Indigenous groups, nurses’ association say Ontario left them out of the loop on health reforms

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Groups that could be affected by a major overhaul of the province’s health system say they are troubled they have been left out of the loop.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said he was surprised to learn through the media that government officials have proposed “outsourcing” the ORNGE air ambulance service. Approximately 60 per cent of ORNGE’s transports are from northern Ontario, including from First Nation communities.

About 60 per cent of ORNGE’s air ambulance transports are from northern Ontario, including from First Nation communities.
About 60 per cent of ORNGE’s air ambulance transports are from northern Ontario, including from First Nation communities.  (TARA WALTON / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said it too is concerned it has not been consulted about health reforms that appear to be well underway.

The provincial New Democrats caught the provincial government off guard by releasing to the media leaked government documents on proposed and planned health restructuring — one batch earlier this week and the other the week before.

The documents state that Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet approved “the full health-care transformation plan” at a Jan. 16 cabinet meeting. The documents included draft legislation to create a health “super agency” out of more than 20 smaller agencies, including local health integration networks (LHINs) and Cancer Care Ontario.

Although ORNGE was on the list, Health Minister Christine Elliott has said it will not be privatized.

She has tried to play down the leaks, telling the media that while “transformation” is coming, nothing has been “finalized” and that the government will continue to consult with the public.

Fiddler said he is not quite sure what is happening but was puzzled to learn through the media that ORNGE has even been on the table: “It’s concerning that these discussions may be happening without involving those who would be most impacted.”

As part of Ontario’s health system, ORNGE has access to some of the province’s premier critical care and trauma specialists who provide consultations to remote, mainly Indigenous communities, former deputy health minister Dr. Bob Bell explained.

“If ORNGE’s responsibilities were outsourced to the lowest bidder, it is unlikely that citizens would have access to the same quality of medical consultation that ORNGE provides,” he warned.

The leaked documents warn that shuttering LHINs could result in a “service disruption” and labour disruption with ONA.

A written statement provided by ONA on Friday said the organization, which represents 65,000 nurses and health-care professionals, is in the dark about what to expect:

“ONA does not have any information about whether these policies may or may not be government policy. ONA is in contact with the premier’s office and the ministry of health, which we are hopeful will lead to further engagement around the government’s planning for Ontario’s health-care system.”

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said he was surprised to learn through the media that government officials had proposed "outsourcing" the ORNGE air ambulance service. Ontario's health minister says it won't be privatized.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said he was surprised to learn through the media that government officials had proposed « outsourcing » the ORNGE air ambulance service. Ontario’s health minister says it won’t be privatized.  (Tanya Talaga/Toronto Star FILE PHOTO)

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told caucus members on Friday, the last day of a three-day retreat in Durham Region, that the party plans to hold the government to account on the reforms when the Legislature resumes sitting in just over a week.

“A looming overhaul of health-care delivery … will open the door to for-profit corporations getting access to public health-care dollars,” she warned.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by the media on Thursday about the NDP’s concerns that Ontario is opening the door to two-tier health care.

He responded that the federal government will always stand up for its responsibilities to defend the Canada Health Act and ensure universal access to a strong health-care system, The Canadian Press reported.

Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, took to Twitter to call on the prime minister to put his money where his mouth is:

“Personally I feel this is posturing. Ontario hospitals are overcapacity but the (Government) of Canada is on the retreat when it comes to health-care transfers. Without adequate financial federal support it will be that much more difficult to end hallway health care.”

Meantime, the Star has learned a recruitment firm is already searching for a CEO to head the new super agency. It is seeking an individual with a business background as opposed to health-care expertise, said a source close to government who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source was not authorized to speak to the media.

Theresa Boyle is a Toronto-based reporter covering health. Follow her on Twitter: @theresaboyle

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Boozeless parties? Alberta women launch groups for sober fun

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Kira Dunlop says she can’t count the number of times she’s been called boring.

She stopped drinking this past year but still likes to have fun. That concept, of socializing while sober, seems strange to many, she says, and outright offensive to others.

« You have a hard day at work, you go out for a beer. You know, your girlfriend dumped you, your truck broke down, you go out for a beer, » Dunlop told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday. « If I came, either it was a total buzz kill or, alternatively, like I just felt super, super uncomfortable and I had to leave. »

Dunlop, 23, founded organized a group in November called the Calgary Boring Little Girls Club, a tongue-in-cheek name. It’s dedicated to running events for young people who want to have fun without drinking, from skating to enjoying live music.

Kira Dunlop founded Calgary Boring Little Girls Club, a tongue-in-cheek reference to people who’ve called her boring for not drinking. (Kira Dunlop)

There is a similar group in Edmonton, Sober Saturdayz, that puts on bar events with nonalcoholic beverages.

The founders of both groups say they tried to curtail their own drinking, after seeing the negative impacts of it, but found their social lives disappeared. Dating, as well, became difficult for Sober Saturdayz founder Katie Degen, 26.

« People don’t know where to take you or how to talk to you. Suddenly it gets really awkward just because you’re sober, » she said. « Especially like at this age they’re like, ‘well, what do you do then?' »

‘Free-for-all’ drinking

In Canada, 78 per cent of people over the age of 15 drank sometimes in 2017, according to the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, a figure that’s remained steady in recent years.

Young people aged 20 to 24 show signs of riskier alcohol use, the annual survey consistently finds. Twenty-nine per cent of that age group exceeded the amount of drinking required to be considered chronic risk. According to the guidelines, chronic risk means drinking up to 10 drink a week for women and 15 for men.

The positive response to the events has been overwhelming and unexpected, Degen said. She’s heard from people of all ages who love the bar scene but not the drinks.

« No one teaches you how to drink. They tell you you can’t drink until you’re legal and then all of a sudden is a free-for-all, » she said. « Until it’s a problem — and then suddenly you’re supposed to be embarrassed about it. »

The two groups are teaming up for a joint event. Each city will host Love Fest, a night of live music with complimentary hair and makeup, plus non-alcoholic cocktails and treats. Calgary’s event is on Feb. 9 and Edmonton’s is on Feb. 23.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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Quebec police begin removing red bands deemed provocative by Indigenous groups – Montreal

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Quebec provincial police officers have begun removing controversial red bands they had been wearing in solidarity with colleagues alleged to have abused Indigenous women.

Officers began wearing the bands on their uniforms two years ago as a show of support for the Val d’Or detachment in northwestern Quebec after eight officers there were suspended because of the abuse allegations.

The eight officers filed grievances against their employer, and provincial police spokesman Guy Lapointe says a deal has now been reached resolving the grievances.

READ MORE: Celebrations and controversy mark National Indigenous Peoples Day in Quebec

He says it’s a confidential agreement but confirms that officers are removing the bands.

Following an outside investigation, no charges were filed against the eight officers.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, had called the bands provocative.

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Fort McMurray region’s Indigenous groups support oilsands mine, company tells review panel

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The company that hopes to build a massive oilsands project north of Fort McMurray says it has secured the support of all 14 Indigenous groups in the region.

On the first day of hearings before a joint-review panel, company officials said Teck Resources Ltd. has signed participation agreements with the Dene, Cree and Métis communities whose traditional territories intersect with the proposed mine.

The company’s $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine project is undergoing public hearings in Fort McMurray before the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The mine’s lease areas, 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, overlap with traditional Indigenous lands and the territory of the threatened Ronald Lake bison herd.

But the land for the mine, a total of 292 square kilometres, or an area about half the size of Edmonton, would not be disturbed all at once.

Map showing the location of the Ronald Lake Bison Reserve in relation to a proposed oilsands mine planned by Teck Resources Ltd. (CBC News Graphics)

At Tuesday’s hearing, Teck officials announced the final Indigenous group from the region, the Mikisew Cree First Nation of Fort Chipewyan, had signed an agreement.

No company has ever obtained more such agreements before a public hearing to review the environmental and socio-economic impacts of an open-pit oilsands mine, said Kieron McFadyen, vice-president of energy for the Vancouver-based company.

Chief: ‘I used to be anti-development’

Archie Waquan, chief of the Mikisew Cree, told CBC News the agreement marks a personal change for him. 

« I think Teck has learned from Suncor and Syncrude and they want to do better, » Waquan said. « I used to be anti-development. I have to say if I don’t get on the train, I am going to be chasing the train. »

Waquan would not divulge details about the agreement but said it would allow Indigenous groups to hold Teck to account if the company doesn’t follow through on its promises to protect the environment.

Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan attends the opening of Fort Hills oilsands mine on Sept. 10, 2018. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Some of the region’s Indigenous groups say they still have concerns about the project.

Waquan said his First Nation will call on the federal government to create a buffer zone around Wood Buffalo National Park and a protected area for the free-roaming Ronald Lake bison herd.

Teck officials told the panel the company will support adding those requirements to its application.

Bullying Indigenous groups?

During cross-examination Tuesday, Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories argued they weren’t properly consulted about the project.

McFadyen said given that the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation are so far from the proposed mine, the company saw no need to sign agreements with those groups.

When the joint-review panel finishes its five-week public hearing it will submit a report to the federal minister of environment and climate change. 

As of Monday, the panel had 200 working days before that report is due.

Greenpeace’s Mike Hudema, whose group opposes the project, accused Teck of bullying Indigenous groups into side deals.

Hudema said many communities were forced to compromise because they know regulators have never rejected an oilsands application and will likely approve this one. 

« That’s not living up to our commitment to Indigenous peoples and Indigenous reconciliation, » Hudema said. « When they feel forced into a decision they don’t want to make. »

Indigenous groups support Teck’s Frontier oilsands mine

Here’s a list of Indigenous groups that have signed agreements with Teck:

1. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

2. Mikisew Cree First Nation

3. Fort McKay First Nation

4. Fort Chipewyan Métis

5. Fort McKay Métis

6. Fort Mc Murray Métis 1935

7. Fort McMurray First Nation #468

8. Métis Nation of Alberta- Region One and it’s member locals

9. Athabasca Landing Local # 2010

10. Buffalo Lake Local # 2002

11. Conklin Local # 193

12. Lac La Biche Local # 1909

13. Owl River Local # 1949

14. Willow Lake Local # 780

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

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