Petition pushed at New Year's levee

By Bill Jackson - The Regional

January 14, 2009

Haldimand-Norfolk MP Diane Finley and MPP Toby Barrett have thrown their support behind a petition calling for an inquiry into the actions of the OPP and its commissioner during the past three years.

Both MPs as well as several local politicians and community members turned out last Sunday at St. George Arms in Caledonia for Barrett's annual new year's levee. Barrett also hosted a levee in Delhi earlier this year.

The idea of a new year's levee goes back hundreds of years, Barrett explained. With the help of his staff, he and his wife have hosted the event in past years at various locations throughout the riding and at their own family farm in Norfolk. He says it's an opportunity for constituents to share ideas and information about the coming year.

Hot apple cider and an assortment of refreshments for the sweet tooth were served while people talked about their Christmas holidays and contemplated the issues facing Caledonia and Haldimand.

Front and centre was the petition started by local resident Ken Hewitt after OPP commissioner Julian Fantino wrote a letter in support of a well-known native activist who many people partly blame for ongoing issues surrounding Six Nations land claims.

"We are the victims of government paralysis," Barrett stated in a press release handed out at the levee, adding that "next month" we will be going into our fourth year of this paralysis. This petition is a significant development that may help all concerned get off the hamster wheel of land disputes."

Also at the levee were several local developers who have had their livelihoods stifled by land protests. People residing in Caledonia who are living without any provincial policing and have coped with life near the Douglas Creek land occupation were also on hand.

"There are about nine people from sixth Line sitting right there," Barrett observed.

"Next month will be four years of uncertainty," he reiterated"…and what I'm hearing here is that people don't seem to have much faith in the reconvening of the negotiations – the so-called negotiations – at the end of next month."

Barrett said that few people know what's happening at the meetings that are supposed to be open to the public. He said the meetings are intimidating to some people and re never held in Haldimand.

However, Finley said the land negotiations between the federal government and Six Nations are the only way forward.

"We're still working on the local issues like Caledonia," she told The Regional News. "Negotiations are expected to start at the end of January. This is good. The government will be coming forward with its official response to the counter proposal regarding the Welland Canal settlement… We offered $26 million and they countered with half-a-billion, but we do believe that the only way forward to resolve these differences, no matter how big they are is through negotiation, not litigation, so those are the avenues we're going to be pursuing."

Finley was prepared to head back to Ottawa to work on the federal budget that is expected to be brought forward on Jan. 27.

"I am one of the lead ministers on that because my portfolio includes CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation), housing, homelessness, employment insurance, seniors and post secondary education," she explained. "We're really working hard to find ways to provide supports to people who are affected by the (economic) downturn. We're trying to find ways so that they can still take food home and put it on the table for their families while we help them find new jobs… "We've been consulting right across the country with our provincial and territorial counterparts, stakeholders and with the Opposition to make sure we hear from ordinary Canadians on what they feel we need to include in this budget and what Canada needs to move forward. I think we're getting a broad enough cross section of opinion that this is going to be a solid budget, one that the Opposition is going to have problems trying to defeat."

Finley also has a renewed outlook on life after undergoing a series of successful surgeries to battle Graves Disease, a serious thyroid disorder that affected her eyesight and prevented her from doing everyday activities that most people take for granted. She hadn't been able to drive a car the past two years and last week was the first time she was able to take off her sunglasses that she wore to attenuate her sensitivity to light.

"There have been so many who included me in their prayers, have helped me and driven me to places so I could get where I needed to be," she said. The people around here have been wonderful, especially those people here in Haldimand and Norfolk who have or have had Graves Disease who shared their stories with me and helped me going through this."

There was loud applause when Finley signed her name to the petition calling for an inquiry into the OPP.

During candidates debates prior to the last federal election, Finley stated that the OPP needed to start doing their job in relation to the Caledonia file.

"For far too long we have said Diane has not been around, that she has not been visible, and today I see her," said Caledonia Councillor Craig Grice. "Today I see her sign a petition that a lot of Caledonia residents support and that's a positive move in my opinion."

Grice has also signed the petition as have several county councillors. Mayor Marie Trainer said she chose not to sign the petition, but supports its spirit.

"I'm in court testifying against Fantino," she said. "I'm on the Police Services Board and we're also negotiating a new contract and I don't want to be perceived as harassing him, because I think that's how it will look."

However, Trainer acknowledged the fact that other councillors have supported it and has no problem with that.

"There does need to be an inquiry because I do feel personally that things have been handled incorrectly (by police)."

Trainer said she is now meeting regularly with Six Nations elected Chief, Bill Monture, in an attempt to move forward on items of mutual interest.

One example is water and sewer needs and Six Nations needs potable water, she pointed out.

"In Nanticoke we have two 22-foot popes that deliver over 400 million imperial gallons per day. I said 'It's there, the reservoirs are in the ground, it's all ready to go. It's just that we need the big pipe to get it to you.' He had never heard of that and you should never assume. We assumed the federal and provincial governments were talking to (Six Nations) about it because we've talked about it for many, many years…"

Trainer said she hopes to continue improving Haldimand's relations with Six Nations.

"We're hoping there are other things we can do together. I'm pleased with those meetings and hopefully we can have something come out of those that are positive."

Trainer would also like to see federal funds come Haldimand's way to help it with infrastructure.

"It's sounding like the federal government's going to come out with some infrastructure dollars and we've got 400 km of stone road yet, so they need to be hard surfaced. We’ve got all of our water and sewer systems that need upgrading so we've got lots of places to put our share of the dollars."

Barrett said he will continue to work for Haldimand at the provincial level as an MPP.

"Our strength is not blockades or fist fights on Argyle Street," he said.

Barrett has raided local concerns during question period in the Ontario Legislature and at various standing committee meetings.

Prior to the new year he had opportunity to bring the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs before the estimates committee and also submitted 10 order paper questions with respect to land disputes that the government is obligated to reply to in writing.

Barrett said the Haldimand-Norfolk riding is "Battle-hardened" because it has coped with hard times financially for more than five years.

"We've been going through the tough economic times for obviously close to three years on this side of the county line and five or six years on the Norfolk side," he said, citing the many issues facing the cattle industry, hog producers and tobacco growers due to illegal trade.

"All we heard about, up until Christmas anyway, was helping the auto sector," he said.

At the levee, Barrett presented another petition that calls for a sales tax holiday on vehicle sales and he believes taking such a measure would spur car sales.

"If you can't sell them you can't make them," he reasoned.

As for the petition calling for a public inquiry into OPP operations, Barrett is ready to take it to Queen's Park when the time is right. However he said that it should also be presented to other MPPs including Brant MPP Dave Levac, who is a member of government.

"Who in their right mind would criticize a petition or criticize a call for an inquiry? He wonders. "I mean it's a great way to find out what's going on and to raise awareness. It sure beats shutting down a highway or throwing up barricades, or having fist fights."