an expansion of the area of occupation. I have been concentrating on the issues of resolution of this dispute with our chief lead, David Peterson, and working with other officials within the government. Again, I would ask that people have some patience with this. This is a very difficult situation. We're dealing with various groups within the Six Nations community, not only the elected chief and council but also Chief MacNaughton of the Haudenosaunee organization. So we're dealing with all the various organizations and groups there. It is taking time, but we're looking for a peaceful resolution to this, and I'd ask for the member's support in trying to find this.
Mr. Tory: Of course you have our support in trying to reach a peaceful resolution, but I think these are questions that are quite properly asked on behalf of the people.
There are signs. In fact, the OPP know about some of the new area that seems to be in question, which I made reference to earlier, so I would think you should know as well from these briefings.
I also had an e-mail this morning in response to one I had written back, where that person had written to me. There was quite a change in the tone of the e-mail, which I regret, because I reported to you that when I was down there to have a look, people had expressed a real wish to see the long-standing historical relationship between the First Nations people and the other residents maintained. There's a change in the tone of these e-mails, but the one I got back this morning talked about other problems: Imperial Oil in Nanticoke not able to ship by rail as the track is closed; Lake Erie Steel having problems with the ash, which they can't ship, and they're having issues with the Ministry of the Environment; various businesses referred to -- Winegard Motors, Searles Chev, Zehrs etc -- noted a large drop in sales, as much as 50% to 75%; and add to that the fact that, from the e-mails I'm getting now, the tone from the residents there is changing, which can't be a good thing.
I just wonder, given the apparent deterioration, both geographically, if I can call it that, and also in terms of business and other things, what are you doing to step up the pace of trying get this resolved to the maximum extent you possibly can?
Hon. Mr. Ramsay: As the member knows, we did appoint David Peterson, former Premier of the province, highly qualified in this area, and let me tell you that he and his team, backed by the Ontario government, are doing everything they can to resolve the immediate issues.
I'd remind the member that we are also looking at the long term. I have a very good relationship with the federal minister, Jim Prentice. Together, we have both appointed long-term negotiators, he, Barbara McDougall, and I, Jane Stewart on behalf of the government here, two highly qualified people who will start tomorrow with long-term discussions. Entering into that, we hope to get a short-term resolution and, in the end, solve this problem once and for all.
Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is to the Premier. I'm tempted to ask again about the Liberal MPP who has gone Snobelen, but I have another important issue to raise.
Premier, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib First Nation is being sued for over $10 billion by Platinex, a mineral exploration company, because the First Nation has acted to protect their traditional territory. This First Nation is a remote fly-in community of 1,200 people; 80% of the people are unemployed. They're poor. Yet this mining company is going to sue them for $10 billion because the community has dared to stand up and defend their own traditional territory. The chief has asked me to ask you this question: Will you intervene on the side of the First Nation in this vexatious lawsuit?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): Minister of Northern Development and Mines.
Hon. Rick Bartolucci (Minister of Northern Development and Mines): We certainly take this issue very seriously. The member would know that my ministry staff have been in contact with both the First Nation community and the company. We were hoping for some type of resolution. It appears, at this point in time, that the company will be taking the First Nation to court. It would be inappropriate for us to comment on this as it could be the subject of a legal matter.
Mr. Hampton: Here's the great irony. This court case is due to be heard on June 21 -- National Aboriginal Day.
Premier, it was your government that issued the permit to this mining company. The First Nation said, "Look, we object to any kind of mineral exploration taking place in our territory." They explained that to officials of your government. Since that date, they have not heard a word from your government.
Now, Caledonia is a situation where your government ignored all the warning signs. Here you've got a remote First Nation; there are no non-aboriginal people who live anywhere near it. They're saying to your government, "Do not promote this kind of conflict. Do not issue these kinds of permits when you know the First Nation is opposed and when you haven't consulted with the First Nation." They're simply asking you, since you created this problem by giving the mining company the permit in the first place, will you now intervene on the side of the First Nation and help them defend their traditional rights and their traditional land, or do you want to see a more serious conflict here?
Hon. Mr. Bartolucci: To be perfectly honest with the member who's asking the question -- and he certainly knows that our ministry has been in constant contact with the First Nations community. Because it is a matter that's before the courts, we're not --
Mr. Hampton: That is a bunch of BS.
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Withdraw that remark.
Mr. Hampton: I withdraw --
The Speaker: Just withdraw.
Mr. Hampton: I withdraw the remark.
Hon. Mr. Bartolucci: The member would know that ministry staff have visited the community to hear the concerns of the First Nations people. He would also know that mining claims and leases are valid under the Mining Act. Certainly it's the view of this ministry that we want to work with both sides to try to come to some resolution before these matters end up in the courts. We will continue to do that, as we will continue to honour our commitments that we must live up to under the Supreme Court decision, which says that we have a duty to consult. We take that very seriously.
Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): To the Premier: The Caledonia standoff is in its 72nd day. Provincial Highway 6 is blocked. The main street of Caledonia is blocked. The railroad to Nanticoke is blocked. This weekend the encampment moved north of the Grand River, and your minister was not aware of that, even on 24/7. Also this weekend, in spite of all this, David Peterson is quoted: "We've made some headway. I feel positive." But now we have a native warrior flag flying on top of one of the new hydro towers. Premier, just what headway have you and Mr. Peterson made in keeping the new power line project on track?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): To the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs.
Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): I say to the local member that I understand his frustration and his impatience with what's gone on for a very long time. I want to assure him that the Ontario government is working very hard with all its resources to try to resolve this. It is a very difficult situation. We want to make sure we resolve this peacefully. We're working with all the parties involved, with your community, keeping your municipal officials well informed as to what's going on. It's a very challenging task for David Peterson and his team, but they're working very hard at it and they've got the support of the whole Ontario government behind them.
Mr. Barrett: Lack of leadership has turned this into a boondoggle. We now have trestles from one of the new hydro towers creating the new blockade north of the Grand River. I know you're not aware of this; you should go down and take a look. A warrior flag is flying 130 feet high on top of one of the hydro towers. This is a massive power project. It runs the length of the Niagara peninsula from Thorold into Caledonia and beyond. It has 800 megawatts of transmission capacity, reducing transmission losses, reducing the risk of blackouts. I'm told it will serve 300,000 people. But now we have warriors on the towers, not Hydro One workers. Minister -- in your role as Minister of Energy perhaps -- how long can this project be delayed before the lights actually go out in the province of Ontario?
Hon. Mr. Ramsay: I want to say to him, and reinforce what I said earlier, that we have a lot of people on the ground in your community supporting David Peterson as the provincial lead in these discussions. As he knows very well, there are a lot of different groups involved in this dispute. We are totally engaged with all the groups that are involved in this dispute. We're doing that 24 hours a day. I said to your leader earlier, we have to be patient with the consensus-building process of the Six Nations people as they work through that. We think we are making progress. Believe me, when we get to the point where we think we've got this solved, I will be very happy to be informing this House when we get there.
Mr. Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North): My question today is for the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Since February 28, the OPP have had a presence in Caledonia 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The officers at Caledonia have been dispatched from detachments right across our province, and many of them are from detachments that are under municipal policing contracts. As you know, many of the municipal contract forces are already understaffed. Minister, how are you preparing to compensate the municipalities for the use of their officers who are working full time at Caledonia today?
Hon. Monte Kwinter (Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services): I thank the member for the question. I'm sure he realizes that the responsibility of the deployment of officers is in the hands of the commissioner and her senior staff. I have been assured by the commissioner that all of their responsibilities have been covered and that they have adequate provisions to make sure that they can deal with the situation in Caledonia without in any way impacting their responsibilities in other areas of the province.
Mr. Dunlop: Minister, a week ago I asked you what was the daily cost to the OPP to have officers in Caledonia. At that time you didn't provide me with the answer, and I thought that was an answer you would have at the tips of your fingers. I am told by reliable sources that the accommodation cost alone to have officers in Caledonia is $100,000 per week. In other words, since February 28, the OPP have likely absorbed accommodation costs alone in the range of close to $1 million.
Minister, with salaries, overtime, vehicles, accommodation and administration costs, I believe that Caledonia has cost the taxpayers of Ontario and the Ontario Provincial Police budget somewhere in the range of $8 million. If you're not prepared to help the municipalities, are you prepared to go back to the cabinet table and find the millions of dollars for the unexpected costs that the OPP have been subjected to at Caledonia?
Hon. Mr. Kwinter: The member, with all due respect, is wrong. The OPP have a global budget. They don't go out and hire new people to deal with a particular situation. So their budget is the same regardless of whether those people are in Caledonia or whether they're somewhere else, as long as they have the coverage, which they do. The only time that would change is if they had to go out because they needed additional resources. To this point, they have indicated to me that they don't. So there's no additional cost; it has just been reallocated within the province. They have assured me that the requirements to police the various communities under their contractual obligations are being carried out.