After two years of negotiations with the Ford government to establish a bilateral economic growth and prosperity table, the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) have received just under $1 million to spend over the next two years to move forward.
The next step is to establish the Chiefs Committee on Economic Growth and Prosperity, which will be the “key body that will determine the priorities and guide the work of the table,” said Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald.
Meetings also need to be set up between COO’s leadership council and Premier Doug Ford and his Cabinet.
“There are some interim steps before the determination of the agenda is made so it really depends on the chiefs themselves because the chiefs are going to be the ones who will really be directing (this) and they will determine what will be discussed in the prosperity table,” said Archibald.
That table, she says, is an opportunity for Ontario First Nations and the province to work toward a shared goal. It was something she campaigned on when she was running for regional chief and something she continued to push over the past two years as a line item in the Ford budget.
“For me, listening to the Conservatives, they had a very strong economic agenda and this is something that is shared by First Nations. That's where the idea of the prosperity table came about. If we're going to interact with this provincial government, we had to find a space and subject matter that we could agree on,” said Archibald, who became regional chief at the same time Ford’s Provincial Conservatives were elected.
A key objective of the table will be to work in partnership with Ontario to establish three economic growth funds, said Archibald.
While funding is available presently through both the province and the federal governments to help build capacity in First Nations, Archibald says COO is looking for more dollars towards this end from Ontario.
A second fund will invest in entrepreneurs, helping individuals develop their businesses, including joint ventures and partnerships outside their communities, and even internationally.
A third fund, which Archibald anticipates will be the largest, is a partnership fund that will allow First Nations and entrepreneurs to partner in a variety of areas, including with industry, manufacturers, and municipalities through grants, equity, interest free loans or loans.
Funding is only one aspect of the prosperity table, but it’s integral to the success of First Nations entrepreneurs.
“To me that’s the most important element of this table, to make sure there is this funding and loans and equity available to really move economic development forward in Ontario,” said Archibald.
She adds that chiefs may also decide to look at federal funding in order to shore up economic development by First Nations.
“Whether we start to bring the federal government into this conversation is perhaps an evolutionary kind of process that might happen organically, but it’s hard to say because the table is at the very beginning and the chiefs have to determine where this table goes and what it does. It’s all in the hands of the chiefs,” said Archibald.
Considering Ford’s low approval ratings there may only be a two-year time frame for the province to negotiate on how economic development will move forward.
“It will be up to chiefs and grand chiefs to see what they can accomplish in two years,” said Archibald.
Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com