Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Jim Prentice is in derelicition of duty

Something's been burning at me all day, and it's Jim Prentice's total lack of respect for the land claims process and the increasing costs of policing Haldimand County as the standoff between Caledonia and Six Nations. Remarkably, David Ramsey, Ontario's Aboriginal Affairs Minister, and the SN Elected Chief, David General, are actually on the same side. They were supposed to meet with Prentice last night but at the last possible moment Prentice cancelled the meeting claiming Ontario was "politicizing" the issue.

Give me a break! And, for a moment, let's set aside the grievances of the traditional natives who do not as a rule recognize the elected council, legitimate as they are. Let's deal with the claims of the officially recognized band council and its duly elected leader. Who's done the politicking here: The band council, the provincial government, the OPP -- or DIAND, which only has settled one of the elected council's twenty-nine land claims and has only two of the remaining twenty eight on the table and exclusively at the "exploratory stage"? Not to mention these are tracts (specifically, Jarvis and Port Maitland) which while not unimportant are nowhere near the bonanzas that exist upstream on the Grand and also within the purview of some of the other claims: Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph, the so-called "Golden Triangle" that's home to high-tech companies and a big part of the auto manufacturing and parts industries? And yes, Douglas Creek is also among the twenty-eight the band council is worried about.

If the "six-mile" tract along either side of the Grand was indeed stolen in the 1840s, the hundreds of thousands who farm the fields and work in the plant along the 250 km of the river could be forced off their land, without compensation. This could create a refugee crisis and possibly even a civil war. Even if the land was legitimately given back to Ontario, we should have been paying rent and with back penalties and interest could amount to the billions as well.

No, it's the bureaucrats in Ottawa at DIAND, many of them probably non-native, who are the real politickers here -- who make the residents of Ohsweken spin in the wind and hold the Grand River region, maybe the whole province, hostage. They trumpet land claims successes with the Nisga'a in British Columbia and the Tli Cho in the NWT, and no doubt they are major victories for the natives concerned there. But Ontario seems to be expendible. And at the top is Jim Prentice, who doesn't have a clue just how big a problem this is and is part of a party that was elected in part by a sector of the population that is extremely hostile to natives. While all the while, the local MP, Diane Finley, has treated her fiefdom like the absentee landlords did Prince Edward Island before it joined Confederation.

Policing is mostly a provincial responsibility, as the RCMP have played mostly a background role in this crisis. But natives are a federal responsibility unless and until land claims are fully settled; so Ontario is well within its rights to demand Ottawa share part of the policing costs which have exploded to about $25 million in the last six months, and that's just for the community of Caledonia. (In a normal year, the OPP serves the whole of Haldimand County, a city fifty percent larger in area than Hamilton, for all of $10 million.)

As long as Prentice doesn't put an end to this, he is in dereliction of duty. I was going to merely call him a weenie but we've gone way beyond that point. It's time to put an end to this madness, once and for all. Ottawa has to pay up the policing costs, and agree to send all 28 remaining land claims of the Six Nations to arbitration. The price may be high, but it's time.

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