Skip to content

Federal Budget Fails Miserably in Protecting the Great Lakes and the right to water of Canadians and First Nations

Despite releasing the budget on World Water Day, the Harper government failed miserably to meet its federal responsibilities on water in Canada.

First Nations and Drinking Water

Despite there being 116 First Nations communities under a Drinking Water Advisory as of the end of February, yesterday’s budget failed to allocate any new funding for drinking water on First Nation reserves. The only new funding for First Nations infrastructure included “$22 million over two years to help First Nations ensure that the fuel tanks that power their essential community services…meet new environmental safety standards.” In the 2010 Budget, $330 million was allocated over two years for the First Nation Water and Wastewater Action plan (FNWWAP). The five key areas under the FNWWAP are: Infrastructure investments; Operations and maintenance; Training; Monitoring and awareness; and Standards, which means First Nations have to fund all of these five areas with a meagre $165 million this year.

Federal funding for water on First Nation reserves has been atrocious in past years. The following are the government’s commitments for First Nations water and water systems since 2003:

•    In Budget 2003, $600 million in new funding for the First Nations Water Management Strategy was committed to improving the quality of water and waste water treatment in First Nations communities.
•    In Budget 2006, the federal government committed $60 million over two years to support the Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nations Communities.
•    In Budget 2008, an additional $330 million over two years was committed for the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan to improve access to safe drinking water on reserves (coinciding with the termination of the FNWMS).
•    In Budget 2009, $165 million was committed to build or upgrade 18 water and waste water infrastructure projects on reserves.
•    In Budget 2010, $330 million over two years was committed to continue the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan to improve access to safe drinking water on reserves.

Based on these figures the federal government has spent under $1.5 billion since 2003. In the 2011 Alternative Federal Budget, the Council of Canadians called for $ 1 billion to build, upgrade and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nation communities.

Great Lakes

Last year, the budget allocated $16 million over 2 years for the Great Lakes Action Plan. This year, the federal government only increased funding by an “additional $5 million over two years to improve nearshore water and ecosystem health, and better address the presence of phosphorous in the Great Lakes.”

The Obama administration has committed $350  million for Great Lakes clean up; even the Republican party supported $225 million for the Restoration Initiative. The federal government needs to increase funding significantly in order to protect the Great Lakes as a commons, public trust and protected bioregion.
Maude Barlow released a report yesterday entitled Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever, which notes that the Great Lakes have been “consistently underfunded.”

The International Joint Commission released its 15th Biennial Report earlier this month which highlighted increases in levels of contaminants in the fish, groundwater, invasive species and chemicals of emerging concern including pharmaceuticals and flame retardants. “Canada and the United States are backsliding in their efforts to clean up the Great Lakes,” said Lana Pollack, U.S. chairwoman of the IJC, “There’s been a huge disinvestment, a turning away, that is damaging the lakes.”

The 2011 Alternative Federal Budget calls for $3.375 billion in new funding over five years, to clean up polluted lakes and rivers, protect Canada’s waterways from invasive species, and to clean-up the Great Lakes. The AFB will implement a comprehensive action plan to protect to the Great Lakes and other lakes in Canada. The funding will be used towards cleaning up areas of concern and priority zones, invasive species, inventory of how much water is in Canadian lakes, research/calculation of total water withdrawals, wetlands protection, and research and inventory on pollutants that are not covered by Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the National Pollutant Inventory.

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

There is no mention of funding for water and wastewater infrastructure for municipalities. A new Environics Research poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians indicates that 78% of Canadians support the federal government spending $31 billion in federal budgets over the coming years for urgently needed maintenance and upgrading of water and waste water infrastructure. In November 2007, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released its report titled Danger Ahead: The Coming Collapse of Canada’s Municipal Infrastructure, which stated that $31 billion was needed to “repair and prevent deterioration” in water infrastructure (distribution, supply and treatment) and wastewater systems (sanitary and storm sewers and related treatment facilities). The Alternative Federal Budget recommends $5 billion in 2011-12 to be invested in a National Public Water Fund, municipal water transfers would then reach their yearly target of $4 billion in 2012-13 in order to pay down the $31 billion infrastructure deficit in 7 and a half years.

The federal government is clearly out of step with Canadians, First Nations and what is needed to protect our water at the federal level. With a non-confidence vote expected Friday and a possible election date of May 2, people in Canada will have an opportunity to press parties to reprioritize federal spending to include sorely needed funding for the Great Lakes, First Nations drinking water and municipal water and waste water infrastructure.