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NAN Grand Chief wants electoral map changes revisited

Alvin Fiddler says Mushkegowuk riding will be only 28 per cent Indigenous
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THUNDER BAY -- A committee of the Ontario legislature wants to change the name of one of the proposed two new ridings in the province's Far North.

But regional Indigenous leaders are seeking a much more significant change.

In August, an independent panel comprised of a majority of Indigenous representatives recommended the creation of a new riding in the northwest and a new one in the northeast.

Kiiwetinong, north of Kenora, will have a majority Indigenous population.

Mushkegowuk, north of Timmins, will have a majority Francophone population, which causes concern for Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

He says if the Kathleen Wynne government's intent was to increase Aboriginal representation in the legislature, there should have been more extensive consultation with First Nations.

"We were led to believe that these two ridings would be mainly Indigenous...but for the northeast, once you break down the numbers, I think it's only 28 per cent First Nations and 60 per cent Francophone. And that's not what we were led to believe when we began this work in May of last year," Fiddler said. 

Fiddler and Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon provided feedback to the legislature's Standing Committee on General Government at a public hearing in Moose Factory last week.

"We expressed those concerns to the committee and I'm hoping that they can not only hear our concerns but that they can actually change to reflect the position that we took," he said in an interview.

Fiddler isn't blaming the members of the Far North Electoral Boundaries Commission for the outcome.

He said they were given a tight timeline with limited resources.

"(They) just did the best they could. They didn't have enough staff to be able to fully engage our communities or our leadership, and I think that showed in the final report," Fiddler said. 

It's unfortunate, he added, "We weren't given the time or the opportunity to be involved throughout the process."

One step the legislative committee has taken is to propose renaming the northeastern riding Mushkegowuk-James Bay.

Its population totals 30,000, while Kiiwetinong has 33,000 people.

Both ridings are significantly smaller than the average Ontario electoral district (110,000) and the average population of northern Ontario electoral districts (76,000).