This election in Ontario is about a lot of things. Indigenous issues not among them, observers say

Over the past three weeks, Ontario campaign leaders and candidates have addressed a range of issues – including affordability, housing and health care – and made pledges ahead of next month’s vote .

But there has yet to be a substantive conversation about Indigenous peoples and issues, say several current and former political leaders and analysts who spoke to CBC News.

The Chiefs of Ontario hosted a forum in late April for the 133 First Nations chiefs to hear and share their priorities with the four main party leaders (Progressive Conservative Doug Ford had to postpone his meeting until next week).

But since then, Glen Hare, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Ontario, said he had no news from the parties.

“I’m very disappointed. I thought we were going somewhere,” Hare said.

Glen Hare, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Ontario, says he is disappointed with the lack of conversation about Indigenous issues during the Ontario election campaign. (Provided by the Anishinabek Nation)

“As we go along, year after year, it seems to be less and less about First Nations in campaigns.”

There have been no major political announcements regarding Indigenous peoples, and none of the major party leaders have visited an Indigenous community. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had planned a trip to a remote First Nation before it was announced she had tested positive for COVID-19.

During two 90-minute leaders’ debates, the leaders of the PC, NDP, Liberal and Green parties only mentioned Indigenous peoples four times, a stark contrast to the federal leaders’ debate eight months ago in Ottawa, where one of five discussion topics focused on Indigenous peoples, culture and reconciliation.

Statements provided to CBC News by Ontario’s Liberal, PC and NDP parties each said their leaders spoke to Indigenous peoples during the election campaign and listed a number of commitments made in their platforms. The Green Party did not respond to a media request, but its platform includes a number of commitments on Indigenous issues.

Yet Isadore Day, a former Ontario regional chief, said that, as with the 2018 Ontario campaign, Indigenous issues were largely absent from the 2022 conversation.

Isadore Day, a former regional chief in Ontario, says Indigenous issues have been largely absent from the 2022 provincial election campaign and shows “how broken the parliamentary system is when it comes to representing Indigenous issues “. (Radio Canada)

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm or focused effort,” he said, adding that it comes as a surprise given recent media attention on children in residential schools and the search for unmarked graves in the area. various regions of Canada.

The six Indigenous commentators who spoke to CBC News shared a long list of priorities they would like to see addressed this election campaign in Ontario, including housing, mental health, climate change, boil water advisories , economic development and the implementation of the UN Declaration. on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Platforms have ‘huge gaps’ on Indigenous issues

The platforms of the four major parties include a range of commitments to Indigenous communities that touch on these issues to varying degrees.

But even then, the platforms have “huge gaps,” according to Riley Yesno, an Anishinaabe writer and researcher at the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led research center at Metropolitan University of Toronto.

One of the biggest issues, Yesno said, involves mining and the Ring of Fire, a proposed mega-project in the far north that all parties say contains critical minerals needed to build batteries and greener cars.

“They are [all] pledging to create 24/7 access routes to enter the Ring of Fire,” she said.

Riley Yesno, a researcher at the Yellowhead Institute, says her biggest concern about the four major political party platforms is that they all make huge commitments about mining in the Far North without clear First Nations consent. who exclusively occupy the land. (Submitted by Riley Yesno)

“You need prior consent so you can promise you’re going to do something, which they don’t. [have]“said Yesno, adding that there are remote First Nations whose homelands will be affected by development in the region who still oppose it.

Travis Boissoneau, deputy chief of the Anishinabek Nation Grand Regional Council, which represents 39 First Nations in Ontario, said the platforms all had the same promises from previous elections.

“There’s nothing really deep coming out of the parties and their platforms. They mention potentially very good work, but I think we need to work in a more structured way,” Boissoneau said.

Need to focus on longer term priorities

The three levels of government work on different election cycles with sometimes competing priorities, Boissoneau said.

“Without structured, formal, and meaningful processes to speak collectively, I don’t know how we’re supposed to move forward and address the issues that really affect our community.”

He added that the parties had made no commitment to have these longer-term conversations that would help Indigenous communities build their independence.

“We are effectively out of the decision-making process, and so the consequences ultimately hang with the government of the day.”

Travis Boissoneau, deputy chief of the Anishinabek Nation Grand Regional Council, says there must be commitments to more structured dialogue between Indigenous, federal and provincial leaders if real change is to occur. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

John Beaucage, former Chief of the Anishinabek Nation Grand Council, said that over the past four years, there has not been much progress on major issues important to Indigenous communities.

“There hasn’t been much movement in many aspects of First Nations economies, poverty levels, housing, water – the whole gamut.”

Part of the problem is that issues on First Nations reserves are often considered federal jurisdiction, Beaucage said. But many of these issues – like health care, climate and natural resources – require the attention of all levels of government.

“How do we make sure that First Nations are part of the economic benefits, with the mines, with the forests, with the construction of transmission lines, with the generation of electricity and all these things that can help the economy of First Nations and enable First Nations to move from dependency to independence?” said Beaucage.

Some Indigenous issues are being discussed by some local candidates in this election, Beaucage said.

“I was pleasantly surprised last week when the local candidate in my constituency called me on my cell phone and said, ‘I would like to discuss some of the issues I should know about. “”

Debates featuring local candidates and interviews with Northern Ontario media also touched on Indigenous issues.

Low engagement could mean lower participation

The relative “calm” on Indigenous issues could lead to lower voter turnout, worries Tania Cameron, a self-proclaimed First Nations vote advocate living in Kenora.

Historically, First Nations voters have had low voter turnout for a variety of reasons, including lower satisfaction and confidence in the democratic process, barriers to voter registration, and the fact that the Canadian government does not granted the right to vote to “Status Indians” only in 1960, according to a 2019 Elections Canada report.

In the last election, the newly formed Indigenous majority riding of Kiiwetinoong had the second lowest voter turnout in the province. Cameron fears it could happen again.

“If a First Nations citizen is sitting in their home thinking about the issues that matter to me, the issues that would motivate me to get up and go vote at the local community hall, I really don’t see any party taking the vote of First Nations right now,” she said, adding that she hopes that will change in the remaining two weeks of the campaign.

But even after the campaign is over, Yesno said, the party that will form the next provincial government cannot forget the promises it made.

“It’s something I hope people will remember. That their commitment to Indigenous issues cannot end with a vote.”