Skip to content

NEWS: First Nations water bill to be announced tomorrow (with no new money attached)

The Canadian Press reports, “The federal Conservatives are poised to again introduce legislation providing for safe drinking water in First Nations communities. Federal and First Nations sources say Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan will make an announcement in Calgary on Wednesday. The bill itself could come as early as this week — the second time the Tories have proposed such legislation.”

“While everyone involved wants clean water on reserves, the government has had a hard time getting agreement on how to achieve that. Past attempts prescribed clean water, but did not give First Nations much control over implementation, or provide the money to set up infrastructure and train people to produce drinkable water.”

The Assembly of First Nations was highly critical of S-11, the predecessor of the bill expected this week. The AFN has stated that, “Bill S-11 does not include a plan to reduce the unacceptably high numbers or the duration of First Nations drinking water advisories; does not help to license operators; does not provide resources to improve operations and maintenance; does not lower the number of water and wastewater treatment systems currently at risk; and could negatively impact First Nations water rights.”

The Canadian Press article notes, “This time, government sources say they consulted more widely and have made substantial changes to the previous bill, although there is still no new money attached.” This despite the fact that, as reported by APTN this summer, “Ottawa needs to invest nearly $5 billion in First Nations water and sewage systems over the next 10 years, according to two year-long study released by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan Thursday. The government commissioned study, by firm Neegan Burnside, found that the federal government needed to immediately invest about $1.2 billion to raise reserve-based water and sewage systems to standards set by Aboriginal Affairs.”

The Assembly of First Nations and the Council of Canadians have both supported the Alternative Federal Budget’s call for $1 billion to be spent this fiscal year to build, upgrade and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nation communities (as well as $1 billion in 2012-13 and 2013-14). In both the March 22 and June 6, the Harper government failed to provide the funding necessary to meet the drinking water and sanitation needs of First Nations peoples. (By contrast, the Harper government has committed to spending almost $30 billion over the next thirty years for the purchase and maintenance of the controversial F-35 fighter planes, according to the parliamentary budget officer.)

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will address an Assembly of First Nations special session on water on March 5 in Edmonton,