A while ago, I enjoyed speaking with some high school-aged teens who sparked up a conversation while we all enjoyed ice cream cones under some shady trees. I have to admit that it usually surprises me when a teen knows who I am and what my job is. Sitting there on picnic tables, one of them asked me to list the things I liked best about my job. I’m happy to say that the question was pretty easy to answer because my list of positives about my job is considerable.
Those who know me will probably not be surprised to hear that one of the best things about my occupation is the number of wonderful people I get to meet. By no means does this mean that every meeting or conversation I have is delightful or even marginally pleasant in some cases. Nonetheless, in meeting so many people and talking about so many things, I learn so much about the real issues that matter to Ontarians and matters that are of particular concern to Northerners.
Readers of this column will recall that when I learned that Doug Ford decided to delay the opening of the Legislature by three weeks, I was less than amused. Ontarians are stressed to the hilt, knowing that infection levels are rising and hospitalizations across the country skyrocketing. On top of that, we are sending our kids back into classrooms with what many believe are inadequate protections. There is so much more that we can be doing to make life better and get things back to normal. We can ill afford to waste time. Nevertheless, the reins are in Mr. Ford’s hands, and it will be he and his ministers that will have to answer for their decisions and delays to the people of Ontario.
So, as always, I try to look for some positives in the path that lies before me. So, as mothers often say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” With this in mind, I am happy to say that, thanks to the many supportive municipalities and First Nations band offices, I am again able to resume my schedule of constituency clinics across the riding.
Those not familiar with the concept of constituency clinics will be interested to know that my office arranges clinics at municipal offices, public libraries or similar venues, and First Nation band offices throughout the year. Constituents are invited to meet with me one on one to raise matters of concern or ask for assistance on issues of a provincial nature. As a precaution to limit spreading the virus, meetings are by appointment only, made through my office. This is to prevent line-ups at the door and eliminate congregating in waiting rooms. Clinics are advertised in advance in local newspapers, on radio stations, on my Facebook page and on my website, michaelmantha.com. Or call the office to find out when the next clinics will be held in your area.
I always look forward to clinic weeks.
One of the most frequent conversation topics that I have of late with constituents is the need to bring about understanding and healing regarding Truth and Reconciliation. There are 22 First Nations spread all across this riding, with thousands of Indigenous people living on and off reserve. As Northerners know, there is a great need to improve mutual respect and trust among us all. Such goals are truly desired by all.
Canadians have made significant strides toward improving relations between Indigenous, federal and provincial governments. The inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls has helped make monumental progress in this direction. And now we are broadening our sense of reality and understanding about the effects of residential schools on Indigenous peoples and how Canadians have historically related to events of our past that were supported by several levels of government and religious affiliations.
The Government of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an initiative to improve relations and understanding between First Nations Indigenous People and all Canadians. It is hoped that this commission can help initiate meaningful dialogue and understanding for all Canadians of every background and origin. The commission formulated 94 Calls to Action provide guidance on the path to reconciliation. One of the calls to action was declaring September 30th as an annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
In June of this year, the Government of Canada passed legislation that recognizes September 30th as a national holiday. As a result, federal employees and those federally regulated will have a paid day off. However, the proposal is intended to do far more than just commemorate the tragic genocidal legacy and the continuing harm that residential schools in Canada caused.
The federal government also encouraged all provinces to follow this lead in hopes to bring about meaningful understanding for all Canadians. It is incredibly disappointing that the Ford government chose not to officially recognize the day. Instead, they are letting a prime opportunity for education and real change in societal values slip between our fingers.
Officially recognizing such a holiday has true potential to foster healing and bridge gaps. Consider the overwhelming success of Ontario’s own Family Day paid holiday held each February. Surveys show that thousands of families across the province have taken this theme to heart, taking full advantage of the day by actually planning and participating in all manner of enjoyable activities together. The results have been outstanding as parents, children, and extended families spend time together to bond, forming precious memories to last a lifetime. Just imagine what could be accomplished if Ontario’s government also officially recognized Truth and Reconciliation Day. With the support of municipal recreation departments, service clubs, schools and families to organize events geared to encourage real participation, the potential results are incalculable.
Ogimaa Reg Niganobi, former Mississauga First Nation Chief, now recently elected as Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief, said that he is very disappointed but not surprised with the Ontario Government’s decision. He explained that the point of the holiday should be to offer opportunities for people to learn the truth and really understand. But with our lives being so full, unless we dedicate special time for this, it just isn’t going to happen. Ogimaa Niganobi said, “”If the government doesn’t take the day seriously, then why shouldn’t the rest of the average citizens?”
Adrian Chrisjohn, Chief of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, also expressed his shock about the decision. Chrisjohn wrote a letter to Premier Ford to express the views of his people. He told CBC News, “I felt the obligation to speak up. I think a lot of First Nations issues get brushed to the side, or they’re the flavour of the week or flavour of the month, and then it disappears, and it does nothing. So I think to build on this awareness is going to help everybody heal.”
NDP leader Andrea Horwath stated, “It’s shameful that the Doug Ford government is refusing the solemn duty to remember, to learn, and to work for change. For all Ontarians, making September 30th a stat holiday is a critical move forward in the difficult work that needs to be done to revive reconciliation.”
As I said at the beginning, one of the best things about my job is getting to talk with so many people. Drop into any primary class to see children sharing with one another and learning. I have been invited to countless high school classes where I make sure that the students ask questions and speak rather than me giving a speech. Dialogue is one of the most effective means of learning and truly understanding. As they say, the Creator gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason; so that we can listen twice as much as we talk.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.