A coalition of First Nations leaders is calling for Ontario’s housing minister and his chief of staff to resign after the auditor general blamed the government for failing to consult with indigenous communities before making the controversial decision to open up thousands of acres. of protected Greenbelt land. for housing development.
The leadership council of Ontario Chiefs, an organization that advocates for 133 First Nations in the province, met Thursday to discuss its response to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s 95-page report released last week.
The report found that the government’s process for choosing sites to remove from the Greenbelt was influenced by a small group of well-connected developers with access to Housing Minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato.
“It has become abundantly clear through the findings of the auditor general’s report that the processes in which these events occurred were neither transparent nor fully informed, nor did they consider the need to consult with First Nations before taking action that directly affects First Nations. First Nations inherent, treaty and constitutionally protected rights,” the Ontario Chiefs said in a press release obtained by CBC Toronto ahead of publication on Friday.
“The way in which government representatives are evading responsibility and ignoring critical findings within the auditor general’s report is unacceptable.”
Ford and Clark admitted the selection process was flawed, but refused to make any personnel changes or reverse the plan to build 50,000 homes in the Greenbelt.
The Ontario chiefs said at Thursday’s meeting they decided to continue working with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, but will stop working with Clark “until an appropriate resolution of this issue is confirmed.”
The groups’ leadership council said it will also request an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Doug Ford and Indian Affairs Minister Greg Rickford “to rebuild a working relationship with the province” and discuss their list of demands, which include the resignation removal of Amato, Clark resigning or being removed, the return of the land to the Greenbelt, and the repeal of a recently passed housing law, known as Bill 23.
“He [Chiefs of Ontario] looks forward to raising these concerns and demands directly with the Prime Minister and his staff to ensure First Nations voices are heard,” the press release reads.
Provincial leaders of the NDP, the Liberals and the Green Party have called for Clark’s resignation following the report.
‘Turn back the clock on reconciliation’: boss
Lysyk said First Nations communities whose traditional land and treaty rights were affected by the Greenbelt changes told him the province failed in its “legal duty to consult” with indigenous peoples by taking actions that may negatively affect Your rights.
“We were told by First Nations members we met with that the province does not seem open to discussing the adverse impacts of Greenbelt removals on land and treaty rights, and that if development were to occur on these land, removals could have a profound impact on treaty rights, especially in terms of harvesting crops such as wild rice,” Lysyk’s report says.
Most of the land removed from the Greenbelt is covered by multiple treaties with the Credit First Nation Mississaugas and the 1923 Williams Treaties, to which seven other First Nations are party, according to Lysyk’s report. Rights under those treaties include harvesting rights in certain areas, such as the rights to hunt, fish, capture, and gather.
Lysyk found that the Housing Ministry’s consultation with indigenous groups consisted of the following:
- Emailing 12 First Nations chiefs and other indigenous leaders in November 2022 with links to the 30-day consultation process.
- Invite First Nations communities to contact a senior ministry employee to discuss or provide feedback or meet with them.
- Have virtual meetings with three First Nations.
- Send a second email in December 2022 informing First Nations that they have moved forward with the Greenbelt amendment decision.
Chief Kelly LaRocca of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, one of the signatories to the Williams Treaties who spoke at Thursday’s meeting of the Ontario Chiefs leadership council, told CBC Toronto that receiving “a couple of emails in the final stage” not meeting the bar for meaningful consultation.
“The Ford administration has a history of consistently ignoring indigenous voices and treaty rights,” LaRocca said.
“He’s really turned back the clock on reconciliation.”
Gimaa (chief) Stacey Laforme of Mississaugas of Credit First Nation said she criticized the Ford government for what she called a “goal-oriented ideology” focused on business and development.
“That narrow vision, that tunnel vision is no longer effective,” Laforme said.
“We must always take the environment into account whenever we make a decision, whether it’s a business decision, whether it’s a housing decision, whether it’s a construction decision.”
But Laforme said that while his nation is affiliated with the Ontario Chiefs, he disagrees with the decision to single out Clark and Amato.
“Two people falling on the sword is not the answer,” he said. “They have to look at the systems themselves and see where they failed and try to fix those systems.”
Province reiterates need to consult indigenous communities
Earlier this week, Ford’s chief of staff and cabinet secretary sent a memo to ministers’ chiefs of staff and deputy ministers reminding them to ensure proper consultation, including with indigenous leaders, when developing policy recommendations for the cabinet.
A spokesman for the prime minister’s office said in an emailed statement that the government has accepted 14 of the 15 recommendations outlined in Lysyk’s report, including the one related to the indigenous consultation, adding that it is setting up a working group to implement the recommendations.
Caitlin Clark said Ford, Rickford and other ministers meet regularly with the Ontario Chiefs leadership council at its request.
“We will continue to honor our commitment to build at least 1.5 million homes in a manner that ensures public confidence in the process, including our duty to consult with indigenous communities,” Clark wrote.
“Ontario remains committed to meeting our section 35 consultation obligations and looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with indigenous partners.”
Ontario Chiefs said they will also launch a formal request to the Ontario Provincial Police and investigations will be launched by provincial integrity commissioners.
Ontario’s integrity commissioner is already considering a request from the Ford government to investigate whether Amato violated any ethics rules. That request adds to a separate investigation the office is conducting in connection with the Greenbelt land swaps at the request of NDP leader Marit Stiles.
Meanwhile, the OPP has said that its anti-fraud arm is still reviewing whether or not there is enough evidence to launch a full investigation.