It was just last week that I wrote about a different take on the fall out of the moving of Jane Philpott out of the Indigenous Services portfolio way back in January, and her replacement with Seamus O’Regan. Last week Minister O’Regan went to Grassy Narrows and managed to dash the hopes of a community that has long suffered from Minamata Disease from mercury poisoning and have been pushing government after government to act.
Yesterday we had a bit of an update on that story, one that left me just floored. Part of the usual Parliamentary processes in our system of government is committees, and part of each committee’s role is to review what is called the “Main Estimates” of the budget for the departments their committees are responsible for. So normally every year, committees can call for a Minister to come to their committee to testify about how their department has spent their budgets so far.
On Tuesday, the House of Commons Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee did just that, calling both Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister O’Regan. Predictably, during his testimony was asked about Grassy Narrows and his visit to the community last week. The answer that he gave though was one that left me shaking my head, and led to another exchange in Question Period with another less than satisfactory answer:
Wow folks, wow. With that answer, O’Regan just threw Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle under the bus and ran him over a couple of times, placing the blame for what happened last week on him and his team. What amazes me about the tone-deafness of his answer is the fact that during it, he pointed out that some Indigenous communities don’t trust the government. Well gee Minister, I wonder how what you just said before that might contribute to a certain degree of mistrust? How exactly does pointing the finger of blame at Chief Turtle do anything to build a relationship or trust of any importance?
It’s displays like this one from this minister that just prove why so many Indigenous leaders were unhappy about seeing former Minister Philpott being moved out of that role. She actually got it, understood the importance of building relationships and poured herself into getting things right. She did that to the point where various Indigenous leaders are still calling on her after her removal from the Liberal caucus. So to see her replacement go before a House of Commons committee and lay the blame at the feet of Grassy Narrows and their leadership, whose only alleged crime here was daring to demand that the Liberal government keep the promise they made two years ago, is just disgusting and a bad sign of how far things have fallen off.
I would have hoped that after that committee meeting early Tuesday morning Minister O’Regan would have realized the mistake that he made and when given the chance to answer to this in Question Period over four hours later, would have apologized to Chief Turtle and the leadership of Grassy Narrows in front of everyone. But nope, instead he gave a complete non-answer to the question that he was asked and just tried to ignore that it even happened. Because you see, that’s how you deal with those with whom you are in your most important relationship with, right?
It continues to amaze and disturb me to see the ripples that have been created from that one cabinet shuffle back in January where the government seriously got too cute by half. Not only did it kick off the whole SNC/PMO scandal, it has managed to do serious damage to a portfolio where you had a highly skilled Minister doing very good work. It has taken Philpott year or so of work and somehow managed to undo it with a span of a few months.
I do sincerely hope that Minister O’Regan figures out the scale and gravity of the errors that he’s made here and moves quickly to undo the damage. The fact remains that the victims of Minamata’s in Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemong need their treatment centre, they need help and they need this government to follow through on their promise of two years ago. If this Minister is sincere in his desire to correct this injustice then he needs to swallow his pride, give the appropriate apologies and most importantly of all, fulfill the bloody promise that his government made two years ago, completely and without delay.