COLLINGWOOD, Ont. — Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is calling the federal government’s response to recommendations from a six-year study of Canada’s residential schools legacy “disappointing.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 recommendations Tuesday along with a summary of its conclusions, including its description of a “cultural genocide” and the estimated deaths of more than 6,000 children.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not address a ceremony that was held on Wednesday to formally close the commission’s work, but he has suggested in the House of Commons that his government has already moved on addressing aboriginal concerns in the seven years since he issued an historic apology from the government of Canada.
Wynne began her speech to the Ontario Liberal annual general meeting on Saturday by acknowledging the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, saying her party must work to build a better relationship with First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
“There never really was, but there is now no possible excuse for any government to ignore the abuses of our past relationship,” she said.
“We cannot with any integrity talk of a healthy, harmonious, pluralistic society until we reconcile these wrongs by forging a new relationship with the people whose ancestors were here long before most of ours.”
The premier has criticized Harper in the past for not calling a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and pressed him on the issue of clean drinking water when the two met in January.
The federal response to the commission’s recommendations is “disappointing,” Wynne said.
“I don’t think there’s any excuse for it,” she said after her speech at the Liberal meeting, where delegates voted 95 per cent in favour of Wynne staying on as leader.
It was a smooth ride for Wynne, made even smoother by a smaller-than-expected teachers’ protest outside the meeting.
The Liberals’ relationship with teachers is on shaky ground at the moment as the unions accuse the government of demanding unreasonable concessions in contract talks and not bargaining in a meaningful way.
The government introduced back-to-work legislation to send striking high school teachers at three boards back to work last month, but now all of the major unions are threatening more job action for the fall.
Those same unions promised to come out in force Saturday to protest the Liberal meeting, saying 1,500 people would be there, but the demonstration of a few hundred people was timed to coincide with Wynne’s speech, so she did not see or hear their message.
“Every time I was going in and out of buildings I was saying to folks, ‘Where are the protesters?'” Wynne said after her speech.
In her address to the nearly 900 assembled delegates, Wynne said Ontario Liberals would “with all hands on deck” work to help federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his team get elected in the fall. It will put Canada “back on track,” she said.
Wynne also got in a few digs at her newly minted opponent Patrick Brown and his team, saying over the nine-month Progressive Conservative leadership race “it was difficult to work out exactly where he stands.”
She did list a few areas in which he has criticized her policies, such as her government’s Ontario pension plan and the sex ed curriculum, wondering aloud, “So basically the future is what Patrick Brown opposes?”
Brown was voted leader May 9 and Wynne said it’s “only fair” to give him time to “develop his thinking.”
“We could say evolve there, couldn’t we?” she said with a chuckle, likely referring to Tory MPP Rick Nicholls, one of Brown’s few caucus supporters during the leadership race, who has said he doesn’t believe in evolution.
The federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wynne’s Truth and Reconciliation remarks.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press