Kenora – Rainy River MPP and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford, says the government has ‘no plans’ to back down from Bill 23 and their latest housing initiative despite calls for further consultation with First Nation communities.

Ontario’s Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, aims to address the provincial housing crisis by building 1.5 million new homes and apartment units by 2032 – with a mix of ownership and rental options across the province.

During Question Period at Queen’s Park earlier this week, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa, who also serves as the NDP’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Critic and the party’s Deputy Leader, used his comments to protest the act – which he compares to colonialism.

“First Nations across Ontario have stated their opposition to Bill 23 due to the clear violation of First Nation’s constitutionally-protected inherent and Treaty rights. It’s 2022. It’s very colonial for Ontario to abuse their power by making these bills without consultation or engagement with First Nations.”

On November 23, the Chiefs of Ontario – who represents every First Nation community in the province – expressed their full opposition against the bill. They say the act will have detrimental impacts on nine different development and environment related-acts, under the guise of addressing our housing crisis.

“The Government of Ontario’s tabling of Bill 23 is a blatant violation of First Nations’ inherent, domestic, and international rights over their ancestral and traditional territories,” says Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare. “Bill 23 will inevitably harm Ontario’s environmental heritage and weaken land and water environmental protection.”

Ontario says the act will also freeze and reduce new home construction fees, but opponents notes that municipalities could lose millions as a result. As well, municipalities will not have any say in the exterior designs of new buildings, and parkland requirements are being cut by 50 per cent.

“People from across Ontario have contacted my office because they oppose Bill 23,” adds Mamakwa. “Municipalities oppose Bill 23. First Nations across the province say they don’t want this bill. That’s a lot of people to listen to.”

“Will this government start listening to the people protecting our lands and waters, instead of their developer friends?” Mamakwa then asked to the government.

In response, Minister of Municipal Housing, Steve Clark, says the government will continue to focus on Indigenous priorities and will continue to work alongside First Nation communities moving forward.

Afterwards, Kenora – Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, who also serves as Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Northern Development, explains that the government sees the bill as an opportunity to build more homes for more families and address a growing housing backlog.

“We’ve heard it from municipalities and Indigenous communities. They see an opportunity to invest in real estate properties,” Rickford explains. “They see an opportunity to create more and better homes in their communities. This plan to build more homes is for all Ontarians.”

Rickford adds the government has been consulting with First Nation communities and the government has ‘no plans’ to back down from their plan.

This all comes after housing was a major hot topic during the 2022 Municipal Election campaign in northwestern Ontario, with many saying the region needs to work to remove red tape and allow developers to build new units as soon as possible.

In the region, the Kenora District Services Board says their housing wait list has grown by about 350 per cent over the last decade, with over 1,300 families still waiting to get into an affordable housing unit.

Grand Council Treaty #3 adds that First Nation communities across the region continue to face a variety of housing pressures and barriers, including a lack of affordable housing, homelessness and inadequate housing conditions.

They say these pressures, along with the child welfare system, can lead to increased rates of mental health concerns and suicide – and contributes to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls epidemic.

But as it stands, there are a few significant housing developments shaping up across the region.

In Kenora, the Kenora District Services Board continues to make progress on a 20-unit build on Matheson Street, a 56-unit seniors facility in Lakeside and a 16-unit facility on the former Northlands property, as well as the 30-units on Ninth Street North in partnership with Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services.

In Dryden, the KDSB also plans to build supportive housing units and seniors units on Orvis Street, with more seniors units planned for Arthur Street.

Elsewhere, the Kenora District Services Board, Rainy River District Services Board and Grand Council Treat #3 have partnered together and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work to improve housing and education programming across the region.