The Anishnawbe Business Professional Association and the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce partnered to host a Candidates’ Forum for the Thunder Bay-Attiokan riding.

THUNDER BAY – This year, Ontario provincial elections seem slightly to the left regarding open forums and debates as of late. The party member to the right of the political spectrum continuously decline to take their platforms to a public forum where party candidates can openly discuss ideas on health, transportation, Indigenous rights, economics, and education with their political rivals.

PC candidate Kevin Holland, Ontario Party’s Dan Criger, New Blue’s David Tommasini, and Northern Ontario Party’s Kenneth Jones were absent from the forum.

Not wanting to participate in these forums or debates isn’t entirely known. Still, it does raise some questions about how candidates view some of the more troubling issues affecting the Northwest region.

In the discussion forum, incumbent candidate NDP Judith Monteith-Farrell, Rob Barrett of the Ontario Liberal Party, and Ontario Green Party candidate Eric Arner, who couldn’t physically be in the Synergy North boardroom, but participated via Zoom, expressed growing concerns about the lack of representation for the North in Queen’s Park when it comes treaty rights, health care, and critical mineral mining.  

Treaty Acknowledgements

When it comes down to honouring our Indigenous partners, with whom we share land agreements, the Ontario Green, the Ontario Liberals, and the NDP view treaty right in that same way. Canada’s treaties with the First Nations are a product of colonialism.

In 2019, British Columbia became the first province to develop legislation around the United Nation’s declaration of rights to Indigenous people.

Last year, the government of Canada put forth Bill-C15, which also acknowledges Indigenous content rights to develop economic projects.

However, Ontario hasn’t defined any legislation around consultation rights with Indigenous people before beginning construction on economic development on shared land.

All three-party candidates address this issue the same. To commit to reconciliation, Ontario’s government parties must honour the treaty rights of Indigenous Peoples; otherwise, reconciliation cannot be achieved.

“It’s been a great regret. We have put forward as a party in the past four years to try to get the Conservative government to address those issues,” Monteith-Farrell begins. “As a party, we made that commitment to First Nation leaders across the province to say that this needs to be ingrained into every aspect of interaction in this province. When we don’t do that, it’s a failure. Ontario is a signatory treaty partner, and it’s so important that we live up to that obligation.”

Arner explains, “We know that we have to have consultation and partnerships that are mutually beneficial with First Nations communities and all of the remote communities. The way you do that is with consultation, not as an afterthought we have seen from other governments.”   

“Going well beyond C-15 in terms of making reconciliation a huge priority. Unlearning the thing we have were taught is so important to us. We want to make it part of our curriculum, so our children don’t get misled with the truth and the atrocities that we have perpetrated in a country against Indigenous peoples,” acknowledged Barrett. 

Barrett also adds that the Liberal wants to make a statutory holiday in honour of Truth and Reconciliation, have a Minister focused on Reconciliation, and invest 25 million in indigenous small businesses.

Health Care

Health care in the north is in a state of stagnation.

The lack of adequate wages for personal support workers and nurses, a lack of mental health care facilities and doctors, the lack of equipment, the lack of addiction and detox centres, and the lack of specialists all contribute to long hospital wait-time and services.

Across the left, these three parties address health care in the north as a crisis. A crisis that can be easily solved with more representation and strategic planning.

“One of the things we want to do, as a party, is create awareness and education around that (health care).” Barrett said. “We are prepared to prevent, intervene, and treat opioid addiction and overdose with a 300-million-dollar investment. We want to reduce mental health care wait times. We want to train 3000 mental health and addiction professionals, and we really want to have these mental health professionals deliver care in a culturally appropriate way.”

Monteith-Farrell said, “we are not addressing the social determinants of health. Our mental health supports are similar to the Liberal Party’s, although in our platform we have a commitment to our crisis unit here in Thunder Bay. Eliminating the wait time for youth mental health, but it’s also important that we work together with Indigenous leaders to get solutions that are appropriate care for Thunder Bay, and the region.”  

As a teacher from Atikokan, Arner suggests, “I know from students who come into the city, coming from a remote community, leaving their family, and meeting people that they don’t know, they’ve heard things about Thunder Bay being dangerous for them. And that’s going to be a varied experience as a 13-years-old, and you don’t want to have that experience for people coming into Thunder Bay for surgery or mental health supports.”

Critical Minerals

Critical Minerals have been a huge topic for the PC Party. The PC stands with a firm dedication to critical minerals. Lithium is a crucial element in manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles.

And Northwestern Ontario is rich in Lithium.

Therefore, the next economic boom for the Northwest is the critical mining sector.

Here is when mining gets tricky.

These mines are located on traditional Indigenous land.

“One of the differences between our approach and the Conservative government’s approach is that we will consult and we will have open and meaningful conversations and not push our agenda. It’s about respecting Indigenous communities and the Indigenous people who are thankfully the guardians of so many things in our province, especially the environment,” Barrett acknowledges.

“The critical minerals project is exciting, but it isn’t an environmental plan, and that is what our current Conservative government sees it as. There is very little respect for the process and the environment step that are taken are done in haste or without proper conciliation,” Monteith-Farrell begins. “Consultation is an easy word. What is needed is priory consent. How do you make that happen? Make sure that all the communities have the resources that they need.”     

Arner said, “I think before permits are granted, that’s when we do the consultation. When the idea and the research of when we are going in to look at certain minerals and testing, but before we do the drilling and the testing, we should be consulting. This should be a cooperative project with whichever communities that call that traditional territory their home. It should be an after-the-fact thought. It should be something we start with.”

To watch the entire Provincial Candidates Forum, you can find it on The Chamber of Commerce’s Youtube channel.

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