Parties take questions from First Nations leaders ahead of Ontario election campaign

Liberal, NDP and Green party leaders addressed the Chiefs of Ontario during a virtual forum Wednesday morning.

Ontario voters head to the polls in early June and First Nations leaders want to know where each of the parties stands on mental health, addictions and affordable housing issues.

Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare told all candidates, “We’re studied out, we know what we want and if you want to know, look on the shelves. Mental health, it’s a pandemic in our communities. we’ve been screaming. I know it will never be enough, it is severe.

“It’s taking lives far too often. When we bury someone, all the candidates, that’s when government comes, how can we help. It’s too late, we don’t want you there, it’s too late. Those are harsh realities for us.”

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath responded to Hare’s concerns.

“We have an obligation to provide people with the tools that they need to build a good life, to overcome addictions, to get supports counselling and treatments for mental health,” she said.

“The mental health pandemic is just as serious as physical pain and we really need to address the lack of mental health services.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said his party does have a plan to meet the increasing demand for affordable housing.

“I will confirm that 22,000 units if I can put it that way, that we’re talking about to support Indigenous people would be off-reserve, just so we know 22,000 off-reserve,” he said. “The full costing of our platform will be included when we reveal or release our platform in just a few days, there’ll be a very large and bold component part of that.”

In a separate interview, Ontario Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa said his office has taken a number of measures to make the election more accessible to First Nations voters.

This includes making it easier to register online.

“We altered our e-registration application tool,” Essensa said. “So, that now an individual who might have, civic addressing issues, they can actually pull down (a menu) and we have all 240 reserves on that and they can just pick the reserve that they reside on.”

Essensa also said election materials will be available in First Nations languages.

“We have translated information in over 30 languages including Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Mohawk.”

The election officially gets underway on May 4 and voters are scheduled to go to the polls on June 2.