Thunder Bay

No commitment to visits by PM Trudeau to 2 northern Ontario First Nations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't yet committed to visiting two First Nations in northwestern Ontario despite leaders from those communities asking that he come see the effects of ongoing issues first hand.

Leaders from Grassy Narrows, Cat Lake have both requested Prime Minister visit to see struggles first hand

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was non-committal when asked if he would visit two northwestern Ontario First Nations - Grassy Narrows and Cat Lake - who have asked him to come to their communities. (Christina Jung/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't yet committed to visiting two First Nations in northwestern Ontario despite leaders from those communities asking that he come see the effects of ongoing issues, first hand.

The chiefs of Grassy Narrows and Cat Lake have called on Trudeau to visit their communities. Grassy Narrows continues to deal with the fallout of industrial dumping in the English-Wabigoon River system about 50 years ago and the resulting mercury contamination of the water and fish, while Cat Lake is grappling with a housing crisis.

"I have spent much time criss-crossing the country over the past years and I've had the opportunity to meet with many Indigenous leaders and citizens in their communities," Trudeau told reporters when he was in Thunder Bay on Friday, responding to a question of whether he would commit to visits to Grassy Narrows and Cat Lake.

"There's always more to do and I look forward to opportunities to continue to come visit Canadians, not just, though, to see the challenges but to [celebrate] the successes we're facing."

Ottawa has pledged money to the two First Nations: Grassy Narrows is working with Indigenous Services Canada on the construction of a specialized mercury treatment centre in the community, while Ottawa has pledged nearly $13 million to Cat Lake to start replacing derelict homes that community leadership has said are dangerously substandard.

Trudeau acknowledged Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan's work in finalizing that funding agreement.

"We're going to continue to be there and present, not just in one community or another that is facing particular challenges but in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities right across the country," Trudeau said.

"We're going to work very hard not just on one or two of them but on all of them and that takes a whole-of-government approach and that's why I'm so pleased to be supported by an extraordinary team of ministers and MPs who are out there connecting and creating solutions."

Grassy Narrows has also called on Ottawa to help compensate people suffering the effects of mercury contamination. Advocates for the community have said the existing Mercury Disability Board, which was established in the 1980s and is under provincial jurisdiction, has only resulted in about six per cent of Grassy Narrows members getting any compensation.

While the province has committed to indexing payouts to inflation, there's been little talk about changing the eligibility criteria.

The mercury contamination of the river also closed a once-thriving commercial fishery in Grassy Narrows in the 1970s, putting many people out of work.

now