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Legislative Assembly of Ontario
May 29, 2006
Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): It's a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to provide members with an update on the Caledonia situation.
Late last week, I spoke with Confederacy Chief Allen McNaughton and Chief David General. We had a frank and positive discussion about the situation, and I shared my appreciation for the progress made to date by Six Nations and Haldimand county.
In a letter I sent on Friday to the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Jim Prentice, I sought clarification of remarks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper with regard to the federal role in the situation in Caledonia. It is important to note that this situation arose as a result of Six Nations' longstanding frustrations with their federal claims process -- a process that has failed to address claims on the Haldimand tract.
I am sure that all Ontarians were pleased, but in particular local residents, when the blockades came down on Argyle Street on Tuesday, May 23. I commend the communities of Caledonia and Six Nations for coming together on this matter.
As the members may know, the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Joe Cordiano, was in Brantford last Thursday. He advised the community that the province is providing $500,000 in emergency financial assistance for local businesses. The province will work with Haldimand county to distribute the funds where they are most needed. In my letter to Mr. Prentice, I said that I anticipated Six Nations would be requesting similar support from the federal government.
The province continues to work closely with those in Caledonia, and has set up a community liaison group to provide support to the community to share information. Made up of senior Ontario government delegates from a range of ministries and Ontario Provincial Police officials, the group is holding regular meetings with municipal and other community representatives. Again, in my letter to Mr. Prentice, I encouraged the federal government to nominate a representative for this group.
There's still much to do. However, I am hopeful that all the parties will build on the momentum of the positive developments of recent days and the goodwill therefore generated.
The provincial government has been working tirelessly to find a peaceful resolution to the situation in Caledonia. Well before the land occupation, Ontario, Canada and Six Nations had placed outstanding litigation brought by Six Nations relating to the Haldimand tract in abeyance and begun exploratory discussions. In early April, an agreement was reached to accelerate two of those claims.
Since the occupation, the Premier, myself and other ministers, senior government representatives and staff members from a range of ministries have been working very hard to ensure a peaceful resolution to the situation. In addition to the Ontario Secretariat for Aboriginal Affairs, ministries working on this file have included municipal affairs and housing, economic development and trade, public infrastructure renewal and culture. As well, the Ontario Provincial Police have been fully engaged in efforts to maintain order in a very difficult situation.
We named former Premier David Peterson as the provincial lead to help find some solutions to the immediate problems in Caledonia. A highly qualified and experienced individual, he has been empowered to negotiate on the province's behalf to ensure the removal of all blockades on transportation corridors. I have been in constant contact with Mr. Peterson since his appointment on April 29. He has done tremendous work to help address the current situation, and has made a commitment to stay on until an agreement is reached to remove the remaining barricades.
To address the longer-term issues that led to the situation in Caledonia, we appointed former federal Minister of Indian Affairs Jane Stewart as our special representative. She has had several meetings in the area and is eager to move ahead.
I would also like to point out that the province helped bring Canada into the negotiations and was instrumental in getting the federal government to appoint a representative, Barbara McDougall, to lead discussions with Six Nations on those long-term issues. The province will fully support the discussions through Jane Stewart.
The members need to know that the province has been and continues to be front and centre in addressing the issues related to Caledonia. Let me briefly tell you some of the things we have done.
As I have mentioned, the province has been fully engaged. We were involved in discussions even before the current situation, and we have worked unstintingly to ensure a peaceful resolution to the situation.
From the beginning of the occupation, we have worked with Six Nations leaders to address the occupation and to find ways to resolve it.
We have also sought federal involvement right from the start. Negotiations between representatives from Ontario, Canada and Six Nations resulted in an agreement on April 21 to discuss the long-term issues that underlie the Caledonia situation. Provincial representatives have held three meetings with Haldimand council. Staff from across government have worked as hard as possible and have held countless meetings with the parties in the Caledonia, Six Nations and Brantford area to address the situations.
As I mentioned, the province named David Peterson as provincial lead to find solutions to the immediate, short-term issues. We have also appointed Jane Stewart as the provincial representative in talks to address the longer term underlying issues. Funding assistance of $100,000 was provided to Haldimand county to help promote local business affected by the situation. Assistance was also provided to the developer and offered to the builders for the costs and expenses incurred as a result of the current situation.
As I have mentioned, Ontario made a commitment last Thursday to provide $500,000 more in interim assistance to local businesses in Haldimand county that have been affected, and we are continuing to work with the town, other community leaders and the developer and builders to resolve ongoing issues and promote local business.
The Ontario Secretariat for Aboriginal Affairs has established a 1-800 number to provide information on significant developments to the public.
I believe it is clear that Ontario has been very active in working with the parties to bring this situation to a peaceful resolution. What is also clear is that federal participation and leadership are absolutely essential in these discussions. The federal government has the primary responsibility for aboriginal people -- a responsibility that cannot be avoided. While Ontario will continue to work very hard to resolve the immediate matters that are of concern to both the Six Nations and the Caledonia communities, it is incumbent on the federal government to take the lead on the long-term issues. Of course, we'll work closely with Canada and provide full support. Ontario remains committed to working with the federal government, Six Nations, Haldimand county, residents of Caledonia and others affected by the events in the community to achieve the best solution for all parties.
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Response?
Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): You know, when we take a look at how this crisis in Caledonia and the Six Nations area is being managed, or should I say mismanaged, by the McGuinty government, there's one word that does come to mind, and it does come up a lot down in that area: boondoggle.
The minister just recently talked about all the meetings that are occurring, but we've seen no management, we have seen no communication, we have seen no leadership and there is obviously no plan.
If you walk down the streets of Caledonia or if you go behind the barricades at Six Nations, which I have done, probably on 14 or 16 different occasions -- on Tuesday, our leader, John Tory, was behind the barricades speaking with people -- everybody wants to know what the government is doing, if anything at all.
We see a number of major flaws in this government's approach. People in the area feel the government is doing nothing. They feel as if they have been abandoned by Premier McGuinty and his cabinet. They want to know why the provincial government's Minister of Transportation wouldn't answer any questions in this House -- he has now been replaced, I may add -- about signage, about detour routes, about the collisions, about the problems tourists are having heading south. They are very concerned when they finally do see a Ministry of Transportation sign -- a very large, well-lit sign put up at the north end of town -- and it spells "Caledonia" wrong. They want to know if the Premier is even taking this issue seriously. It has been three months now. Is he just hiding under his desk, hoping that if he throws a bit of money at it, it will go away, or if he spends three months hoping that Ottawa will look after it, he can continue to stand behind the curtains?
Even if this government had been working on this, nobody would know. There's been no effort at all by this government to communicate with those citizens on all sides who have been affected; no elected members of government have come down. Sure, we get a video clip, we get the odd media statement -- after Argyle Street was opened up, after some of the tough sledding had been done, work that was done by the community itself, by organizations that came together. Call them alliances, call them vigilantes, call them what you may, there was no government presence at all; people had to take matters into their own hands.
When people showed up in a video studio in Toronto after one of the battles had been won -- Roy Green, on 900 CHML, used the expression "buzzards." We all know that the vultures show up after a battle. This is the characterization we now have of this provincial government, certainly in central Ontario, those who listen to either CH television or 900 CHML. I don't necessarily use the word "vulture." I compare the Premier and his cabinet essentially to cowbirds. The cowbird is a bird that lays its eggs in another bird's nest.
People want to know what's being offered in the negotiations. Is this government being stampeded? Are you giving the farm away? Again, all we get is silence. We asked the Premier, we asked this government, is South Cayuga on the plate? What do people in Dunnville think about that? Is Townsend up for grabs? What do people in Jarvis and the community of Townsend think about that? What about Burtch? Is anyone communicating with people in Brant county? Again, will this get the railway open? Will this get Highway 6 open? Will it get the tourists down to Port Dover and Turkey Point? Will this get steel and gypsum and fly ash back up north from the industry that's along Highway 6 and down on Lake Erie?
True leadership requires leaders at a minimum to be present during a crisis. John Tory has been down there three times -- as recently as last Tuesday. Not a single cabinet minister accepted my invitation to come down to Caledonia, to come to Six Nations during this last weekend when you were really needed. And we all know what happened on Victoria Day. We know what happened on bread and cheese day. That was a disaster.
Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): I want to respond to the statement of the Minister responsible for native affairs. The minister seems to be trying to pat himself and the McGuinty government on the back, but I think a review of the facts would show that in fact the McGuinty government should be apologizing in some cases for its inactivity on this file, and in other cases for simply making the wrong move.
What I note in the minister's statement is that he says, "From the beginning of the occupation, we have worked with Six Nations leaders." This was an issue long before an occupation began, and that's the real nub of the issue. For over 12 months, aboriginal people in the Caledonia area were saying to this government -- and, yes, to the federal government -- "There is a serious issue here." What was the response of the McGuinty government? A failure to respond, a failure to take the issue seriously. So today the McGuinty government wants to pat itself on the back, but the reality is, for over a year, when there was room to avoid some of the conflict that happened, the McGuinty government once again was heavy on the rhetoric but missing in action.
I want to go on to immediately after the occupation began, because that was another interesting episode. When aboriginal people at Six Nations finally decided that the only way they were going to be heard and listened to by the McGuinty government was to put together a protest, a picket line, what was the response of the McGuinty government? Well, they say they were negotiating. They say they were discussing. But in the middle of the so-called discussions and negotiations, in go the OPP, and people not just across Ontario but across Canada got to wake up in the morning and witness that debacle, that failed strategy.
But what became even more interesting than that were the two excuses the McGuinty government put out for the police raid. The first excuse was that the OPP had suddenly come in touch with some new intelligence and that the raid was going to head something off. That held water for about a day and a half. Then the McGuinty government's line was that the OPP had conducted a raid because of a private injunction. I want thoughtful people across Ontario to think about that for a minute, because what it seems to indicate is that, under the McGuinty government, public policy will be dictated by private injunction. If you've got the money to get a private injunction, then you can dictate public policy and what the police will do in a public conflict.
Neither of those excuses offered by the McGuinty government holds any water. The truth is that the McGuinty government has not been on top of this file from the beginning. What is so sad is that the conflict here could have been avoided. The economic loss could have been avoided, the social dislocation could have been avoided, the hard feelings that have been created could have been avoided -- all of that could have been avoided. But what we had was a McGuinty government that was asleep at the switch, not paying attention to what was happening, not taking it seriously, and today they want to come into the Ontario Legislature and pat themselves on the back.
I say to you, you shouldn't be patting yourself on the back; you should be apologizing to the people of Six Nations and you should be apologizing to the people of Caledonia, because you are very much responsible for how badly this got off track.
Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): To the Acting Premier: On May 9, in this Legislature I warned your Premier about the breach of security with respect to the power system at Caledonia. While your caucus heckled, I warned that the lights could go out. Acting Premier, on May 22, just two weeks later, the lights did go out. Vandalism shut down the Caledonia transformer station, wiped out Caledonia, parts of Haldimand and also Norfolk. On May 9, your government ignored my warning, although your government did replace the Minister of Energy after the power went out. Will the Premier of Ontario agree that on May 9 he did nothing, despite my warning, to prevent the vandalism, resulting in the massive blackout on May 22?
Hon. George Smitherman (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): To the minister of aboriginal affairs.
Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): I appreciate the question from the member. He did give us that warning. Actually, other people in the community had made similar warnings about the power system, and the government did listen. Those warnings were discussed and passed on to the appropriate officials. I have to say to the member that this has been a very complex situation. We obviously regret the use of violence or any unlawful activity, and we are working very hard to resolve this in a peaceful manner.
Mr. Barrett: The fact is the lights did go out. There was no OPP presence, no surveillance. Mr. Tory and I were up there the next morning. On May 9, I did warn the Premier of Ontario, and we've heard today that there were other warnings as well about threats to the integrity of the electrical system. There were Mohawk warriors on those towers. There was a Mohawk flag 130 feet up on a tower, right above the transformer station. As we know, on May 22, the Caledonia transformer station went up in flames.
But two miles north of Six Nations is the massive Middleport transformer station. This has a capacity of approximately 2,000 megawatts, and it's just up the line from the Caledonia transformer station. Can the Premier of Ontario assure this House that when warned by me on May 9, this government beefed up security at that massive Middleport transformer station, or is there still no OPP presence at the Middleport station? I was up there last night.
Hon. Mr. Ramsay: The member is asking about operational issues that are the responsibility of the OPP. The OPP are obviously very aware of the risks in the area and plan their surveillance and operations accordingly. As the member knows, that is a very separate function from government. The OPP are basically in charge in the area of security and protection. Again, I would just thank the member for his bringing that information forward, and it will be passed on.