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February 27, 2013 - Vol 2 No. 25

March 4 Day of Action

Health Care Is a Right! All Out to Oppose Health Care Cuts and Privatization!


March 4 Day of Action
Health Care Is a Right! All Out to Oppose Health Care Cuts and Privatization!

New Liberal Government's Speech from the Throne
Government Lays Out an Anti-Social Framework - Dan Cerri
A New Direction Is Required - Enver Villamizar
Attack on Workers' Rights Continues - Jim Nugent
Liberal Illusions About Poverty Reduction - Pritilata Waddedar

Update on Secondary Teachers' Negotiations
Union's Attempt to End the Impasse - Mira Katz

Hearings into Infrastructure Construction for Ring of Fire
Neskantaga First Nation Denied Standing on Its Own Territory - Philip Fernandez

March 4 Day of Action

Health Care Is a Right! All Out to Oppose Health Care Cuts and Privatization!

Ontario Political Forum encourages everyone to go all-out to participate in the March 4 Day of Action called by the Ontario Health Coalition. The action has been called to oppose the ongoing cuts and privatization of health care being disguised as "transformation" or "reform" by the government of Ontario.

The Coalition states: "All across Ontario hundreds of hospital beds are being closed down, patients are lined up on stretchers in hallways, local services are being cut and moved out of town, outpatient clinics are being privatized and home care and nursing home placements are severely rationed forcing many to wait a long time, pay for private care or go without. It doesn't have to be this way. Together, we can save our services by fighting back against the cutbacks. On March 4, communities across Ontario will hold a Day of Action to stand up against the cuts and to show support for their local hospitals and health care services."

At a press conference on February 25 the Coalition further elaborated the reason for the Day of Action:  "The Ontario government's austerity budget is causing unprecedented cuts to and privatization of hospital and health care services. The Ontario government is curtailing health spending by more than $3 billion, most of which will be shouldered by hospitals and OHIP. Ontario already funds its hospitals at the lowest rate per person of any province in Canada."

Government is duty-bound to affirm the right of all Ontarians to health care, and the economy must be organized to make this right a reality. Government is also duty-bound to invest in health care as a means to build a healthy, vibrant economy. Cuts and privatization disguised as "transformation" and "reform" are unacceptable.

Health Care Is a Right!

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New Liberal Government's Speech from the Throne

Government Lays Out an Anti-Social Framework

The Speech from the Throne was delivered by Lieutenant Governor David Onley on February 19, on behalf of the Liberal minority government led by newly selected Premier Kathleen Wynne. The Speech lays out the agenda of the government for this session of the Ontario Legislature.

The framework for the government's "balanced" agenda is presented in the introductory section that includes the following:

"Your government will balance its books -- it will also challenge the people of Ontario to help the province innovate and grow. And yes, your government will strive for economic prosperity -- it will also encourage a fair society, where all the people of Ontario have good jobs and strong communities. And where each and every one of us is safe, and healthy and cared for. Your government will create a better process to ensure that all its partners, including those within the public sector, are treated with respect."

Wynne's "new" government does everything it can in the Throne Speech to continue the previous McGuinty government's fraudulent attempt to convince people that it can "balance" the demands of the rich for more austerity and payouts from the public purse with those of the workers and people for the affirmation of their rights. The sections of the Speech which embody this attempt are: "A Steady Hand and a Bold Vision"; "A New Sense of Community"; "A Fair Society" and "The Way Forward."

"A Steady Hand and a Bold Vision" commits the use of public revenue in various ways to "create jobs" or "grow the economy." This is the same direction that permitted billions in public funds to be given away to private interests during the economic crisis that has now created the "crisis" of the looming debt and deficit. In particular, this section lays out ways the government will continue to pay private interests through the treasury or tax system. It points out:

"Your government looks to strengthen the earning potential of all men and women of this province...and enable everyone to have a good job and a secure paycheque." It refers to the following as ways it will do this:

"- work with educational institutions and employers to establish opportunities for young people to enhance their skills; find placements, internships and co-op programs; and gain valuable, real world experience

"- explore an increase in the Employer Health Tax exemption threshold

"- work with financial institutions and government agencies to ensure that small- and medium-sized enterprises have access to the capital they need to expand

"- contribute $50 million to a new $300-million venture capital fund in partnership with its federal counterparts and the private sector

"- capitalize on its trade corridors, expanding them and making them attractive to global markets

"- facilitate the smooth transfer of goods through important hubs like Windsor, across the Detroit River International Crossing, and it will lead trade missions to our valuable partners abroad."[1]

A second aspect of "A Steady Hand and Bold Vision" refers to collective bargaining and interest arbitration having to take place within the framework of the government's "fiscal responsibility." It says the government will sit down with its partners in the public sector and be "respectful of collective bargaining and a fair and transparent arbitration process" -- all within the constraints of the "indisputable economic realities of our time."

This is the same thing the Liberals and PCs have been saying for some time, especially since the recent attack on teachers and education workers and the entire public service. Both insist that collective bargaining and other arrangements such as interest arbitration must take place squarely within the framework of accepting the "fiscal realities," which means the theft of billions from social programs to pay the moneylenders. This shows that this session, like the last, will push forward new arrangements that will try to force workers to accept the government's fiscal parameters as the starting point for negotiations or face imposed non-agreements mediated by the Labour Board or other institutions, with the final say going to the government.

"A New Sense of Community"

This section starts with an emphasis on "relationships" between individuals, communities and the society and people's need to connect with one another, but then tries to link this to the demand of the monopolies for infrastructure and "productivity" in the economy.

The Throne Speech says the government:

"[...] will address the need for improvements to rural roads and bridges, suburban transit, and a solution to the gridlock that threatens to cripple the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area."

"It will address the special transportation needs of Ontario's North and endeavour to improve vital access to the Ring of Fire, and improve the flow of people and goods along our trade corridors to the United States."

The importance of new infrastructure projects to develop the Ring of Fire is significant as the mining monopolies are salivating over the prospect of getting their hands on the massive chromite deposits in Ontario's north.[2] The problem Wynne has been selected to deal with is that this infrastructure and the Ring of Fire itself is on First Nations' land and they have the right to be meaningfully consulted and to withdraw their consent -- i.e., to say No!

The Speech goes on: "The new government is confident that the people of Ontario are willing to participate in a practical discussion of these costs if they can be guaranteed measurable results." This is code for a shifting of the tax burden onto individuals to pay for this new infrastructure.[3]

"A Fair Society"

This section focuses on the government's plan for transforming social programs, in particular the question of social assistance reform. For people on social assistance, it says: "To ensure that the challenging path they must navigate to free themselves from social assistance is not made unduly difficult, your government will enable them to keep more of what they earn through their hard work." The Liberals have already demonstrated that "reforms" to social assistance are really ways to cut funding to the system.[4]

This section similarly refers to the transformation of health care without speaking of providing human needs with a guarantee. The government is cutting much needed resources from the health care system and forcing hospitals to implement these cuts, as well as forcing privatization of services.[5]

In the area of education, the Speech refers to the extension of full-day kindergarten and child care. This is suspect as Ontarians have been waiting for some time for the full roll-out of full-day kindergarten for all kindergarten-aged children, but it has not yet come into being. Meanwhile, municipalities have used the implementation of full-day kindergarten to eliminate the child care services that they provided, resulting in fewer spots for children and the introduction of private child care monopolies.[6]

"The Way Forward"

Moving Ontario Forward was the theme of the McGuinty government's 2011 Throne Speech. This is used to demand that the Legislature "act together as one" and that opposition parties fall in line with the austerity agenda and put aside their partisan interests to ensure that the government is able to faithfully deliver on paying the debt and deficit. Wynne's government takes up this theme, referring to MPPs and parties in the Legislature working together to represent their constituents and putting aside their partisan politics.

Overall, the Throne Speech reveals that the Wynne government is trying to present its agenda in a manner that will get the working class and people to believe their interests will be served by just accepting the austerity agenda as the framework for all decisions. The problem is that this pay-the-rich agenda is exacerbating all the economic and social problems facing the province. The claim that continuing to attack workers' wages and working conditions, privatizing public services and handing over money to the monopolies will somehow turn things around clashes with the conditions faced by Ontarians in their day to day lives. This is why this session of the Legislature will only deepen the crisis of credibility and legitimacy in which the government is mired.


1. This refers to the massive Windsor-Detroit Bridge project which involves $2.5 billion in public funds from both the Federal and Ontario governments handed over to private interests to build and manage the bridge, including a $550 million payment by Canadian governments for the U.S. portion of the bridge.
2.TML Weekly, No. 116, November 26, 2011
3. Ibid
4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. Ontario Political Forum, Vol. 2 No. 16 December 5, 2011

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A New Direction Is Required

Following the February 19 Throne Speech, there is an attempt by those who are served by the pay-the-rich direction for Ontario to present austerity as the only way forward. They claim the Throne Speech did not go far enough in this regard, but that it is just a matter of time before this new government realizes the folly of its ways.

The problem is that governments require the consent of the governed. This government does not have anything close to the consent of the people to implement its illegitimate agenda. Its actions will only continue to deepen the crisis of legitimacy in which the political system is mired.

What is most important is that the working class stick to its demands and affirm that it has a right to decide the direction of Ontario by virtue of the role it plays in producing all the wealth. It cannot be complacent about the attempts to depoliticize the situation and keep it as a sideline observer. It is unacceptable that the government abscond with more added-value that it controls and hand it over to private interests. No one has given their consent to this agenda which exacerbates the crisis in which the economic system is mired. A new direction based on a new agenda is required. This new direction is being established by the working class itself through its acts of organized resistance against the bogus austerity agenda.

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Attack on Workers' Rights Continues

The workers' opposition views the Throne Speech on the opening of the new session of the Legislature with the contempt it deserves. It is an obvious attempt by the new Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne to wiggle out of the Liberals' crisis of legitimacy with phony sunshine promises and a smile. While the Throne Speech is full of nice words about "fairness" and "respect" for workers, there is nothing of substance in it to indicate the Liberals will abandon championing the austerity agenda of the rich and using all the power in their hands for imposing austerity measures on working people.

In the first section of the Throne Speech on public sector labour relations, the Wynne government declares it is time to "turn a page of history." Workers should forget about the two years of attacks the Liberals and PCs have been carrying out on public sector workers with job cuts, wage cuts, imposed contracts and blackmail and let the Liberals make a fresh start. But this fresh start would be based on the same approach as McGuinty that involves overthrowing the old system of contract negotiations and third party interest arbitration and replacing it with a new model of labour relations which is even more anti-worker and anti-social.

One part of the Speech says the government "[w]ill create a better process to ensure that all its partners, including those within the public sector, are treated with respect." Later the Speech says, "Your government will sit down with its partners across all sectors to build a sustainable model for wage negotiation, respectful of both collective bargaining and a fair and transparent interest arbitration process, so that the brightness of our shared future is not clouded by the indisputable economic realities of our time."

These phrases "create a better process" and "build a sustainable model" show that like McGuinty, Wynne also considers that the old model of labour relations and interest arbitration are broken. The old forms of labour relations are "unsustainable" in the economic realities of our time and need to be replaced with a new form.

The new model in labour relations, used to create Bill 115 and the draft Protecting Public Services Act, is to confine collective agreement negotiations in the public sector within austerity parameters dictated by government ministers. If the agreements reached between workers and public sector employers do not stay within the parameters, government ministers could either veto agreements or dictate their terms.

Wynne says she will ditch the old, unsustainable model in public sector wage negotiations and arbitration and build a new one that takes economic realities into account. What else can this mean than following McGuinty and Hudak's way? There is no magical labour relations model just waiting to be invoked by a government that advertises itself as fair and respectful. Either workers' right to a say in deciding their wages and working conditions is affirmed, or it is not. Either the government can dictate "indisputable" parameters and impose contracts, or they can't. There is no third way.

Although the Throne Speech is loaded with political spin and a lot of nice words for consumption by the majority of the electorate, it also contains a direct message for the privileged minority, the true constituency of the Liberals. The Wynne government promised the rich: "Your government expects the talent and tenacity of its public servants to help propel this province to greatness. It will not over-promise, nor will it be bowed into submission. It will be respectful and direct, honest and decisive."

"...[N]or will the government be bowed into submission" are not nice, respectful words but words of struggle, confrontation and power. What are these words other than a proclamation by the Wynne government of its intention to use all of the power in its hands to impose austerity? In public sector labour relations and in everything else, the Throne Speech pledges the Wynne government to the anti-worker, anti-social austerity agenda of the rich. This is why its agenda will be opposed.

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Liberal Illusions About Poverty Reduction

An objective of the Wynne government's Throne Speech was to reconstruct the illusion that the Liberal Party is a party of "fairness" and "balance" despite having brutally imposed austerity measures since the last budget. One of the ways the Speech tries to do this is by reviving claptrap about what the government touts as its poverty reduction strategy.

In a section of the Speech subtitled, "A Fair Society" the government said it would implement some of the recommendations of the recently released report of the Social Assistance Review (SAR) Commission. The only recommendation the Speech specifically committed to was the SAR Commission recommendation for reducing the clawback of social assistance benefits when recipients earn income from working. There were also hints that the government would implement recommendations of the Commission for reorganizing the system of benefits for disabled people.

The government's claim that the SAR Commission and its other poverty reduction initiatives are aimed at creating a fair society and at empowering the poor is another Liberal fraud. Empowering the poor would mean affirming the right of all people to a dignified and secure livelihood, even if they are unable to work or unable to find work, which neither the Liberals nor any of the parties representing the rich minority will do. These parties recognize only the demand of the rich that austerity be applied to all public services and social programs. Even programs for society's most vulnerable must be drained of funding to make more government revenue available for pay-the-rich schemes.

The Liberal government is using the same deceptive approach to social assistance cuts as it is using in its cuts to health care: reorganization to enable deep short-term and long-term cuts disguised as reforms for the positive transformation of the systems.

The transformation in social assistance was stepped up with the appointment of the Social Assistance Review Commission at the end of 2010, headed by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh. Lankin and Sheikh were seen by some as appointees with strong progressive and professional credentials, but in any case, their credentials were irrelevant since the mandate of the SAR Commission was to help implement the government's austerity agenda. The mandate was to reform the social assistance system in ways that would make it more "sustainable," that is, would reduce government expenditures. It may be that the social assistance program needs renovation on the basis of affirming the rights of all to fully participate in society, but that is not the kind of transformation that is underway.

The SAR Commission was directed to recommend ways of implementing the Liberal government's poverty reduction strategy, which had already defined the social assistance problem and the solution in a way that serves the austerity agenda of the rich. The government said that when so many workers are low-paid and have no supplementary benefits, this causes an increase in the number of people who don't want to work and who apply to social assistance for living allowances and supplementary benefits. The Liberal solution is to keep social assistance rates far below minimum wage levels, to strip social assistance of supplementary benefits, to ration the supplementary benefits out among both the working poor and those on social assistance and to impose stricter job search policing on social assistance recipients.

These definitions and solutions are at the heart of the recommendations the SAR Commission came up with. They were even extended to those people who are unable to work and who receive social assistance under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The SAR Commission recommendations put those unable to work clearly in the sights of the government's austerity agenda. But, of course, stripping benefits from those on ODSP has to be carefully couched in reformist language like "empowering the disabled."

Everything about the way the Liberals are dressing up their plans for cutting the funding of social assistance turns truth on its head. The problem of poverty and the need for social assistance arise because of the lack of jobs in the economy, not from the lack of incentive to work or lack of job search policing for social assistance recipients.

There are half a million more workers than jobs in Ontario. How will job search programs and policing solve this problem? How will the Liberal claptrap help the many employed workers who are in precarious situations with no reserves and who can be easily pushed into social assistance by circumstances? Among these workers in precarious situations are a half million Ontario workers receiving only the minimum wage, hundreds of thousands only able to find part-time jobs, contract and temporary workers, and workers who can't qualify for Employment Insurance under Harper's harsh new EI rules when they are laid off.

Poverty at one time only afflicted a relatively small number of people but with workers and the economy under the pressure of the neo-liberal offensive, there is now mass poverty. Despite their claims about poverty reduction, poverty in Ontario has increased steadily year after year since the Liberals have been in power. The number of people living in poverty is increasing much faster than the population, resulting in an increase in the percentage of people living in poverty from 10.9 per cent of the population in 2003 to 12.3 per cent in 2011. The number of people with family incomes that are at least 50 per cent lower than the median family income has increased by 311,000 under the Liberals' watch and now stands at 1.64 million people. Under the Liberals the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer at a faster rate than ever before.

It is totally shameless for a government to be blaming the problem of poverty on people not wanting to work when that government is not coming anywhere close to fulfilling its basic responsibility for ensuring that there is work for all who are able to work. The government's plan for attacking the most vulnerable in the name of deficit reduction is unacceptable. In a modern society a government must carry out its duty to affirm the right to a dignified, secure livelihood for all, including those who cannot work or who cannot find work.

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Update on Secondary Teachers' Negotiations

Union's Attempt to End the Impasse

February 22, 2013: Teachers and education workers in Kingston continue daily pickets outside their school. (A. Loken)

On February 25, Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) President Ken Coran held a press conference to publicly announce that the union was engaging in talks to establish a process for negotiations with the government. He also announced that as a result of the talks with the government, the union's Provincial Executive and Provincial Council had passed a motion to recommend to members "that we suspend our political actions related to extra-curricular and voluntary activities." The Provincial Council is made up of approximately 150 local leaders, including all bargaining unit presidents, and is OSSTF's decision-making body between Annual Meetings.

During the press conference, Coran outlined how the union's actions since the passing of Bill 115 have had the aim of creating an environment to be able to bargain an acceptable deal.  However, he explained, that the previous government had prevented collective bargaining from taking place at the provincial level by dictating terms without negotiating. Then when it told OSSTF to go the local route for negotiations, the Minister interefered, changing terms that had already been agreed to by union and school board negotiators. Coran explained that the withdrawal of some voluntary and extra-curricular activities was a way to try and create conditions to make it possible for collective bargaining to take place.

He pointed out that the withdrawal of voluntary and extra-curricular activities was not directed at the classroom or students, but was in response to the government's undermining of the bargaining process and the democratic rights of OSSTF members.

He also made it clear that when Bill 115 was invoked and the government imposed working conditions on OSSTF members, that these terms could in no way be considered a collective agreement despite the government's claim that they did constitute a valid labour contract, making strike actions illegal once the terms had been imposed. He re-iterated that they were imposed working conditions, not a collective agreement.

Coran then explained the Executive's view that the new government has now changed the way of doing things from the way the previous government operated.  He explained that the government's team at the negotiating table was now made up of experts in labour relations and others with experience and knowledge of the education sector. He indicated that it was the union's position that this change has made it possible to re-engage in collective bargaining that is fair and respectful, and called on the government to continue in this manner. He stated that OSSTF recognizes the government's fiscal parameters, but that the union had made various proposals that were not listened to for how this could be addressed when negotiations were attempted last year and would continue to put these forward as solutions now.

He explained that talks with the government are now taking place on two tracks. The first track involves central and local bargaining to deal with the situation right now and issues that did not get the attention they should have as a result of the government's dictatorial approach. The second track involves discussions on what collective bargaining will look like in the future. He said he hoped the discussions would continue centrally in the current week and that local bargaining would soon begin as well. The expectation of the union is that any agreements reached centrally will be implemented at the local level. The reference to ensuring implementation means the union's provincial negotiating team wants the government to guarantee that local school boards implement anything that is agreed to centrally, even through imposition if necessary.

With respect to the second track and the development of a new bargaining process for future negotiations, the key again for the union is that the province commit to ensure that any provincially bargained agreements are implemented by local school boards. Coran also pointed out that any new process had to guarantee democratic rights and respect labour relations law. He said that experts in the Ontario Labour Relations Act were working with the government to develop a new process, in consultation with OSSTF.

Throughout the press conference Coran made it clear that despite the recommendation from the union's leadership regarding voluntary and extra-curricular activities, there will be many OSSTF members -- he estimated 60 per cent -- who would likely wait to see concrete results rather than just promises from the government before deciding to resume these activities; that 20 per cent may never go back to doing them after the violation of their rights, and that another 20 per cent would probably immediately resume doing them.

Teachers and education workers held a lively picket line outside Liberal MPP for
Ottawa-Orelans Phil McNeely's office, February 21, 2013.

Who Said What

In a statement following OSSTF's announcement Premier Kathleen Wynne attempted to hide that teachers' and education workers' political protest in withdrawing certain voluntary activities was in response to the government's violation of their right to collective bargaining. She referred to OSSTF's decision in a self-serving manner, making sure to point out that any future negotiations have to be within the government's anti-social "fiscal parameters" established to extract money from social programs to hand over to the rich.

Wynne stated: "I'm happy to hear the results of today's vote by OSSTF members, and I'm so glad that teachers, support staff and students across the province will once again enjoy the extracurricular activities and programs that mean so much to them."

Trying to differentiate her government from the government headed by Dalton McGuinty in which she was a cabinet Minister, Wynne said: "Our government has immense respect for the educators of this province and we recognize the important role they play in our children's lives and in communities across Ontario. Today's news is a great indication of the hard work all parties are putting into the repair of this valued relationship. It shows our willingness to work together, to listen to one another's concerns, and to find common ground on which we can rebuild a foundation of trust and create an effective process going forward."

Wynne did not however affirm that her government will fully restore teachers' and education workers' right to free collective bargaining, up to and including the right to strike. Respect has its limits of course.

She also failed to mention that her government has intervened at the Ontario Labour Relations Board to insist that its imposition of collective non-agreements was legitimate, setting the stage for any collective response of teachers and education workers, such as the withdrawal of voluntary and extra-curricular activities, to be ruled an illegal strike -- something the Labour Board may do against the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario at any point this week.

Finally, it cannot be forgotten that while she talks about respect, her anti-social tag team partner who helped her old government pass Bill 115, PC leader Tim Hudak, has gone a step further. To try and pressure teachers and education workers into submission, he tabled a motion in the Legislature calling for the government to define teachers' job duties. This is a clear attempt to establish further mechanisms to criminalize them for opposing austerity and the violation of their rights.

Wynne concluded her remarks, stating: "I've been clear that this issue needs to be addressed within Ontario's existing fiscal framework. But I am confident that our government's commitment to fairness, consistency and respect in our conversations with OSSTF and all our partners will continue to result in real work being done for the people of Ontario."

Progressive Conservative Education Critic Lisa MacLeod, reportedly remained suspicious that the union was offered incentives such as the weakening of standardized testing. She responded to the announcement by saying, "It's a bit early for Kathleen Wynne to be patting herself on the back; we know there's a number of outstanding issues. What concessions were actually made?"

According to reports, NDP leader Andrea Horwath sympathized with students and families, not teachers and education workers. She responded to the announcement by saying she hoped now the entire school system can return to normal across Ontario but she did not say anything about the necessity to do so by affirming the rights of teachers and education workers. She is quoted as saying: "[The Liberal government] threw our education system into chaos. The people that paid the price for their political gamble were students and families here in Ontario. We warned them from day one that they should sit down at the table and have concrete, thoughtful and respectful conversations." NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) also shied away from making any substantive statement. He called the deal "a very tentative step forward," adding "there's a long way to go before the conflicts in our schools are going to be resolved ... it is very, very fragile."

Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario's Response

Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) received a message from their President, Sam Hammond on February 22, informing them of OSSTF's decision and that ETFO's discussions with the government were also continuing. He said ETFO hoped to be back at the table in the coming week and that discussions with the government had been "positive," adding however that "there must be concrete progress made at the table." He said ETFO would continue with its plan to review its situation with respect to voluntary and extra-curricular activities before March 1. Responding to questions from the media, Hammond stated: "We are going to make our own decisions, based on our own situation with the government, on how we are going to move forward."

(Toronto Star, Blackburn News)

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Hearings into Infrastructure Construction for Ring of Fire

Neskantaga First Nation Denied Standing
on Its Own Territory

As the Wynne government was promising in the Throne Speech to create a "new" and "respectful" relationship with First Nations and a "partnership" in resource development, the Ontario Mining and Lands Commission was trampling on First Nations' rights in a hearing being held a few blocks from Queen's Park.

The Ontario Mining and Lands Commission is an agency of the Ontario government that hears and resolves disputes arising from the Ontario Mining Act. On the day of the Throne Speech, the Mining Commission was holding hearings on a dispute between two mining companies over the construction of transportation infrastructure in the Ring of Fire resource region in the James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario. The Neskantaga First Nation, one of the First Nations in the Ring of Fire region, had requested standing at these hearings but was denied. According to this government agency, the question of roads and railways in the Ring of Fire is none of the business of First Nations, even though the transportation routes and the resources are on First Nations' lands.

The Ring of Fire is located directly in the middle of the region affected by Ontario's Far North Act
(above green line, click image to enlarge).

The disputants are Cliffs Natural Resources and KWG Resources. Cliffs Natural Resources, a large U.S. mining monopoly, has been in backroom negotiations with the Ontario government concerning the Ring of Fire project for years. Cliffs has a commitment from the Liberal government to build a 360-kilometre roadway, subsidized heavily by the people of Ontario, from the Ring of Fire to the town of Nakina. KWG, a junior Canadian mining company with various claims in the Ring of Fire, had previously staked the lands where this proposed roadway is going to be and wants to build a rail link from Nakina to the Ring of Fire instead. Cliffs had requested that the Ontario Mining and Lands Commission give them an "easement" over the lands staked by KWG, so that their road project would have priority.

In the meantime, since early in 2012 the Neskantaga First Nation has opposed both these proposals because they were not been consulted by either of these mining companies and have a stake in the matter. In the face of the refusal of the Mining and Lands Commission to uphold their right to intervene in the case, the Neskantaga First Nation has initiated legal action against the decision of the Mining and Lands Commission to marginalize them. Their legal challenge has been supported by other First Nations in the Ring of Fire region and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief's Office.

For background information on the significance of the Ring of Fire region see TML Daily No. 116, November 16, 2011.

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