What was supposed to be a routine press conference turned into a political kerfuffle as an Ontario First Nations elder criticized the Canadian government for not sharing details of a federal funding announcement for a national park in Toronto.
Ojibway elder Garry Sault from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation began the funding announcement with a traditional land acknowledgement but then used the opportunity to take a dig at the federal Liberals over an apparent lack of consultation regarding the future home of an education and welcome centre at the Rouge National Urban Park located in Scarborough.
“When it comes time to have the negotiations here, they should have their elders. Our people don’t even know what you’re doing here,” Sault told reporters Tuesday morning. “They haven’t informed us. And that makes me angry inside of my heart.”
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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Toronto Zoo CEO Dolf DeJong were all on hand for the announcement. According to a press release, the centre will be built on the lands currently operated as the zoo’s overflow parking lot No. 4.
Details on how much the facility will cost and its completion date were not immediately provided.
However, Sault said his community was not informed about the details of the project and criticized the government.
“It’s like any government going ahead and making decisions without informing their constituents,” he said. “And I’m sorry to say an election is coming. You might have to deal with a whole new group of people.”
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McKenna said in her opening remarks that her government has “worked hard” on partnerships with First Nations communities but that more work is needed.
“Obviously, there is still more work to do,” she said.
Parks Canada said in a statement that the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation are one of the 10 First Nations communities which are formally part of the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle.
“The Advisory Circle has worked with Parks Canada extensively on the creation of Rouge National Urban Park since 2012, including engagement around the location of the park’s education and welcome centre,” the agency said. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Mississaugas of the Credit Nation … and we deeply value this relationship.”
With a federal election quickly approaching in October, federal Liberal ministers and MPs have travelled across the country announcing billions in spending commitments.
Between Aug. 11 and Aug. 25, the Trudeau government announced $8 billion in funding across 925 spending commitments, according to a database maintained exclusively for Global News.
Under Canada’s fixed-date elections law, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could call this fall’s election anywhere between Sept. 1 and Sept. 15. Once the election is called, spending announcements would stop.
— With files from David Akin