Ontario’s budget: Conservatives to increase oversight of unregulated tobacco, expand Highway 6

The Progressive Conservatives tabled a budget this Thursday that lays out a $198.6 billion dollar spending plan. Here are some of the key mentions in the budget that likely will affect Six Nations.

Highway 6 expansion

Plans are underway to expand 9 kilometres of Highway 6 running from Upper James Street in Hamilton to the Highway 6 bypass — widening the roadway from two to four lanes. This, according to the budget, will include outreach to indigenous communities as stakeholders during a design and environmental assessment study for that.

Unregulated tobacco

The Conservatives say they are going to address unregulated tobacco by working with indigenous partners. Two independent facilitators have submitted a report to the government summarizing their engagement with First Nations that highlights the importance of the tobacco economy for First Nations and the need to continue to work together on economic development, smoking cessation, business regulation and community safety. The government says they are welcoming discussion with interested communities.

As a part of their plan to crack down on unregulated tobacco, Conservatives want to review and modernize the Tobacco Tax Act. Based on recommendations from the consultants in that unregulated tobacco report, Ontario wants to “ease administrative burden and strengthen provincial oversight” by enhancing tracking and tracing of raw leaf tobacco, and expanding enforcement partnerships with provincial, local and First Nations police services.

Entrepreneur funding

Ontario says it will be investing $25 million over three years to support indigenous communities through indigenous owned businesses and entrepreneurs with working capital to ensure continued business operations through the Indigenous Economic Development Fund.

Post-secondary education

Investing $9 million over three years to support the 9 indigenous institutes in Ontario including an indigenous institutes operating grant to expand postsecondary program offerings and an indigenous institutes capital grant to support capital repairs and renovations to facilities to accommodate new students.

The budget was tabled on April 28. Now, Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford has dissolved provincial parliament and Ontario has transitioned into elections mode. The vote is set for June 2.

The budget clearly lays out a platform on which the Conservatives are seeking re-election. Meaning if Ford wins, the PC’s will pick up on the work outlined in this budget and these initiatives.

There is something very interesting happening in provincial, federal and municipal elections in the areas around Six Nations — and something that everyone should be paying attention to.

Locally — Will Bouma is seeking re-election for Brantford-Brant. Provincially, whoever the MPP for this riding is, does have the authority to speak to on Six Nations issues at Queen’s Park. So making sure that person is an ally is important. So far, Bouma has been neutral on his involvement in indigenous specific issues in Brantford-Brant. But in that riding, despite the region having such a rich indigenous history, none of the candidates to date have proven to know much, or have much interest in indigenous issues.

On the Haldimand-Norfolk side — Leslyn Lewis is looking to run in the Conservative leadership race for the feds. She placed third in the last leadership race and has a lot of support to be a front runner out of the six official candidates raised so far. It would be interesting to see if she is named a winner. She has been noted as looking to bring forward anti-abortion policies for Canada which may be coming into the forefront as things on the US side get dicey on that topic. Though her time in Haldimand-Norfolk has been short, Lewis has not made much noise on the work of engaging with the indigenous communities or issues affecting her riding. So while having Lewis as an ally is also important, it is harder to tell if she will make indigenous issues a priority if she were named leader and elected PM in the next federal election.

As we move into provincial elections mode, and even closer toward the settlement of the Six Nations Land Claim settlement, it’s critical for Six Nations band members to walk into this season with eyes wide open, not ignoring federal and provincial politics — but taking the opportunity to pay attention to who may potentially be at the table when it comes to the political future of our community.

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