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Ontario First Nations launch application for judicial review over federal carbon pricing

Taking legal action against the federal government was a last-ditch effort for the Chiefs of Ontario to negotiate carbon tax exemptions for Ontario First Nations, chief says
Grand Chief Abram Benedict, Environment Portfolio lead at Chiefs of Ontario and Grand Chief of Akwesasne.

THUNDER BAY — A last-ditch effort has been made to get the federal government to exclude Ontario First Nations from carbon pricing. 

Chiefs of Ontario and Attawapiskat First Nation filed a judicial review that calls on Ottawa to remove Ontario First Nations from having to pay into carbon pricing after alleging that the federal government won't join them at the bargaining table to find other solutions.

Grand Chief Abram Benedict, who holds the environmental portfolio for Chiefs of Ontario, also represents Akwasane First Nation, which is located near Ontario's borders with Quebec and New York. 

He noted that communities were already struggling before having to pay when the legislation came into effect in April 2019

"We have communities that are already struggling to meet the necessities, and of course, this was prior to inflation as well," Benedict said in an interview on Friday.

While the intent of the federal program is to pollute less, it's not feasible for remote First Nation communities, Benedict added. 

"For a number of our communities, this is not a possibility [for] communities that are fly-in or that rely on diesel power generation. Moving to a cleaner burning fuel is several years away," he said. "There's no consideration of the impact that that's had as well."

Benedict argued the federal government is being hypocritical after they'd indicated that special exemptions weren't possible, yet provided them to others, notably earlier this fall when carbon pricing was removed from the cost of home heating oil, a move which was largely meant to address concerns raised by the Atlantic provinces.

"Then we see a region where they've said that for a period of time, they don't have to pay it, which is just more BS to our point that this is inequitable that there are possibilities to have some very unique solutions for first nation communities in Ontario," he said.

When asked about the issue earlier this week, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said she wasn't able to comment fully on the subject. 

"We'll continue to work with First Nations leaders on both protecting the environment and managing the climate change as it presents such a risk to their communities," she said.

During Friday's Question Period on Parliament Hill, the subject bounced back and forth at a rapid pace. 

Kenora Conservative MP Eric Melillo took the floor and aimed comments at the federal Liberals. 

"They're only driving up the cost of living on First Nations and people right across the country," Melillo charged. "Meanwhile, NDP and Liberal politicians across Northern Ontario are planning to quadruple this tax. So again, why are they so committed to their failed plan that they're ignoring the concerns of First Nations?"

Hajdu responded that the Liberals have significantly raised spending since taking office in 2015, citing an increase of 168 per cent.

Benedict expressed hope that Ottawa can come to the table. 

"This is our last option that we've had," he said of filing the judicial review. "The federal government needs to come forward to the table with a solution that's meaningful, that embraces the relationship, embraces reconciliation; all the things that the government has said, and haven't [brought] anything meaningful to the table."

The group is prepared to push this all the way through the federal courts, Benedict said. 

Katie Nicholls, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Katie Nicholls, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Originally from central Ontario, Katie moved here to further her career in the media industry.
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