In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves by March of 2021. As his deadline expires, it is clear that he has failed due to a lack of effort and commitment.
There were drinking water advisories in 126 First Nation communities in 2015. Today, there are still advisories in 39 First Nation communities. While the Federal government pats itself on the back for making progress, dozens of First Nations communities are still waiting. We must keep up the pressure.
The Liberal Government has blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for breaking their promise but even in 2017 it was clear that Federal efforts would fall short. A Parliamentary Budget Officer report indicated that the Liberals would miss their 2021 deadline because the government planned to spend as much as 46 per cent less than what was required.
Most drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves are boil water advisories. However, there are a handful of communities that are under “Do Not Consume” orders. On some reserves, the water causes painful rashes and other skin conditions and cannot be safely used at all.
The Neskantaga First Nation has been under a boil water advisory since 1995 and has even had to evacuate their homes twice because of the water crisis. Most recently, a “Do Not Consume” order forced the community from their homes from mid-October until December 20, 2020. They are still under a Boil Water advisory.
How many people will get sick while waiting for clean water?
The Federal government has no idea, neither do any other governments. Nobody has been tracking water related illnesses on reserves, despite the fact that clean water has been a cornerstone of Public Health for more than a century and so many reserves have lived without clean water for a generation or more. Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism has a comprehensive website with more excellent information about this: Clean Water, Broken Promises (arcgis.com)
One of the reasons for Trudeau’s broken promise is that his government has been promoting public-private partnerships (P3s) as a solution for water infrastructure project needs across Canada.
The lack of access to safe drinking water in First Nations is a violation of the United Nations Human Right to Water, a violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and of individual treaties with specific First Nations. It is a public health crisis of unknown scope because no authority wants to know just how bad it is.
The federal government must invest in relationships and provide the funding needed to ensure long-term clean water infrastructure across the country. This must include enough funding to end the remaining water advisories, provided in a way that respects Indigenous sovereignty and the right to free, prior, and informed consent on all projects.
The only reason these advisories continue is a lack of political will to end them. This World Water day, please take a moment to tell Prime Minister Trudeau to honour his 2015 commitment and the treaties by putting an end to this shameful chapter in our history.