TORONTO, March 9 /CNW/ - Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse today responded with disappointment to the Ontario government's "Open Ontario" Throne Speech describing it as a five year plan without a genuine commitment to work with First Nations on issues beyond consultation and economic development.
"The Speech made a general statement about promoting economic development and consultation with Aboriginal people - this statement fails to commit Ontario to act. Simply claiming that you will promote an idea is not a commitment to act," said Chief Toulouse.
Chief Toulouse expressed concern that the momentum gained following the 2007 release of the Ipperwash Report has been lost. "It appears that our relationship with the Ontario government has become stagnant or worse, may actually have gone backwards," stated Chief Toulouse. "We need to take a hard look at what has actually been accomplished since the release of the Ipperwash Inquiry Final Report almost three years ago. The government called the Ipperwash Report a positive road map for progress. But progress is not measured by process, announcements or empty words - it is measured by results," said Chief Toulouse. Chief Toulouse expressed frustration with the inability or unwillingness of the government of Ontario to take concrete steps to establish a real government to government relationship with First Nations especially on matters related to consultation and jurisdiction. He indicated that the government of Ontario unilaterally developed consultation guidelines in 2006 which were unanimously rejected by First Nations in Ontario. Furthermore, the overall 2005 Government of Ontario Policy on Aboriginal Peoples entitled "Ontario's New Approach to Aboriginal Affairs" is old. These remain in place with no plan to reconcile First Nations and Government of Ontario government to government relations. The Chief pointed to these as examples of where there has been no substantive progress. "How First Nations are consulted and accommodated is integral to our relationship with government and industry as is the issue of the mutual recognition and respect for inter-governmental relations. It should not be surprising to anyone if we continue to see frustration in our communities if these fundamental issues are not addressed," said Chief Toulouse.
The decision to harmonize the provincial retail sales tax with the federal goods and services tax is another contentious issue between First Nations and government that also remains unaddressed. "Once again both levels of government failed to consult with First Nations prior to this decision. The frustration that this decision has resulted in could have been avoided," stated the Chief. Chief Toulouse indicated that Ontario publicly committed in the 2007 Throne Speech to work with First Nations "with respect and collaboration to improve the quality of life and expand economic opportunities for Aboriginal peoples" but we are yet to see significant progress toward this stated goal.
Some positive progress was made when the Mining Act was amended but it remains a work in progress and does not seem to have impacted practice on the ground. The Chief pointed out that the government was under significant pressure to act in amending the Mining Act due in part to disputes like the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug and Platinex issue but now that things have settled somewhat it appears that the old way of doing business is creeping back into practice on the ground. "The current dispute involving the development in the Ring of Fire demonstrates that First Nations interests are still not being properly dealt with. The right words are being said but where is the evidence and commitment to doing things differently?" stated Chief Toulouse.
Chief Toulouse said the way forward to achieving real progress requires a true collaboration, built on respect, between the Government of Ontario and First Nations governments. This collaboration must reflect the government to government relationship backed up by a clear plan that includes commitments for action with measurable outcomes.
SOURCE Chiefs of Ontario
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