Conservative MPs vote against committee Attawapiskat visit

Conservative MPs voted together Tuesday against a motion to bring a committee of federal politicians on a visit to Attawapiskat, a northern Ontario Cree community that has come to embody the dire situation facing many First Nations across the country.

APTN National News
OTTAWA
–Conservative MPs voted together Tuesday against a motion to bring a committee of federal politicians on a visit to Attawapiskat, the northern Ontario Cree community that has come to embody the dire situation facing many First Nations across the country.

The motion was tabled during a meeting of the Commons Aboriginal affairs committee. The Conservatives hold the majority on the committee.

Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency as a result of its housing crisis last fall. Several families were living in tents and shacks with no insulation or running water.

Images of small children living in industrial trailers and in homes with mould flashed across television screens and over social media across the country, turning the issue into a national scandal that put the Harper government on its heels.

The government responded by imposing a third-party manager to take over the band’s finances and ordering 22 modular homes for the community.

Attawapiskat’s band council has since taken the government to Federal court over the third-party manager. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has also been fending off opposition attacks over the slow pace of lot preparation in the community for the new homes.

Greg Rickford, Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal affairs, said the motion to have the committee visit Attawapiskat would distract from the work needed to get things ready for the homes which are slowly making their way up an ice road from Moosonee, Ont.

He also said the committee had a limited budget with other trips planned.

“The opposition parties have taken their political opportunities with regards to this file,” said Rickford. “Their ideas around gotcha politics are their own business.”

Rickford said three homes are arriving in Attawapiskat and with more underway, the focus should be on getting the job done.

“We know we have support from the residents of Attawapiskat and a spirit of cooperation is emerging with the chief and council of Attawapiskat,” said Rickford.

The motion was tabled by Liberal Aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett and supported by the NDP members of the committee.

Bennett said the committee needed the visit to get a clear idea of what is happening.

“We’re getting mixed messages,” said Bennett.

“It’s not a surprise we lost,” said NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Linda Duncan. “It’s pretty predictable.”

Duncan said she spoke with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who said she’d welcome the committee’s visit.

Bennett, however, is trying again and if the committee can’t go to Attawapiskat, she hopes to bring Attawapiskat to the committee.

Bennett gave notice of motion to invite Spence, members of Attawapiskat’s council and third-party manager Jacques Marion, among others, to testify before the committee.

Marion was appointed by the Harper government to take over the band’s finances.

“After the (Jan. 25) Crown-First Nations Gathering what on earth are we doing having third-party managers?” said Bennett.

Duncan said she was supporting Bennett’s proposed motion to get at some of the bigger issues Attawapiskat shares with other First Nations communities.

“I would like to hear from her about what challenges she faces, how she is trying to face those and, in the meantime, trying to run a community that benefits the people there,” she said.

Rickford said he needed to study Bennett’s motion before commenting on whether the Conservatives on the committee would givt it support.

The NDP and Liberal interim leaders have visited Attawapiskat. The Conservatives have yet to make the trip.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.