A First Nations leader says the Ford government is asking for trouble if it continues to push ahead with plans to sell off part of Ontario’s Greenbelt lands to private developers.
“Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare perhaps said it best,” Alderville First Nation Chief Taynar Simpson said. “He said he’s ready to go start blockading and just not taking no for an answer. So, if you’ve got our head chief saying that he’s ready to put himself in there to stop the bulldozers, then I imagine all the other chiefs would follow suit and if the chiefs follow suit then you’d imagine the First Nations members themselves would.”
The provincial Progressive Conservatives have landed themselves in hot water for attempting to privatize part of what is known as the Greenbelt area.
According to its website, the Greenbelt is the world’s largest protected area of farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes – more than two million acres in total.
The move has brought condemnation from both the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner and several calls for minister of Housing, Steve Clark, to resign.
Earlier in the week, the Chiefs of Ontario held an emergency meeting on the issue where they called on the government to reverse course.
At a Thursday press conference, Clark did apologize for not using more oversight in what is being called the Greenbelt land swap but stopped short of stepping down.
“It’s not enough to apologize,” Hiawatha First Nation Chief Laurie Carr said. “There was no apology to First Nations. There were apologies to Ontarians for the way he (Minister Clark) handled it, or didn’t handle it, but there was no apology to First Nations and he made a statement about having First Nations partnerships – there’s no partnerships. So, I don’t understand those comments that were made and you’re not listening.”
Simpson added the government has done nothing short of breaking its commitment to First Nations.
“As everyone knows they have a duty to consult with First Nations. Especially since we signed the new Williams Treaty settlement in 2018 where they apologized for previously not (doing so) on issues that affected us on our treaty territory. Including not being allowed to hunt in some places, not being allowed to traverse our lands, harvesting rights weren’t guaranteed. So, just five years ago they were apologizing for doing this exact same thing to us.”
The Ford government has tried to frame the issue as one of opening up space for private developers to build affordable housing but Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said this is simply not true.
“This is not the solution and there is report after report after report, including the government’s own housing advisory committee that have said very clearly that we do not need the land in the Greenbelt,” she said. “The Greenbelt land should not be removed.”
Carr agreed the Greenbelt shouldn’t be open for development.
“When we talk about the wetlands, we know the significance of wetlands. We know they are considered the kidney of mother earth. You know they filter that water for us. We know that the farmland – obviously we know that’s our food source. We know that the water needs to be pure and clean to be able to use.”
In an emailed statement, Clark’s office said Premier Ford and Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford meets regularly with the First Nations Leadership Council and the government is committed to its duty to consult obligations with Indigenous communities.