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Ontario minister decries Harper's 'irresponsible' stand on Attawapiskat

A Red Cross worker unloads sleeping bags at the airport in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Nov. 29, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is "irresponsible" for blaming residents of a remote first-nations community for their appalling living conditions instead of resolving the housing crisis, government and opposition members at Queen's Park say.

Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for attributing Attawapiskat's problems to the inability of its leaders to translate the millions of dollars the community receives each year into tangible improvements for its 2,000 residents.

"If this would be the response to housing conditions that are unacceptable, [this]suggests to me there are people not interested in getting at the root of the problem," Ms. Wynne told reporters on Thursday.

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She accused the federal government during Question Period of taking the path of "least resistance" by announcing that it plans to strip the community of authority to manage its finances. All this does, she said, is distract attention away from the fact that many people in Attawapiskat are living in tents and using slop pails for toilets.

"To allow this situation to devolve into a blame game, I think, is irresponsible."

Ms. Wynne stressed that she is not suggesting an accounting of the money Ottawa has invested in the community is not important. Rather, she said, everyone – the federal government, the Ontario government and first-nations leaders – should be focused right now on working together to address the unacceptable living conditions.

"The fundamentals remains that kids are not getting the shelter that they need, kids are not getting the education that they need," she said.

On Monday, the Ontario government sent officials to survey conditions in the fly-in community about 500 kilometres north of Timmins.

Gilles Bisson, the New Democrat MPP for Timmins–James Bay, also said the federal government's "rather unfortunate" position on accounting matters does nothing to respond to the crisis in the community.

"We still have people living in tents, we still have people living in sheds...and the federal government says 'let's blame the community,'" he said.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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