Premier’s spokesperson says ministers regularly meet with Chiefs of Ontario leadership council at its request
CBC News: A coalition of First Nations leaders is calling for the Ontario’s housing minister and his chief of staff to step down after the auditor general faulted the government for failing to consult with Indigenous communities before making the controversial decision to open up thousands of hectares of protected Greenbelt land for housing development.
The leadership council of the Chiefs of Ontario, an organization that advocates for 133 First Nations in the province, met on Thursday to discuss its response to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s 95-page report, released last week.
The report found 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 glaringly clear through the auditor general’s report findings that the processes in which these events took place were not transparent or fully informed, nor did they consider the need for consultation with First Nations before taking actions that directly affect First Nations’ inherent, treaty, and constitutionally protected rights,” the Chiefs of Ontario said in a news release obtained by CBC Toronto ahead of its publication 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 have admitted the selection process was flawed, but have refused to make any personnel changes or reverse the plan to build 50,000 homes on the Greenbelt.
Chiefs of Ontario said it decided at Thursday’s meeting to continue working with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing but will cease working with Clark “until an adequate resolution of this issue has been confirmed.”
The groups’ leadership council said it will also be requesting an urgent meeting with Premier Doug Ford and Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford “to rebuild a working relationship with the province” and to discuss their list of demands, which include the immediate resignation of Amato, that Clark to resign or be removed, the return of the lands to the Greenbelt and the repeal of a recently passed housing law, known as Bill 23.
“The [Chiefs of Ontario] looks forward to raising these concerns and demands directly with the premier and his staff to ensure that First Nations voices are heard,” the news release said.
The provincial NDP, Liberals and Green Party leaders have all called for Clark to resign following the report.
‘Set back the clock on reconciliation’: chief
Lysyk said First Nations communities whose traditional territory and treaty rights were affected by the Greenbelt changes told her the province didn’t fulfil its legal “duty to consult” Indigenous peoples when taking actions that may negatively affect their rights.
“Members of First Nations we met with told us that the province does not seem open to discussing the adverse impacts of Greenbelt removals to treaty lands and rights, and that, should development occur on these lands, the removals could have profound impacts on treaty rights, especially in terms of harvesting crops such as wild rice,” Lysyk’s report said.
The majority of the land removed from the Greenbelt is covered by multiple treaties with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the 1923 Williams Treaties, of which seven other First Nations are party, according to Lysyk’s report. Rights under those treaties include harvesting rights in certain areas, such as rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather.
Lysyk found the housing ministry’s consultation with Indigenous groups consisted of the following:
- Sending emails to 12 First Nations chiefs and other Indigenous leaders in November 2022 with links to the 30-day consultation process.
- Inviting First Nations communities to contact a senior ministry employee to discuss or provide feedback or meet with them.
- Having virtual meetings with three First Nations.
- Sending a second email in December 2022 telling the First Nations it had 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 Chiefs of Ontario leadership council, told CBC Toronto that receiving “a couple emails at the end stage” didn’t meet the bar of meaningful consultation.
“The Ford government has a track record of consistently ignoring Indigenous voices and treaty rights,” LaRocca said. “It’s really set back the clock on reconciliation.”
Gimaa (Chief) Stacey Laforme of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation criticized the Ford government for what he called a “goal-oriented ideology” focusing on business and development. “That narrow vision, that tunnel vision is not effective anymore,” Laforme said. “We must always consider the environment whenever we’re making a decision, whether it’s a business decision, whether it’s a housing decision, whether it’s construction.”
But Laforme said while his nation is affiliated with the Chiefs of Ontario, he disagrees with the decision to single out Clark and Amato.
“Just having two people sort of fall on the sword is not the answer,” he said. “They have to look at systems themselves and see where they failed and try to correct those systems.”
Province reiterates need to consult Indigenous communities
Earlier this week, Ford’s chief of staff and the secretary of the cabinet sent a memo to ministers’ chiefs of staff and deputy ministers reminding them to ensure appropriate consultation, including with Indigenous leaders, when developing policy recommendations for cabinet.
A spokesperson for the premier’s office said in an email statement that government has accepted 14 of the 15 recommendations outlined in Lysyk’s report, including the one related to Indigenous consultation, adding it’s creating a working group to implement recommendations.
Caitlin Clark said Ford, Rickford and other ministers regularly meet with the Chiefs of Ontario’s leadership council at its request.
“We will continue to fulfil our commitment to build at least 1.5 million homes in a manner that ensures public trust and confidence in the process, including on our duty to consult with Indigenous communities,” Clark wrote. “Ontario remains committed to fulfilling our section 35 consultation obligations and looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Indigenous partners.”
The Chiefs of Ontario said it will also be launching a formal request to the Ontario Provincial Police and the provincial integrity commissioners undertake investigations.
Ontario’s integrity commissioner is already considering a request from Ford’s government to investigate if Amato broke any ethics rules. That request is in addition to a separate investigation the office is conducting related to the Greenbelt land swaps at the request of NDP Leader Marit Stiles.
Meanwhile, the OPP has said its anti-rackets branch is still reviewing whether or not there’s enough evidence to launch a full investigation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Patrick Jones, Reporter
Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.