First Nation Chiefs put their concerns to PC candidate Doug Ford during a YOUTUBE meeting Thursday May 26. Ford seeking to be re-elected as Ontario’s premier.
By Sam Laskaris
Chiefs from across the province had an opportunity on Thursday morning to raise some of their local concerns with Doug Ford, who is seeking to be re-elected as Ontario’s premier in the June 2 election.
The Chiefs of Ontario hosted an hour-long meeting with the Progressive Conservative party leader, which was broadcast on YouTube.
During the early portions of the meeting Ford shared some of the initiatives his government is undertaking to assist Indigenous peoples in the province.
He then heard from various Chiefs who posed questions and some concerns they have.
“I’ll be the first to admit I may not have all the answers,” Ford said. “I know I’ve said this before. I’m not an expert but with what I’ve learned from First Nations communities since I’ve been in office is amazing. And I want to continue to learn off each and every one of you.”
Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins asked Ford whether his government should have a written targeted number, suggesting 10 per cent, when it comes to Indigenous inclusion on multi-million-dollar procurement deals.
“I’m a big, big believer that everyone should get a piece of the prosperity share,” Ford said.
Later in the meeting, however, Jason Henry, the Chief of Kettle and Stony Point in southwestern Ontario, expressed his concern in an announcement this past March of a coming $4.9 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Windsor.
“It was an absolute void of Indigenous inclusion on that project,” Henry said. “Being the treaty holders locally here we would have loved to have been, and still would love to be part of that.”
Henry said local First Nations not only are hoping to be part of procurement deals with the project. He’d also like to see Indigenous communities become equity owners in the project to help them reach not just economic sustainability but economic sovereignty as well.
“I know certainly in my First Nation, as well as others, they are poised and ready and willing to work together on seeing these projects through and being major, major players,” Henry said.
While attempting to ask a follow-up question to Ford, Collins’ connection went wonky and only muffled sounds could be heard.
That enabled Ford to point out his government plans to invest $4.2 billion for broadband upgrades in the province, which is expected to especially assist many of those who live in Indigenous communities and have poor or zero current connectivity.
“I always say nothing will change peoples’ lives, nothing will – yes the roads are critical, highways are critical, bridges are critical, which we’re doing,” Ford said. “But nothing is going to change the lives of people more than broadband, making sure you have the fastest, greatest broadband connectivity like anyone else.”
Meanwhile, Alderville First Nation Chief Dave Mowat, told Ford how Ontario regulations have been silent while large dumps of excess soil have taken place in his community. Thousands of truckloads, including concrete blocks, bricks and cable, have been dumped in Alderville.
“This is a huge problem,” Mowat said. “There’s also potential for contamination and harm to habitat.”
Mowat is hoping the Ford government, if re-elected, will take a serious look into this issue.
“Chief and council need to be recognized as the sole authority and/or their designated environmental agency on whether or not this can even occur at all in a First Nation,” Mowat said.
Ford promised that if he does indeed win next week’s election that he’ll address Mowat’s concerns.
“It’s just wrong,” Ford said of the dumping that has been occurring in the First Nation.
As for Chief Duke Peltier, of WiikwemkoongUnceded Territory, he was looking for a commitment from Ford to settle the Robinson Huron Treaty annuities case. One day earlier a press release had been issued, in part calling for the settlement of the annuity case as well as finalizing the agreement of further implementation of the treaty.
“I’m committed to getting it done,” Ford said. “I think we’re very close. Without getting into details on the call here, we are going to get it done.”
Peltier also told Ford his First Nation had partnered with a company and has equity ownership with a mask-making facility. Wiikwemkoong has put forth proposals to the Ontario government to purchase their N-95 masks.
“They’re just as good as any of them that have been purchased from China,” Peltier said. “We want to ensure that your government is considering us for acquisition of N-95 masks because we do know that the pandemic has not been declared an endemic yet and we see other strains that are coming into the future.”