Pickering mayor insists he has ‘actively reached out’ to local First Nation on development issues

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Published June 14, 2024 at 12:12 pm

Pickering Airport lands
Lands in northeast Pickering

“We are in a housing crisis,” said Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe in explaining his rationale behind asking the provincial Housing minister to expedite development in northeast Pickering.

But the Mississaugas of Scugog Island (MSIFN) believe a request to remove a 50-year-old Minister’s Zoning Order to pry open lands near a long-proposed airport in northeast Pickering to build houses without consulting the First Nation “makes a mockery of public office and its mandate to solve difficult problems.”

Ashe, who asked Paul Callandra to remove the MZO – put in place to protect lands expropriated in the early 1970s for a future airport – last month, said his letter was not to speed up the development in the area and is also consistent with the Region’s Envision Durham Official Plan.

As well, he added, the City of Pickering has “actively reached out” to MSIFN for consultations and collaboration on the land since 2022 and sent a message to LaRocca on May 24 asking for a meeting for “further discussion and consultation” on the matter.

“My letter to the Minister is consistent with the positions of both Pickering Council and Durham Regional Council and I would be happy to meet with Chief LaRocca to review and clarify any lingering concerns related to this matter.”

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe

LaRocca and Councillors Sylvia Coleman and Jeff Forbes, however, made it clear to Ashe that Strong Mayor Powers granted to municipal mayors by the Province do not supersede their obligation for proper consultation with local indigenous communities on important planning matters.

MSIFN Council also expressed “profound concerns” with how strong mayor powers appear to be interpreted.

Ashe left out the First Nation in his comments declaring the goal of building more homes in northeast Pickering to meet provincially mandated housing targets is a “shared commitment” of the Province, the federal government and the two levels of local government.

The timing of the omission was particularly galling to MSIFN Council as June is National Indigenous History Month, with the highlight of the celebration National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, when Canadians “recognize and celebrate” the history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis across the country.

“Both these celebrations and supportive statements on social media are meaningless as long as fundamental Indigenous rights are being trampled on by political decision-makers,” MSIFN Council declared in a statement. “Requesting Minster’s Zoning Orders to speed up development on Indigenous Treaty Lands without consulting with affected First Nations is morally and constitutionally wrong.”

Ashe is insisting his letter to Calandra is entirely about building more homes in the city and has “no bearing” on encroaching on the protected Greenbelt.

“We all want to see the continued protection of the Greenbelt lands in northeast Pickering,” Ashe said in an email in response to a request from indurham, adding that his request will have no affect “in any capacity” on the airport lands.

Ashe said his position is also consistent with the positions of both Pickering and Durham councils, though his letter to Calandra was issued under Strong Mayor Powers and not from any decision by his council.

MSIFN said in a recent social media post directed to Ashe that they recognize both the “legal complexities” and the need for housing in a growing province but that the First Nation needs to be in the loop on planning issues on Treaty lands.

“Shrugging at these difficulties and unilaterally moving forward with contested ideas anyway is unacceptable and makes a mockery of public office and its mandate to solve difficult problems,” the statement read. “We urge provincial and municipal government representatives to recognize these complexities and pause developments in contested areas until clarity has been achieved.”

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