With election day around the corner, little attention has been paid to First Nations issues in the Ontario election. Indigenous commitments often fall under federal jurisdiction, however Ontario is home to the highest number of drinking water advisories on-reserve in the country, and the massive chromite deposit dubbed the Ring of Fire, which has been compared to the Alberta oil sands and sits under First Nations that stand to reap economic benefits. The current government has also dragged its feet on cleaning up mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon river system, which has poisoned the community of Grassy Narrows for decades, making national headlines.
VICE News surveyed all four parties on their commitments to First Nations issues, including mining royalties, drinking water, the Grassy Narrows clean up and the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care, among other issues. The PCs were the only party that did not respond to the survey, so we looked through their platform and included commitments leader Doug Ford has made in the press.
What does your party propose for revenue sharing of mining royalties between First Nations and the Ontario government? What percentage of the annual mining tax and provincial royalties will you give to First Nations? And how soon will you implement that commitment?
The Liberals have committed $1 billion toward Ring of Fire infrastructure in their 2014 and 2018 budgets, and recently signed a forestry and mining revenue sharing agreement with 32 communities from Grand Council Treaty 3, Wabun Tribal Council and Mushkegowuk Council. Beginning in the fall of 2019, these First Nations will receive 40 percent of annual mining tax and royalties from active mines at the time the agreement was signed, and 45 percent from future mines. The agreements also mean those nations will receive 45 percent of government revenues from forestry stumpage — a fee companies pay to harvest trees on Crown land.
“Ontario is continuing to build meaningful relationships with Indigenous people, and that to me is so important in this campaign,” Karen Kejick, Liberal candidate for Kenora-Rainy River, told VICE News. “An example of reconciliation is the resource revenue sharing agreement that was signed between Ontario and the Liberals and the Treaty 3 Nation.”
The NDP has promised to transfer the province’s share of mining taxes to Ontario’s First Nations. The party also says it will replace the Liberal government’s Far North Act with something else, after consulting with First Nations and industry. And the NDP say they will spend $1 billion “to get the Ring of Fire moving, now.”
The Green Party says it would raise levies and royalties for aggregates, water and mining “to fully recover the costs of monitoring and managing” these resources. It says this strategy would raise $3.1 billion over four years, meaning the revenue sharing with First Nations would total $1.23 billion over the same amount of time.
The PCs say in their platform they will “cut through bureaucratic delays blocking us from developing the Ring of Fire.” Doug Ford has said, “If I have to hop on that bulldozer myself with [PC MPP] Vic [Fedeli] on the other one, we’re going to start building the roads to get to the mining.”
The PCs say they will share revenues from mining, forestry and aggregates with Indigenous communities. The party says revenue resource sharing will cost $30 million per year starting in year two, but does not give a breakdown of who will receive those funds.
The Indigenous water crisis
While providing clean drinking water to First Nations is under federal jurisdiction, provinces are responsible for industrial contamination and source water protection, and the majority of Canada’s First Nation boil water advisories, some decades-long, are located in Ontario. Will your party commit to bringing clean tap water to those communities? What will you do to ensure all First Nations in Ontario have clean tap water? How much money will you commit to the problem, and how soon will you solve it?
The Liberals say they have set up a process with the federal government and First Nations communities “to make sure all three levels of government are using funding in the best way possible to provide clean drinking water.”
The NDP says it will “invest the capital needed to ensure communities have sustainable access to clean water” and “we will send the bill to Ottawa.”
“We’d have to figure that out as we go along, because it’s different in every community,” Toronto Centre NDP candidate Suze Morrison told VICE News when asked how the NDP would solve the crisis. Morrison has mixed Indigenous and settler heritage.
“This is a failure of the federal government that there are still communities that don’t have access to safe drinking water, and so while this is a federal responsibility, Andrea Horwath has wholeheartedly committed to fixing the clean drinking water and sending the bill to Ottawa where it belongs,” Morrison continued. “We’re not interested in waiting around.”
The Green Party says it will work with the federal government and First Nations communities “to create water treatment systems that will end long-term boil water advisories.” The Green Party also says it would “change legislation to make clean drinking water the first priority in all water use decisions.”
None of the three parties committed a specific amount of money to the issue. The PCs do not make any commitments on First Nations drinking water.
For decades, the people of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong Independent Nations have eaten fish contaminated by mercury dumped by the Dryden Paper Mill upstream from their communities. This has resulted in birth defects, neurological issues and learning disabilities for many in these communities. Despite previous claims from the Liberal government that mercury levels would naturally drop over time, mercury levels remain high and there is mounting evidence that there is an ongoing cause of mercury contamination upstream. Scientists have proposed options including introducing clay into the river sediment. What will your party do to clean up the river and treat those suffering from mercury poisoning? How much money will you commit to the problem, and how soon will you solve it?
In a fall 2017 economic statement, the Liberals committed $85 million to clean up the English-Wabigoon river system. However, that money was only allocated after Grassy Narrows pointed out the government had neglected to allocate money for the cleanup in its budget.
The NDP says it will clean up the river system and fund a dedicated mercury treatment centre, although the party doesn’t say how much it will spend on each. The NDP says it will commit another $12 million toward retroactive mercury poisoning payments, and the party says it will implement the recommendations from the community’s latest health study. Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle has endorsed the NDP.
The Green Party has committed to cleaning up both the industrial site, the paper mill that was the source of the mercury contamination, and the river system. It too has committed to building a mercury health centre.
PC leader Doug Ford has said if he wins, his government would “work as quickly as we can to clean up the contamination” in the river system.
Indigenous children are vastly over-represented in the provincial child welfare system. Thirty percent of Ontario’s foster children are Indigenous, but they make up only 4.1 percent of the province’s child population, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Indigenous children are admitted into care at a rate 2.6 times higher than their proportion in the child population. Critics have blamed the foster care system for contributing to the loss of language and culture in Indigenous communities. How will you address this? How much money will you commit to the problem, and how soon will you solve it?
The Liberals say they have developed a strategy with Indigenous partners that’s now being implemented, called the Ontario Indigenous Child and Youth strategy. The party says it wants to put “kids at the centre of decision-making.” In its 2018 budget, the government committed $40 million over three years to support culturally relevant child care on reserve, $290 million over an undisclosed number of years to double the number of child care spaces on reserve, and $70 million over two years for off-reserve projects for Indigenous children and families.
The NDP says it will give children in Ontario’s child welfare system “the right to contribute to decisions … about their future.” The party promises to expand the investigative powers of the Provincial Advocate’s Office and raise the age of protection for children. It vows to do this while ensuring “culturally appropriate care of children in need.” But the party does not commit specific funds toward Indigenous children in provincial care.
The Green Party says it will reform child welfare programs “to address the over-representation of Indigenous and Black youth” in care, but does not explain how it would reform these programs.
The PCs have not made any specific commitments to Indigenous children in care.
Police forces in remote First Nations are underfunded and face staff shortages. It can take hours for backup to arrive by plane, and some officers report they have to respond to dangerous calls alone. What will your government do to improve culturally-appropriate policing in First Nations communities? How much money will you commit to the problem and how soon will you solve it?
The Liberals say they are investing in First Nations police services and programs that “will help reduce incarceration rates and increase access to justice for Indigenous people” but didn’t say how much they had invested. The government passed the new Police Services Act in March, which allows First Nations to opt into the provincial policing framework by creating First Nation Police Service Boards.
The NDP says it will “work with First Nations to draft stand-alone legislation for First Nations Police Services, if desired,” and will commit $30 million annually to policing on reserve.
The Green Party supports the Anti-Racism Directorate, which allows the incorporation of an anti-racism perspective in government policy. It says it would implement the recommendations of the Tulloch Report, which would improve transparency and accountability of civilian police oversight bodies.
The Greens also say they will “introduce mandatory de-escalation training in the police force” to ensure officers “use proper techniques for engaging with people who may be suffering from mental health and addictions” — but the party doesn’t clearly state how it would implement these measures in First Nations police forces.
The PCs say they will “fix Bill 175,” the Police Services Act, “and treat our police with respect” — but offers no funding commitment and no further details on what exactly will be fixed.
Youth mental health
According to Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which oversees 49 northern First Nations in Ontario, there have been nearly 600 suicides in these communities since 1986. More than 200 of those were suicides by young people between the ages of 15 and 20. What will your party do to address the high rates of suicide in northern First Nations? How much money will you commit to the problem? How soon will you solve the issue?
The Liberals again referred to their Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy. The Liberals commits $80 million over four years to expand mental health care for Indigenous youth. They also say their plan increases funding for the Indigenous Supportive Housing Program but doesn’t say how much the increase is. They say the best way to reduce Indigenous youth suicide is through “culturally appropriate prevention and intervention services and mental health supports.”
The NDP says it will create a dedicated Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to deliver services “close to home, consistently, and comprehensively across the province.” The party says it will also hire 2,200 new mental health care workers, but it’s not clear how those two commitments will directly affect northern First Nations.
The NDP promises to continue the Liberal investment in the First Nations Health Action plan but will increase the commitment to $209 million per year. The party says this added funding will help them recruit and keep health care workers in northern communities, expand primary care teams “that include traditional healing” and expand youth programs, crisis support, trauma response teams and suicide-prevention training.
The NDP says it will adhere to Jordan’s Principle in all health matters: “We will not allow jurisdictional disputes between the federal and provincial governments to stand in the way of action and keep people from the care they need.”
The Greens say they will make mental health services part of OHIP+, and will invest a total of $19 billion in mental health and addictions services over four years.
“We also know that we need to provide more community-level health care in the north, which are currently underserved,” the Green Party says. “We are looking to expand the number of Nurse Practitioner-led clinics, community care centres and Indigenous health access centres in order to get people the services and support they need before a mental health problem turns into a crisis.”
The Green Party says it supports creating an umbrella organization Mental Health and Addictions Ontario within the Ministry of Health to ensure that a single body is responsible for mental health and addictions.
The PCs say they will invest $3.8 billion in mental health, addictions and housing supports over 10 years, however they do not say how this will affect First Nations.
Cover image: Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath confers with Chief Rudy Turtle on the Grassy Narrows First Nation reserve in northwestern Ontario on Friday, May 18, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel)