THUNDER BAY – Gary Lipinski believes the federal Conservatives view Metis people as a class below other Aboriginal peoples.
The president of the Metis Nation of Ontario said it’s time the federal government takes responsibility for the jurisdiction of Metis issues, rather than pursuing legal channels that make it a provincial obligation, putting the people in a state of limbo as they await court rulings.
The current strategy is a "failure to recognize the Metis as a distinct society," he argued.
“I think it’s fairly obvious the federal government has responsibility for dealing with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are clearly articulated in Section 35 as being First Nations, Inuit and Metis people,” Lipinski said after his state of the nation speech at the Metis Nation of Ontario’s annual general assembly, which is being hosted in the city at the Valhalla Inn this weekend.
“It’s time we stop referring these matters to the courts and move into to a negotiations process and deal with the matters and start making improvements in the lives of people who are depending on us.”
The federal Conservatives are appealing the Federal Court of Appeal's decision in the Daniels case, which was launched more than 13 years ago with the intent of giving Metis and non-status First Nations people the ability to access the same programs as services as status First Nations and the Inuit.
It is not expected the issue will be resolved for at least one year, until the Supreme Court of Canada decides if they will hear the case.
Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer, who addressed the assembly Saturday morning, said Ottawa’s absence at the table hinders the province as well as the Metis organizations.
“It would be nice if the federal government would sit down on a regular and as needed basis with the provincial government, Metis Nation of Ontario and Aboriginal communities,” Zimmer said.
“It’s difficult when we’re having discussions and one of the necessary parties skips the meeting.”
The refusal of the federal government to work with provincial counterparts extend beyond just Ontario, Zimmer added, as evidenced by calls from other Premiers for a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women going unanswered.
Zimmer and Lipinski formally presented the framework agreement signed by the Ontario government and Metis Nation of Ontario earlier this year.
The two parties first agreed to a framework agreement in 2008, with it being a five-year deal at the time. That deal was extended for one more year, leading to the new arrangement.
It highlights mutual ambitions regarding economic development as well as social issues such as education and health care.
Included in that framework agreement is a provision for both parties to engage the federal government, as well as leverage for funding.
Local MPPs Bill Mauro and Michael Gravelle also addressed the assembly during the opening ceremonies, each representing the ministries they head.
Mauro, the Minister of Natural Resources, said it is important to have all relevant ministries working in sync to work as efficiently as possible.
During his state of the nation speech Lipinski touched upon the financial state of the organization, which had debts of more than $4-million in 2008.
He said that debt has been reduced to less than $1-million and is well ahead of the payment schedule.
“For us it’s a positive, much needed step in the right direction to build a solid future foundation for the Metis Nation of Ontario,” he said.
The assembly will continue Sunday before concluding Monday morning.