Progressive Conservative candidate Tamara Johnson stands by Facebook comments she made claiming First Nation entrepreneurs enjoy an unfair business advantage.
Johnson, seeking to unseat Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle and NDP challenger Andrew Foulds in Thunder Bay-Superior North, was reacting to former Fort William First Nations chief Peter Collins suggestion to possibly blockade the James Street Swing Bridge.
The century-old bridge, owned by CN, has been closed to vehicular traffic since Oct. 29 because of a fire, though it opened to rail traffic three days later.
Johnson said she understands that people have to stretch their pay cheques and that most everyone in Thunder Bay has travelled to the reserve at one time or another.
“But something isn’t right when a group of people complain about how their businesses are affected when they are able to sell gas and cigarettes at a discount, which in my opinion ... seems a tad unfair to other business owner(s) on the other side of the bridge who isn’t (sic) given the same pricing ability,” Johnson writes.
“So what is it? They can buy gas cheaper or businesses on this side are ripping us off?”
During Monday’s meeting, Fort William First Nation officials said businesses on the reserve were losing $50,000 a day, a combined $5.2 million to that point.
Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau called the remarks narrow-minded and biased.
“I’m shocked that a provincial candidate would have such an opinion,” she said, reached by phone.
Johnson later removed the post from her Facebook page, but said it wasn’t because she was backing down from her comments, but felt she’d been unfairly attacked by a local news organization.
Johnson, a first-time candidate, was immediately called out.
A poster with the name Darian Doblej said First Nations negotiated any tax breaks they’d received.
“Unfair or not, whichever way you see it, it is a Treaty right that your leaders agreed to during Confederation. There are two sides to that, though,” he said.
Johnson responded about 20 minutes later.
“They were talking about smokes and gas ... Are you sure?”
Johnson, speaking to tbnewswatch Wednesday afternoon, reiterated her statements.
“I get why people go to the Mission. We’re stuck in hard economic times. I would go there to get gas. Everybody goes there. That bridge isn’t the only road there. You can go down the highway until the bridge issue is resolved. But people should not be threatening any kind of illegal blockade either,” said Johnson, who runs her own business.
“And the laws of Ontario should be enforced. Quote anything you want from my Facebook, because I’m not ashamed. But don’t peg me out to be a racist because I will not stand for that.”