Feds silent on disputes

Sept. 15, 2007
Brantford Expositor

Local developer Mike Quattrociocchi may not have been happy with the response he got from Premier Dalton McGuinty when he confronted him during a campaign event in Hamilton this week.

"The Premier told me it was a federal issue and got on (his campaign) bus," said Quattrociocchi, whose Grand River Avenue housing project was stalled when native protesters staged a brief sit-in Sept. 4.

While the response by the premier did little to appease the developer and former Brantford city councillor, McGuinty is essentially right, especially in Quattrociocchi's case where there is no ongoing breach of the law - at least not yet.

The best McGuinty, in the middle of an election campaign, can do is get on the horn to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and ask him to speed up land claim negotiations. Just a hunch, but we're betting the Premier is not on Harper's speed dial for a return call. Quattrociocchi probably could not have got as close to Harper, who was in Australia for APEC talks this week, unless he dressed up like Osama bin Laden the way some Aussie comedians did to breach security.

If the Brantford builder ever got close enough to Harper to ask a question, we suspect he would not leave with any more satisfaction. While arguments over the policing of native protests involve the provincial and municipal levels of governments, there is only one level - federal - that can solve the underlying disputes, specifically land claims.

As Six Nations protests over land claims get more militant, it is convenient to target the Liberals trying to get re-elected in Ontario. But the Harper government's silent retreat from the issue is shameful, particularly if a snickering desire to watch the provincial Liberals suffer politically is even partly behind it.

Earlier this year, the federal government announced coming legislation to speed up land claims. Then, in a cabinet shuffle, Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was moved to Industry, presumably because it is more important to the Conservatives.

In addition, while the government may have had legitimate reasons for voting against a United Nations declaration on aboriginal rights Thursday, it did nothing to counter the perception that native issues are of dwindling importance to the federal Conservatives.

As Harper prepares for a new session of parliament and is possibly even compiling a new set of five priorities, we suggest strongly that resolving native land claims be among them. As the federal Tories are well aware, they too could be facing the electorate soon. The Expositor is a member of the Ontario Press Council, which considers complaints against member newspapers. Any complaints about news, opinions or advertising should be taken first to the newspaper.