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Council organizer Tress speaks at rally to push Trudeau on First Nation drinking water promise

Halifax-based Council of Canadians Robin Tress spoke at a rally yesterday focused on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to eliminate boil water advisories in First Nations across the country.

The CBC reports that about 150 people were at the protest.

On October 5, 2015, Trudeau made this election promise: “We have 93 different communities under 133 different boil water advisories across the country. [Serpent River First Nation] Chief Isadore Day has called for within five years there should be zero, and I’ve told the Chief and I’ve told First Nations many times, we agree with that, and a Canadian government led by me will address this as a top priority because it’s not right in a country like Canada that this has gone on for far too long.”

Katie Douglas, the organizer of yesterday’s protest, says, “We’re here as voters to let him know that we are paying attention and we have not forgotten and we want to see change.”

The Council of Canadians has repeatedly called on the federal government to invest $4.7 billion into First Nations water and wastewater services.

That specific figure is based on a ‘National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems’ conducted by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada in 2011. That report estimated it would cost $4.7 billion over a ten year period to meet the department’s protocols for water and wastewater services for First Nations communities, including an immediate $1.2 billion to deal with high-risk systems.

Just after the Trudeau government’s first budget in March 2016, Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui wrote, “Budget 2016 allocates $1.8 billion over the next five years for improving on reserve water and wastewater infrastructure and waste management. But [rather than the immediate $1.2 billion recommended, or even the $470 million a year called for in the Alternative Federal Budget], the government will spend $296 million in year one and $322 in year two.” While the average annual expenditure may be $448 million, a large portion of this spending has been back-ended.

Lui concluded, “It falls short of what is needed.”

Now, Budget 2017 states, “Over the last year, the Government has lifted 18 long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities, and is on track to eliminate all remaining advisories by March 2021.”

But just last month, CBC reported, “There are 71 long-term drinking water advisories — in existence for a year or more — in First Nations communities across Canada. Since November 2015, 18 such warnings have been lifted, allowing the communities to drink their tap water. But 12 advisories have been added, according to figures provided by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.”

Given the federal government’s own report calls for $4.7 billion in spending for First Nations water and wastewater services, it does not seem likely that Trudeau’s budget commitment of $2.24 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure will enable him to eliminate boil water advisories within the next five years.