Joint Statement on Grassy Narrows by NDP MPPs Peter Tabuns and Sarah Campbell

Joint Statement on Grassy Narrows by NDP Environment Critic Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth), and Local MPP Sarah Campbell (Kenora-Rainy River)

“Today’s reports show definitively that the government was told about ongoing sources of mercury contamination of the Wabigoon River. For 50 years, people in Grassy Narrows have been getting sick and dying from mercury poisoning, but when NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asked the Premier if they knew about ongoing mercury contamination, the Premier refused to acknowledge anything.

The Premier is dodging responsibility for action, and that has to stop.

People in Grassy Narrows shouldn’t be dealing with mercury poisoning. The science is in, and we can clean up the waterway. New Democrats are calling on the Liberal government to do the right thing and start the cleanup of the Wabigoon-English River system.”



Hansard – June 8, 2016 


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Premier. The final report into the mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows was released publicly a week and a half ago. It says that high levels of mercury in Grassy Narrows' Wabigoon River suggest there may be an ongoing source of mercury in the system. The government has had this report since April. Will the Premier tell Ontarians whether the government is aware of any sources of ongoing mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Mr. Speaker, I know the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is going to want to comment. But I had the opportunity to attend the beginning of a meeting that the minister had with scientists from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and from his own ministry with the chief from Grassy Narrows. So I had the opportunity to meet with the chief and one of his colleagues.

We are very serious about looking at the recommendations in the report, making sure that we are doing everything in our power. I had an opportunity to talk to Chief Fobister and to say to him that when I went to Grassy Narrows and I talked to the scientists about the mercury that's in the sediment in the lake and in the river, at that point there was no knowledge of increased mercury or ongoing mercury poisoning. If that is the case, we need to discover what that is and we need to look at whether there are ways that it can be cleaned up, as I said, without doing further damage.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Perhaps the Premier can tell Ontarians, then, whether the government is actually monitoring the water in the Wabigoon River so they know definitively whether or not there is new mercury contamination in the Wabigoon River in Grassy Narrows?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

Hon. David Zimmer: As the Premier said, yesterday afternoon, I and my assistant deputy minister, scientists from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change along with the minister himself, Minister Murray, met with Chief Fobister and one of his officials. We had an agenda of some five items. This mercury pollution issue was obviously one of those items on the agenda. As a result of that meeting, I have committed to going to Grassy Narrows on June 27. I will be accompanied by Minister Murray. We will also be accompanied by a number of Ontario scientists. Having spoken to the Minister of Health, Minister Hoskins, this morning-he is attempting to rearrange his schedule so he can come to Grassy Narrows also.

We take this issue very seriously. That's why the Premier and three ministers have met with the chief and will continue-

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: To date, this Premier has refused to accept all of the scientific evidence that shows that mercury in Grassy Narrows can be cleaned up. In the meantime, the people of Grassy Narrows and the children of Grassy Narrows First Nation continue to get sick and continue to worry.

It is time to accept the truth. It is time to begin some action on reconciliation. It has been decades. This government has been in power for over a decade. The question is: When will this Premier begin the cleanup of Grassy Narrows and the Wabigoon River?


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Thank you.


Hon. David Zimmer: Minister Murray.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Hon. Glen R. Murray: The report-the very good report-we received talks about the need for an immediate field study, in addition to the ongoing monitoring that the scientists in the Ministry of the Environment have been doing both on fish and water.

Minister Zimmer, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and I met with the chief. We tabled a comprehensive 12-month plan for full field studies and to be able to determine how the mercury could be extracted without causing additional harm to people and to the environment. We agreed that the First Nations and Chief Fobister would make those decisions with the support of both ministries.

As Minister Zimmer said, we have a follow-up meeting with our team of scientists and we will be up there working under the leadership of the First Nations, providing them with all of the resources they need to properly act on and solve this problem, Mr. Speaker.


Hansard – June 1, 2016


Ms. Sarah Campbell: To the Premier: "In the spirit of reconciliation, the Ontario government should do the right thing" and clean up the Wabigoon River system and Clay Lake. That wasn't the NDP that said this, even though we've repeatedly raised the issue of the legacy of mercury contamination of the Grassy Narrows First Nation territory with this government; that was Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day.

"No single act would go further to illustrate that a new era has dawned in our relationship with indigenous peoples and our shared environment," said Dr. David Suzuki.

"Efforts to remediate the mercury have been postponed long enough." That's the Liberal MP for Dryden, the former Indian affairs federal minister, Bob Nault.

Speaker, when will this government do what everyone knows needs to be done and clean up the Wabigoon River so that the people of Grassy Narrows may fish and live off their land without becoming sick?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

Hon. David Zimmer: As you know, this report was released the other day. It is with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. My office received a copy yesterday. My office is reviewing the report, as is the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The report suggests new science. This government is always, always interested in the best science available, the newest science available. We will consider the scientific suggestions and the recommendations in the report after our experts have had a chance to review the report and will comment later on it.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Sarah Campbell: Two days ago-the same day the Premier apologized for the province's role in the legacy of residential schools-the Premier said that she hadn't read the report that her government has had since April. And now we hear from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs that they've only received the report yesterday. This is ridiculous.

Yesterday, the Premier said that she had read the report, but she claimed that the solutions that were proposed in there weren't clear. So let me be clear, because the report is very clear: Determine whether there is an ongoing mercury leak; find out if there are hot spots that carry contaminated mercury downriver; and inject clay into the river to enhance the natural remediation that's going on. It has been done effectively in other parts of the province, such as Sudbury, decades ago.

We know that it can be done, so Speaker, let me ask this: Why won't this Premier commit to cleaning up the Wabigoon River of its mercury contamination that's making the people in Grassy Narrows sick?

Hon. David Zimmer: Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Hon. Glen R. Murray: Not only has the Premier read it; she's instructed me and the Minister of-indigenous relations?

Interjection: Aboriginal Affairs.

Hon. Glen R. Murray: Aboriginal Affairs-soon to be something even more exciting.

The report is being reviewed right now. It's been read by myself and the Premier. We take it very seriously. It's not a simple report. It asks for determination of sources, which is complex. There are issues of sediment. There are issues around the fact that the Dryden plant doesn't use mercury anymore. There are still potentially other sources, and there's a complex set of issues in Clay Lake.

Chief Isadore Day and I meet every two weeks. We met yesterday. We had a lengthy discussion about that. He's proposing some ideas. He's working with Grassy Narrows First Nation. We will be moving very quickly on this, but everyone agrees on more research to determine which of the interventions suggested and which combinations are best. We're going to get to the bottom of it, and I'll work with you to ensure that we work together on that.