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Council of Canadians calls on Liberals to make good on their promises in World Water Day budget

Finance minister Bill Morneau will deliver the federal budget on World Water Day.

The Council of Canadians is calling for a $7.4 billion expenditure on water in this year’s federal budget plus the creation of a new ministry.

Radio Canada International (RCI) reports, “March 22 is World Water Day. It is also budget day in Canada and the Council of Canadians is calling on the government to budget $7.4 billion to expand the protection of water. The citizens’ group wants the new prime minister to name a cabinet minister responsible for water. Water issues are currently overseen by 20 different departments.”

The article highlights, “Topping its list of concerns is the estimate that 1/3 of Canada’s water infrastructure—such as pipes—is in fair to poor condition. It also notes that there were 1,838 drinking water advisories in 2015. These orders call on citizens to either boil their water to make it safe or to not use it at all.” Council of Canadians water campaigner Ema Lui says, “When you look particularly at First Nations (indigenous reserves), we see consistently there are over a hundred drinking water advisories, and so, people not being able to access water… The length of the advisories is very concerning because some communities have been under advisory for five years, 10 years, and we’re seeing some communities even close to 20 years.”

Specifically, our budget calls for:

– $5.8 billion to create a national public water and wastewater fund, including infrastructure aid for small municipalities and training, certification and conservation programs

– $500 million to protect the Great Lakes

– $470 million for water and wastewater in First Nations communities

– $117 million for protecting freshwater including implementing a groundwater protection plan, reviewing virtual water exports from Canada and creating a Minister of Water cabinet position

– $80 million for assessments of fracking, tar sands, mining and other energy projects, including community consultations and seeking free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous communities

– $94 million for reinstating federal funding for the Experimental Lakes Area and water programs at Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada Agency and other departments.

In 2008, when Stephane Dion was the leader of the federal Liberal party, he pledged that a Liberal government would create a water minister portfolio. Dion is now the federal Minister of Foreign Affairs. He also chairs the powerful Environment, Climate Change and Energy cabinet committee. This committee, “considers issues concerning sustainable development, the stewardship of Canada’s natural resources, environment, energy, water and Canada’s contribution to addressing climate change.” In other words, he is now in a position to move this promise forward.

In terms of other promises, on Oct. 5, 2015, Justin Trudeau pledged to eliminate boil water advisories in First Nations within five years. He said it would be a “top priority” for his government. And the Liberal election platform stated, “Stephen Harper’s changes to the Fisheries Act, and his elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, have weakened environmental protections. We will review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards. …We will modernize the National Energy Board, ensuring that its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields like environmental science, community development, and Indigenous traditional knowledge.”

RCI concludes, “Lui is heartened that newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made some commitments to restore and increase funding for water research and to end boil water advisories for First Nations. She says the budget will reveal how far it is willing to go in addressing water issues.”

To listen to the 4-minute interview with Lui, please click here.