Controversial comments by Muskoka Lakes Mayoralty candidate Don Furniss, who has suggested that recent actions surrounding Bala Falls are aimed at turning the site into “Caledonia North”.

Furniss was speaking Monday night at an all-candidates debate in Bala – video of the speech was shot by Save the Bala Falls supporter Tom Millar.

“The occupation of this hydro site by paid protesters with aboriginal involvement is a charade concocted by your Mayor and other Save the Bala Falls fanatics to turn Bala into Caledonia North,” Furniss can be seen telling the almost 300 capacity crowd, before adding:  “This nonsense has to stop.”

Recently Wahta First Nation protested at the site after telling the Federal and Provincial governments they weren’t adequately consulted on the decision to ban portaging there. Today, Wahta First Nation’s Senior Administrator Karen Commandant told the Moose she was in attendance at the meeting and that she found Furniss’s comments to be “highly offensive”. On a break at the debate she asked Furniss to retract them, but she says he failed to do so.

“He said I misunderstood him, but I’m pretty sure we all heard the same thing,” said Commandant, adding that Wahta has not been paid to involve themselves in the Bala Portage issue or any issues at the controversial site. Furniss tells the Moose he does believe the single protester who is currently occupying the site is paid, but that he did not say Wahta First Nation were. Furniss also stands by his statement about the occupation being a concocted charade. Furniss says eight First Nations were consulted with about the controversial hydro plant in the plan’s early days  “Where were these people five years ago when this first showed up?” he told the Moose. “What’s the connection?”

Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy who is running against Furniss has also commented to the Moose on his remarks. “Don’s comments at the debate last night clearly demonstrate his lack of judgement and lack of understanding on a key issue in our community,” she said. “Further, he was highly disrespectful to our neighbours, the Wahta Mohawks.  This is not appropriate for a member of Council, let alone someone who wishes to lead our community as the Mayor.”

Commandant says she found Furniss’s comments to be prejudicial towards the First Nation and community members of Bala as well, as Furniss also suggested the Bala Falls issue was out of the local Township council’s hands because it’s a provincial matter.