Ontario PC leader could promote pro-growth agenda for First Nations
A Toronto Star columnist recently lamented about the apparent lack of policies from Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford on Indigenous affairs.
While Indigenous issues are federal responsibilities, the provincial government can do a lot to advance the First Nations of Ontario, which often lack hope because of continued poverty and government dependency in their communities.
These communities also lack meaningful employment and economic activity, and band governments lack revenue to meet their needs. For example, resource development can provide tremendous hope for First Nations including those isolated communities up north that experience the worst of the suicide epidemics. Ontario’s Liberal government pledged in 2014 to fund roads and other necessary infrastructure (to the tune of $1 billion) for the Ring of Fire, a large planned chromite mining and smelting development project in northwestern Ontario. Despite many discussions, the project that could revolutionize many Indigenous economies has stalled and these roads remain only an idea.
Part of the delay relates to the provincial government’s long-running “modernization” of the Ontario Mining Act and its guidelines for consultation with Indigenous communities. Despite a decent ranking on the Fraser Institute’s Annual Survey of Mining Companies, Ontario continues to deal with disputed land claims and consultation issues for the Ring of Fire and other mining projects in Ontario.
As Ontario PC leader, Ford could unveil an ambitious promise to expedite a mining reform process, and commit to building the road network and infrastructure by a specific deadline. Ford could also clearly state that, if elected, his government would not interpret federal signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to mean First Nations have veto power over development. That should reassure reluctant investors.
Ford could also assure Indigenous communities in Ontario that they will have a role in the cannabis trade when it’s legalized. According to one media account, the Parliamentary Budget Office projects about $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion in annual retail sales in Ontario. Willing First Nations should be given priority access to that trade, given their needs.
Many First Nations in Ontario, especially among the Six Nations, have experienced police raids on their marijuana dispensaries. There is potential for conflict and violence over the coming cannabis economy on reserves, like we’ve seen with the tobacco trade. The Ontario government should get ahead of this and defuse potential conflicts.
Ford could run on a platform of ratifying mutually-beneficial agreements with First Nations communities to regulate the sale and distribution of marijuana products on reserves. A new government could also work on reasonable tax-sharing with First Nations.
Lastly, Ford could pledge, if elected, to pressure Ottawa to resume enforcing the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. This needed level of transparency helps both band residents and business partners develop confidence in First Nation governments.
Doug Ford can certainly do more on the Indigenous front. And if he’s interested in helping improve the situation among First Nations in Ontario, he should unveil an ambitious pro-growth agenda for these communities soon.