SIOUX LOOKOUT – Because of his blatant disregard for the lives of Ontarians in the Ipperwash crisis, the Walkerton tragedy and most recently, COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes, former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ nomination for the Order of Ontario must be rescinded, said Sol Mamakwa, NDP critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation in the following open letter to Doug Ford.
Hon. Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
Dear Premier Ford,
I am writing to you today both disappointed and outraged. Under the direction of your advisory council, former Premier Mike Harris has been nominated to receive the province’s highest honour, the Order of Ontario. Under no circumstances does Mike Harris deserve this award.
Mike Harris was instrumental in the death of Dudley George during the 1995 Ipperwash Crisis. George, an unarmed protestor, was shot and killed by police for defending his community’s right to their land. In the inquiry that followed, it was found that Harris placed significant pressure on the police to act, leaving no room for a peaceful resolution. Harris created a toxic and racist environment, where he showed no desire to work with Indigenous peoples. He only wanted them removed – even if that meant through violence.
To award Mike Harris with the Order of Ontario would be a disgrace and puts us several steps back in reconciliation. It tells Indigenous peoples that their lives don’t matter. It tells Ontarians that it is okay to shoot us.
It is not just Indigenous lives that Mike Harris has blatantly disregarded. In 2000, Harris’s cost-cutting measures led to the privatization of water testing and the firing of several ministry of environment workers. These cuts led to fewer checks and balances, causing the Walkerton tragedy to occur. In what is now known as the worst public health disaster relating to municipal water in Canadian history, more than 2,300 became ill after consuming E. Coli infected water. Seven people died.
The decisions Harris and his government made were responsible for the deaths of these people. How then, are we even considering awarding Harris the Order of Ontario? Harris caused ruin to the families of Dudley George and the seven individuals who died in Walkerton. To award Mike Harris this honour would be disrespectful to each of these families.
Harris has continued to show a disregard for Ontarians’ lives in his role as Chair of Chartwell Retirement Residences. For-profit long-term care homes, like Chartwell, have been proven to have worse records in terms of death and illness during COVID than their non-profit counterparts. This is due to their lower staffing levels and the homes’ squalid conditions. Over 1,800 elderly residents have died in long-term care homes, while private residences, like Chartwell, decided to pay out their shareholders. Of course these funds should have gone towards more staff and supplies for suffering residents. Harris deregulated this industry when he was premier, and he is continuing to show a disregard for the residents he is profiting from today.
Premier, it is clear to me, and over 45,000 other Ontarians, that Mike Harris does not deserve the Order of Ontario. Harris showed a blatant disregard for the lives of Ontarians, first in the way he handled the Ipperwash crisis, then the Walkerton tragedy and most recently, COVID-19 in long-term care homes.
Giving Harris this award would discredit the Order of Ontario.
Member of Provincial Parliament for Kiiwetinoong
Official Opposition NDP critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation