Expand Ontario, a town in southwestern Ontario, Ontario
Canada’s historic energy review process is now out of session and the Ontario government is grappling with what could be its next big challenge.
Ontario intends to hike electricity prices by 25% or more in 2019, creating a new divide between the wealthy, well-connected and connected Ontario household, and a needy rural and suburban population. But some voices, among them the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of Ontario, have proposed a new sort of input process. The idea is for First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities to play a big role in the discussions.
The delegation I met with in Manitoba in late April continued that debate. “My goal is to start the discussion with the indigenous community because the native community are normally the first point of contact with the government and the first time they’re even asked,” says program officer Neill Hagen.
“We want to bring that informal process to the table, or that visible process, so that we can quickly connect people to the infrastructure that needs to be built.”
For the province to be truly inclusive, this approach would require shifting its focus from bureaucratic reviews to an open dialogue between groups and individuals.
“Myself and my team would meet with farmers and small businesses and real estate,” Hagen says. “Every community in the province is different; each community has its own story. So a real advocate needs to go out and listen to those stories and understand what people face.”
First Nations, however, face their own unique and unique obstacles to representative participation. Even though First Nations and Metis communities make up 6% of the total population of Ontario, they own just over 1% of the land. As a result, both the province and the federal government have made a practice of withholding money to land claims. In practice, Indigenous Peoples’ savings are often drained to fund higher taxes. Despite this poverty, many Mi’kmaq self-government agreements require high thresholds for participation.
The discussion I’m most curious about will be with members of Indigenous People’s EPOV, the indigenous environmental group that brought the idea of governance and participatory consultation to my table. I’ve been looking forward to meeting their members to learn about their work and outlook on the future of indigenous representation.
IGOV members’ engagement goes beyond name recognition and recognisable ways of resolving conflicts. Young people especially face challenges like inaccessible learning spaces and a lack of resources. But members say they are actively engaging to discuss power structures and social inequality.
“There are several cases that demonstrate that Mi’kmaq have been continually undermined in their jurisdictions,” explains IGM Executive Director Howie Russell. “[These cases] illustrate the fact that collective ownership can pave the way for success. The group is gearing up to rally against some of the biggest actions of the federal government, but also to strategize how to turn language and culture back into more of a political consideration.”