M’CHIGEENG—Member of Parliament for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kaspuskasing, Carol Hughes, met with students at the Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng on June 13. Lakeview teacher Connie Freeman explained that Ms. Hughes was to talk with the students in Grade 8, but she had also asked pupils from Grade 7 to attend as they had been to a seminar on fracking and had questions to ask about this process. Some Grade 5 pupils also attended the class as they were studying aspects of the Canadian government.
Invited to the school and introduced by Ms. Freeman, Ms. Hughes told the pupils that she was there to answer any questions, but began with a question of her own. “Yesterday, there was an election in Ontario,” she said, “Did you hold an election in your school?” Upon hearing that a student election was not held, Ms. Hughes recommended that the next time there is an election, perhaps the students could hold a school vote. Stressing the importance of politics, she went on to suggest that maybe someone from the class would be the Prime Minister of Canada one day.
The first question asked of Ms. Hughes was,[pullquote] “If there were fracking on the Island, would you know where it would be?”[/pullquote] and she replied by talking about the grave concerns of the New Democratic Party (NDP) on issues involving the environment and said that her party had tabled a motion in 2012 on forming a committee to investigate fracking wherever it is taking place and its method of extraction as well as any effects on the environment, people and animals. “We need to be concerned about the environment,” Ms. Hughes told the class. “We don’t need a government that says business can police itself. It may be good from an economic viewpoint, but questions have to be asked about environmental impacts. We believe in sustainable energy, but it should be community driven. If it doesn’t work for the community, then it becomes very, very problematic.”
Another student was also concerned about the environment and he told Ms. Hughes that he had been swimming and saw a lot of oil in the lake. To this Ms. Hughes suggested that maybe the oil had come from a boat motor and stressed that everyone must properly maintain their equipment.
Lakeview School principal Neil Debassige also had a question for Ms. Hughes, asking [pullquote]“Why do we allow things like the tar sands to happen?”[/pullquote] to which she replied that yes, we do need oil and gas, but we have to be careful down the road. “Pollution from the tar sands is getting further and further away from the original area,” she said, “and it is all about money. It is a big challenge for the NDP to address this in parliament as we face a government that wants the tar sands.”
Ms. Hughes also talked about the relocation of First Nations people year after year, usually due to flooding. “There are ways that we can fix this,” she told the students. “We need infrastructure. Recommendations were made, but the government went the cheapest way. There needs to be a better way of doing things. We need a conversation with First Nations. There are areas where First Nations have no running water.”
In response to a question about controversial First Nations Control of Education Act, Ms. Hughes spoke of the inequities in funding for First Nations schools as there is a difference between the monies allotted for those schools as compared to off reserve educational facilities. She also spoke of the work being done for fair education by Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and an associate professor at the University of Alberta. The NDP has also drawn up a petition which reflects the work of Shannen Koostachin, a youth education advocate who lived on the Attawapiskat Reserve and worked for safe and comfortable schools for First Nations students. Ms. Koostachin died in 2010 at the age of 15 and Ms. Hughes’s party has initiated the Shannen’s Dream petition to continue to fight to improve the conditions of First Nation schools.
The students at Lakeview School were happy to have Ms. Hughes talk to them with Samara Bebonang saying, “I like that she talked about fracking,” while Tara Hoppe added, “I like that she told us about the water system and I like that she took the time out of her day to come and talk to us today.”