McGuinty to create stand-alone aboriginal ministry
TORONTO - With an election less than four months away, Ontario's Liberal government moved Thursday to ease tensions with native groups by creating a stand-alone Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, but without expanding the provincial cabinet.
Premier Dalton McGuinty used National Aboriginal Day to announce the creation of the ministry, but said Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay _ who was already minister responsible for aboriginal affairs _ will continue to do both jobs.
Aboriginal affairs had previously been considered a secretariat within the Natural Resources portfolio. Ramsay was to be sworn in for his new job late Thursday.
The government also announced it would appoint a new deputy minister of aboriginal affairs to oversee the new ministry.
Tensions between the province and aboriginal communities have been high since Six Nations protesters started occupying a disputed housing development in Caledonia, Ont., south of Hamilton, in February 2006.
The protesters continue to occupy the site, and Ontario Provincial Police have spent millions of dollars on overtime to keep watch on the situation, which at times has sparked clashes with local residents and outside agitators.
The creation of a separate Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs was one of the key recommendations of the public inquiry into the 1995 police shooting death of aboriginal protester Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
The park remains occupied and closed to the public, more than 12 years after a provincial police sniper fired the deadly shot at the unarmed George.
Ramsay's appointment to the aboriginal affairs portfolio comes after McGuinty adjourned the legislature until the Oct. 10 election, and when weekly cabinet meetings are scaled back to about once a month.
There was no immediate word Thursday on whether the province planned to follow through on another recommendation from the Ipperwash inquiry to create a Treaty Commission of Ontario to settle outstanding land claims.
The day after the inquiry's report was released last month, Sam George, the brother of Dudley George, called on the province to return the Ipperwash land to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation as a way of restoring peace.
McGuinty said at the time that it was too soon to decide whether the province could commit to returning the land.