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Legislative Assembly of Ontario
June 19, 2006
Mr. Robert W. Runciman (Leeds-Grenville): My question is to the Acting Premier. Acting Premier, last Friday your Liberal government announced the purchase of land now under native occupation in Caledonia. At the time, the minister of aboriginal affairs indicated that the purchase price was confidential. We're now hearing that the price paid will exceed 50 million taxpayer dollars.
Minister, why is the purchase price confidential, on what basis have you determined that it must be confidential and what is so confidential about using taxpayer dollars to clean up a problem your government can't fix?
Hon. Leona Dombrowsky (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs): I'm happy to have the opportunity to say to the honourable member today that I'm not in a position to share that particular detail with him, but what I can say is that because our government has been able to reach an agreement with the local developer, that has enabled those parties at the main table -- federal representatives, provincial representatives and representatives of the First Nations community -- to move these negotiations along, as is appropriate. We're very pleased that achieving this agreement with the property owner has enabled those at the negotiating table -- the main table -- to focus on the issue and get this matter resolved as soon as possible.
Mr. Runciman: I think some could fairly construe that response as contempt for the Legislature and contempt for the hard-working taxpayers of this province.
John Tory and the Progressive Conservative Party believe the people of Ontario deserve to know just how much Dalton McGuinty's lack of leadership is costing us. Last week in court, officials from the Ministry of the Attorney General indicated that the McGuinty government is handing over property at the former Burtch Correctional Centre to Six Nations. Would the minister advise the House and hard-pressed Ontario taxpayers what the assessed value of that property is?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: I find it quite appalling that a member of this Legislature, who would formerly have been an Attorney General, would ask a question of that kind, knowing that there are very serious and important negotiations underway at this time. You are asking for information that would be inappropriate and that I know you, as a minister in this position, would not have provided either.
We have a very serious situation that the federal government, provincial representatives and First Nations representatives are dealing with. We encourage them. With the property issue being resolved, we believe we have provided them with a situation that will enable them to achieve a resolution to this in a more expeditious way. That has been our commitment from day one of this, and we are encouraged, now that there has been a property deal, that that will enable those parties at that table to get that deal done.
Mr. Runciman: That was an unbelievably feeble response. I mean, the Attorney General's officials already indicated they turned over property at Burtch to Six Nations. This is not something that's part of negotiations; they've turned it over.
To date, the McGuinty government has committed probably in excess of 50 million taxpayer dollars for a property purchase, millions to disrupted businesses, given away at least a hundred hectares of government property, dropped conditions for a return to the bargaining table, recognized a no-go zone for police, permitted criminal fugitives to remain at large, shattered public confidence in the rule of law, turned a blind eye to the destruction of a hydro transformer, the blockade of highway and railway and on and on, and still no deal. Mr. McGuinty's approach -- bargain from weakness and reward continued resistance -- is setting the table for many more Caledonia-type confrontations.
Minister, will you, as Acting Premier, tell the people of Caledonia and the people of Ontario if this is how Dalton McGuinty defines being up to the job?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: First of all, I would like to say, on behalf of the government -- certainly it has been stated many times by the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs -- that we truly appreciate what the people and the community of Caledonia have had to endure, and we thank them for their continued support.
I know that the honourable member and the members of the opposition are not happy that we find ourselves today in a situation where, at the main table, federal partners, provincial partners and First Nations partners are negotiating a resolution to this issue. That has been our goal from day one. We are there with all the challenges the member has identified, that have happened and that have been dealt with. We feel that it's important for people in the community to know that we are committed to their safety, to their well-being and to ensure that there is a peaceful resolution to this outstanding --
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you. New question.
Mr. Runciman: To the Acting Premier, again on Caledonia: one of the explicit conditions Mr. McGuinty laid out last Monday for a return to the bargaining table with the Caledonia occupiers was that the First Nations leadership co-operate with police. We know that isn't happening, and I believe it's quite appropriate for one to ask for assurances that your government will not broker any deal with the occupiers until the six wanted individuals, including one charged with the attempted murder of an OPP officer, are turned over to police. Will you give us that assurance?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: The Premier was very clear when he said that in order for negotiations to continue on this very serious issue, the barricades had to come down and there had to be a demonstration that the First Nations people were co-operating --
Mr. Runciman: He said the leadership.
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: Well, the leadership of the First Nations were co-operating with the police. We have heard from the Ontario Provincial Police, who have confirmed that that is in fact has happened at Caledonia, and that is why we have returned to the negotiating table, along with our federal partners. Obviously, the federal participants at this table believe it is appropriate to be there so that we can gain a resolution to this very serious issue.
Mr. Runciman: The regrettable truth is that Mr. McGuinty displayed incredible weakness last week when, on Tuesday, he backed down from explicit conditions for a return to the bargaining table that he set just the day before. Talk about backing yourself into a corner.
You are negotiating with people who are openly obstructing justice by admittedly hiding, or assisting to flee, individuals wanted for very serious crimes, including attempted murder of a police officer. Minister, why would you continue to negotiate with the Caledonia occupiers unless or until they co-operate and hand over the six wanted men?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: You asked this question of this government and this Premier. Are you asking the same questions of the Prime Minister of Canada, who has seen fit to have representatives of the federal government at the same table we are at for the same reasons? We understand why it is so important that we achieve a settlement to this very, very serious issue.
I remind the honourable member that the conditions that were placed by the Premier of Ontario have been met -- the barricades are down; the Ontario Provincial Police have told us. And if I have to choose between taking their word or your word, I'm taking their word. That's why we're at the table.
The Speaker: Final supplementary.
Mr. Runciman: She's taking the word of the spinmeisters in the Premier's office; no one else.
Minister, you've attempted to put a happy face on your land purchase announcement, but the Caledonia occupiers are saying that's not good enough until the 50 million tax dollars and the land title are in their pocket, along with the Burtch property. And given the Premier's lack of intestinal fortitude to this point in time, who knows what else you're offering?
We know that 15 OPP officers have been injured during the occupation, people have been assaulted, a highway and railway span blocked, thousands plunged into darkness through the destruction of a hydro transformer, individuals facing serious criminal charges have been hidden, yet all we hear about are giveaways by the McGuinty Liberal government.
Minister, what are you looking for in return for your generous concessions? What are you bargaining for?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: I would offer the honourable member that the position that has been taken by our Premier has been strong and clear.
I would also offer to the honourable member -- maybe he hasn't read the papers lately -- a quote that has come from Karl Walsh, who is with the Ontario Provincial Police Association. This is what Mr. Walsh has said in terms of how our government has conducted the affairs around this particular incident. He indicates that he appreciates the government's hands-off approach to policing in Caledonia, and says that the opposition should stop playing politics with this standoff. I would suggest that the honourable member should heed the advice of Karl Walsh and stop playing politics with this very important issue. We are working for a resolution.
Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): To the Acting Premier: On Friday, we knocked on doors in the Caledonia subdivision adjacent to the occupied site. Acting Premier, you will know the turmoil and the tension within those families, within that subdivision. People are off work on stress leave; people have blood pressure out of control. I'm reading e-mails from terrified children, children who sometimes can't even go outside during recess. In spite of your government's spin, the barricades are still up, and life is much worse now than it was on February 28. Acting Premier, have any members of your government been to Caledonia to communicate with these forgotten families, or do you hope they will just quietly go away?
Hon. Leona Dombrowsky (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs): First of all, I can say to the honourable member that the Minister of Economic Development and Trade is there as we speak. This also provides me with an opportunity to say to the people in the community that we certainly appreciate that there have been challenges in the last weeks. To that end, our government has worked to establish the community liaison table. David Peterson had a hand in leading the establishment of that table. Now, at that table, are municipal representatives, business representatives, as well as the local member, Dave Levac. It is their responsibility to be that finger on the pulse of the community, to determine what their issues are, what their needs are, and bring recommendations forward on how they might be addressed.
Our government is very happy about the good work that is being undertaken by the community liaison committee, and we do look forward to hearing from them and understanding what we might do to continue to support those in the community.
Mr. Barrett: Acting Premier, in addition to knocking on maybe 300 doors on Friday, I attended a large neighbourhood meeting in that subdivision. As at the door, people are asking questions about renewing their mortgages, the value of their homes, and the title on their property.
We know that your government has tried to buy its way out by purchasing the Douglas Creek Estates from the land developers. You have set a precedent. Some homeowners next door to the site are asking me, "Will you please purchase our homes as well?" A precedent has been set, Acting Premier. Is this now an option on the table, to purchase people's homes?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: I think that it is important that we clarify for the record that our government has made investments in the community that we believe will support the businesses and the homeowners in the area. We have committed $500,000 in emergency assistance for the local businesses. We have delivered $50,000 to the local council to help them deal with the phone calls that have been coming into their offices and to assist them with staff for that. We've delivered $50,000 to help develop a marketing and economic recovery plan. Last week we delivered a further $160,000 to the local council to implement that plan. We've provided interim relief to the developer and businesses, and we've also provided a toll-free line.
I would say to the honourable member that the most significant contribution to date has been the establishment of the community liaison table, where there are businesses, members of council and the local member. People of the community know who they are and should go there --
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): New question.
Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): To the Acting Premier: On Friday night, I attended a town hall meeting about the Burtch Correctional Centre and the Six Nations land dispute. The Burtch lands, 385 acres, are south of Brantford. It was expropriated from area farmers by the federal government in 1941 to create a World War II landing field by the Air Services Branch, an RCAF Wireless School flying squadron. My question: Is the Burtch property up for grabs at the land rights negotiating table?
Hon. Leona Dombrowsky (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs): The honourable member would know that for any member of this House -- and by the way, it would be inappropriate to talk about what's up, what's being considered, at any negotiations. These are very, very serious negotiations. You and others on all sides of this House have identified how sensitive they are.
What I am very comfortable saying to the honourable member is that we have federal representatives, provincial representatives and First Nations representatives at the table. These negotiations are under way and moving in a positive direction, and it is our hope that very soon there will be a resolution to this issue in Caledonia.
Mr. Barrett: Acting Premier, there were 150 people at that meeting from area homes, area farmers, and they do want to know; they're in the dark. They want to know, is it on the table or is it not? Did Mr. Petersen offer up Burtch or did he renege on the deal, as they've indicated in the Six Nations press?
Burtch is a very large area, two miles immediately west of the Six Nations territory. If it is handed over, homes and farms on that two-mile strip will be sandwiched between two very large native areas. You've already caved in, I'm told, and allowed Six Nations people on the property to plant soy beans. There are 200 acres of beans that got in.
Acting Premier, how can you now negotiate Burtch -- if you are negotiating Burtch -- if you've already handed over its use?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: Again, the honourable member knows it would be totally inappropriate to talk in this Legislature about anything that's being negotiated. I would also remind the honourable member that when it comes to land claims with First Nations people, the federal government has the lead for that. I would encourage him that the point he's raising here should also be brought to the attention of the federal representative from the area.
I would also say to the honourable member that I am in receipt of the most recent media release from Haldimand county. What these people are saying is, with respect to the announcements that had been made to date, that the expansion of financial assistance for businesses in Caledonia is very welcome. With respect to the financial relief for residents who've been impacted by this situation, the municipality will be releasing details on this program very soon; this is from the municipality. I would encourage the people in your community to continue to be in very close touch with municipal representatives --
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): New question.