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It’s a historic tale of politicians ducking for cover while their bureaucrats create new barriers. And a premier who lets them get away with it.
Ever since becoming premier, Kathleen Wynne has opened every speech with traditional aboriginal words of welcome: “Ahnee. Boojoo.” This month, she added a few key words in English — promising new “opportunities for aboriginal peoples” built on “respect and partnership.”
For all her talk of empowerment, however, real power — electrical and economic — remains out of reach for one of Ontario’s most forsaken native bands.
That’s because Wynne’s Liberals have quietly snuffed out a promising hydroelectric project, bankrolled by a Toronto philanthropist, that could generate clean power and economic opportunity for the isolated Lac La Croix reserve perched along the Minnesota border.
The story of the band’s plight, and promise, is a morality tale of cascading betrayals. Unless someone in the Wynne government finds the courage to rewrite the final chapter, it will have an unhappy ending.
It’s an endless narrative of historic injustices: A band chased off its land at gunpoint a century ago, swindled out of its reserve to make way for the pristine Quetico Provincial Park near Thunder Bay.
It’s a tale of protest and redress gone awry: Blockades at the park prompted an official Ontario government apology two decades ago, followed by broken promises that short-changed the band’s economic future.
The story culminates with present-day politicians ducking for cover while their bureaucrats create new barriers. And a premier who lets them get away with it.
For seven years, Lac La Croix has pinned its hopes on the project to break a cycle of poverty and hopelessness. But their band chief, who once reposed his faith in the premier, wonders if Wynne has forgotten their plight.
“She was very encouraging, supporting of what we were trying to accomplish,” Norman Jordan recalls in an interview.
The chief met her two years ago, shortly before she became premier, when Wynne went on a northern swing as then-minister of aboriginal affairs. Now, the project is dead, with her government washing its hands of the dam.
“It’s not delivering on many of its promises,” Jordan laments.
The major roadblock, it turns out, is a botched transmission line. Without a proper connection, the proposed run-of-river dam is a non-starter.
For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2014/07/16/liberal_paralysis_leaves_ontario_native_band_powerless_cohn.html