Grassy Narrows chief running for the federal NDP in fall election

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, right, and Chief Rudy Turtle of the Grassy Narrows First Nation listen to questions during a press conference announcing his candidacy for the NDP in Kenora, Ont. for the fall election, on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, July 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle is running for the federal NDP, saying the Liberal government hasn’t done enough to help his community deal with the after-effects of mercury poisoning.

In an announcement on Parliament Hill on Monday, Turtle joined NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to say he was “happy” to be running for the party in the Ontario riding of Kenora.

READ MORE: Grassy Narrows members unveil care home designs, call out Trudeau government over funding

He also praised the work of NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton for their advocacy of Indigenous issues.

“They’ve spoken up for us,” Turtle said. “They’ve been very quick to speak up for Grassy [Narrows].”

The decision to run will pit Turtle against longtime Liberal MP Bob Nault, who previously served as the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development from 1999 to 2003 under the Jean Chretien government.

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WATCH BELOW: Care home planned for Grassy Narrows mercury victims

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Care home planned for Grassy Narrows mercury victims – Jun 19, 2019

Nault won the riding by just 519 votes in 2015.

Howard Hampton, the NDP candidate at the time, finished just behind him.

It was held from 2008 to 2015 by Conservative Greg Rickford, who lost to Nault in 2015 and is now the provincial MPP for the riding.

Turtle said that makes him optimistic about the potential for a victory.

“In the last federal election, it was a close race between him [Nault] and Howard Hampton. The fact that Bob Nault hasn’t been effective for Grassy Narrows is something that caused me to run,” he said, referencing concerns raised by his community that the federal government is not acting fast enough to compensate the community for ongoing mercury poisoning caused by a local paper mill operator dumping contamination into the rivers roughly 50 years ago.
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“He’s been very slow to deliver promises and taking his sweet time. I would even go farther to say he didn’t advocate for Grassy Narrows.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to apologize in May after he responded to protestors interrupting his speech to high-end Liberal donors by telling them, “Thank you for your donation.” The protestors had been trying to draw attention to the ongoing mercury contamination.

READ MORE: Trudeau apologizes after telling First Nations mercury poisoning protester, ‘Thank you for your donation’

Singh echoed Turtle’s remarks that the Liberals have not done enough to support the community and suggested since the NDP has won the riding in the past, they can do it again.

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“We’ve got a strong history of support in Kenora. We’ve held the riding in the past. This is a very important riding for us.”

The federal riding of Kenora was created in 2003 and has been held by the Liberals and Conservatives since then.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau appearance interrupted by protester from Grassy Narrows First Nation

The riding it was created from, Kenora—Rainy River, was almost exclusively Liberal or Liberal-Labour from 1925 to 2004 except for a single, one-term win by an NDP candidate 35 years ago, in 1984.

The NDP did hold the similarly-named provincial riding of Kenora—Rainy River from 1999 until 2018, when Conservative Greg Rickford, now the Minister of Energy, Mines, Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs in Queen’s Park, won it with just shy of half the popular vote.

Rickford has previously held the federal riding of Kenora from 2008 to 2015 before being defeated by Nault.

ANALYSIS: A bittersweet byelection night for Singh’s NDP and a warning for Scheer’s Conservatives

NDP fortunes have been lagging for months now with polls consistently showing low indications of support for both the party and its leader, Singh.

Only 13 per cent of Canadians believe Singh would make the best prime minister while the party is at 22 per cent support in Ontario, according to recent Ipsos polling.

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READ MORE: Mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows example of government ‘inaction, ’ says UN human rights expert

That’s their strongest provincial margin and raises the question of whether opposition to some of the policies of Premier Doug Ford could give any boost to the party’s fortunes in the province after several high-profile loses in by-elections over the past year.

Outremont, which had been held by Singh’s predecessor Tom Mulcair, went to the Liberals in February.

Nanaimo—Ladysmith, which had been held by well-known NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, went to the Greens in a surprise upset in May.

That riding was generally seen as safely orange but the NDP candidate there, B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs vice president Bob Chamberlin, took only 23 per cent of the vote behind the Conservatives and it was the Green’s Paul Manly who ended up winning with 37 per cent support.

Singh also faces the challenge of heading into the fall campaign with one-third of his caucus not running again.

Fourteen NDP MPs declined to seek re-election in October.

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