Our brother and sister First Nations on the Ontario side of the James Bay have four choices when they head to the ballot boxes for this latest of federal elections on May 2.

Chief Norman Hardisty Jr. of the Moose Cree First Nation said, “For myself I look at the best person to represent the riding. I don’t look at or support any party. It’s the person who is going to do their best for us that matters.”

As matter of fact, Hardisty hopes First Nations politics never moves to a party system as he feels this is how people, communities and issues fall through the cracks.

Hardisty said he wants to see what candidates are going to say about First Nations issues and problems. “I want to see the bar raised for First Nations. I want to know the candidates are listening to us and will bring that to Ottawa.

“Our communities need a boost to create a true self-sustaining and healthy economy. That is key and candidates have to address this.”

Hardisty said having a healthy economy will help address the social and economic problems experienced by individuals. “We need a jump start so we can help ourselves and each other. We are starting to see it but it still needs more so we can progress as a people. We don’t want to always be seen as needing a handout, we do not want to continue to live in Third World conditions and we want the bad housing to be a thing of the past. These are common causes that our First Nations communities and members will look for when looking at any candidate. We don’t want to be considered a minority whose issues are not considered when we go to vote.”

Kevin Schofield, Cree political junkie and musician, agreed to give a few comments on the candidates. He did this even though he believes “any election is just parading a bunch of fools in front of us.” Schofield said the comments of the “Bloc guy who trashed that Saganash guy” showed what some MPs think of First Nations people. He reminds First Nation voters that with “our large population we have the swing vote” and that we should make it count.

The Candidates

Charlie Angus, New Democratic Party

A true North candidate the incumbent MP Charlie Angus was born and raised in Timmins. He has shown how close he is to his roots by publishing five books on northern Ontario life and culture.

During his term, he has undoubtedly been a champion for First Nations. In his riding, Angus was instrumental in bringing the Kashechewan First Nations water crisis to national attention. It was called “a Walkerton-in-waiting by the Ontario Clean Water Agency. This water crisis saw community members being evacuated because of the dangers. Angus said, “The real difference between us and other parties is we take local issues like this and bring them to national attention.”

The Attawapiskat First Nation had a crisis concerning its school being built on toxic waste. Angus assisted the community on this issue and the community is slated for a new school. Shannen’s Dream, based on the idea safe schools for all, grew out of this. Angus said the NDP is looking to spend $1 billion a year to close the gap between education given to First Nations children and the rest of Canadians.

When asked how he got involved in these issues, Angus said he visits every community in his riding. “In both those communities I asked if the previous MP ever visited and they laughed. I was the first to do it and that way I learned about them and their challenges firsthand. If they want me to get involved, I do. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a First Nations community or not. I want to have a working relationship with them all. I don’t see myself as an outsider,” said Angus

On the other side of the James Bay Angus worked for three years with Quebec’s northern First Nations assisting in economic and community development, including the Algonquin First Nations and Barriere Lake. He was first elected in 2004 and the last two elections saw his support solidify significantly. In 2004, he scrapped by with less than 600 votes. But in 2006, he won by 6000 votes over the second-place loser.

Maclean’s magazine named Angus the Top Constituency MP in Canada. Angus said, “I have been honoured to work with all the different communities in my riding. I have learnt from them by listening to and developing a real relationship with them.”

Angus was the only candidate who returned calls by press deadline.
Schofield: This guy goes out of his way to assist First Nations people. He shows us that non-Native people have respect for us. That’s the type of people we need in the caucus. I like him.

Marilyn Wood, Liberal Party

Marilyn Wood has strong business roots in her northern riding. She owns a biotechnology company but has served on the Timmins Chamber of Commerce both as a director and president.

In the past, Wood as a management consultant worked with the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council.

She says this and her work with government, the private sector and non-profit agencies have given her an up-close understanding of some the challenges and opportunities facing northeastern Ontario’s Aboriginal communities. She is committed to working towards sustainable economic development and socio-economic prosperity for the people of the Timmins-James Bay riding.

 I don’t know anything about her. That’s a problem if you’re trying to get my vote or anyone else. Where does she stand on revenue sharing for First Nations on all the resources being taken from our territory?
Lisa Bennet, Green Party

Perhaps the hardest candidate to get to know, Lisa Bennet is easily the youngest running to represent the Timmins-James Bay area at 20 years old. The Green Party has replaced the NDP as the total underdog. They may have done well in other countries but Canada is the cold north as far as this party goes. Though they received almost a million votes overall in Canada that didn’t translate into a single MP.

One thing they believe in is “We will never place the pursuit of power above principle.” Combine that with their worldwide record on saving the environment while making a society’s standard of living higher and this is impressive. Canadian Greens point to other countries where Greens are in power and the benefits attained because of it. Though a long shot, getting to know someone with these beliefs would have proved out of the ordinary.

Bennet’s closest connection to First Nations is through her sister who has worked as a healthcare provider in Kashechewan, Moose Factory, Moosonee, Fort Albany, Attawapiskat and Peawanuk. With seasoning Bennet may prove to be a player to watch out for.

 I think it’s great someone this young is running. We need to see more youth involved like this. A lot of my friends didn’t even know or care an election is happening. We all need to be aware and get out and vote. Decisions are being made that affect everyone and I want a say in that, don’t you?
Bill Greenberg, Conservative Party

A relative unknown Bill Greenberg has some impressive credentials that will appeal to some. The initials behind his name include a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Economics, a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Diploma in Business Administration.

Greenberg has a real interest in politics and has found a way to make it profitable. For the past 10 years he has sold Canadian and American political memorabilia.

He is currently the branch manager of Union Securities Ltd. in Timmins. Greenberg has helped with a number of not-for-profit organizations.
Schofield: Dirty old rednecks. Just joking, but I am ashamed to say I voted Conservative last time. I thought they would help our economies. They talked a good line but in the end I was disappointed with the results.