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Sudbury chapter decries Liberal spin on eliminating First Nations boil water advisories

Chapter activist André Clément and Liberal Members of Parliament Paul Lefebvre (top), Marc Serré (bottom).

The Council of Canadians Sudbury chapter has written the Liberals MPs for Sudbury and Nickel Belt on the issue of First Nations drinking water.

In his e-mail to MPs Paul Lefebvre (Sudbury) and Marc Serré (Nickel Belt), chapter activist André Clément writes, “It looks like First Nation issues are falling by the wayside with electoral reform. The Liberal ‘team’ is looking worse every day. What you need to do, Paul, is respond to my e-mail asking for clarification on the ‘good news’ about water projects in First Nation communities. Vague answers, waving at ‘successes’ don’t cut it for your electors. How is it that your electors are aware of facts while your boss and his caucus keep feeding of the Liberal PR?”

Clément includes in his e-mail to the MPs a recent Globe and Mail article. That article highlights, “The Globe and Mail’s ongoing research into First Nations water systems has revealed a significant number of [Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada]-funded projects did not last as long as expected. Some were undersized or poorly designed. Others used inappropriate technology. Still others failed because they were improperly maintained. If repeated in future plants, such missteps could thwart the federal government’s drive to end boil-water advisories on reserves.”

The Council of Canadians has repeatedly called on the Trudeau government to do more to fulfill their October 2015 election campaign promise of eliminating boil water advisories on First Nations within five years.

Last week, the 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.”

In other words, insufficient progress is being made to reach the goal of eliminating boil water advisories by November 2020.

With the federal budget expected next month, we call again on the Trudeau 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. It has also estimated that $889 million is needed every year for First Nations water and wastewater facilities including projected operating and maintenance.

Just after the Trudeau government’s first budget in March 2016, Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui wrote, “Budget 2016 allocates $2.24 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], the government will spend $296 million in year one and $322 million in year two.” The average annual expenditure will be about $448 million and a large portion of this spending has been back-ended.

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

The Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to increase its spending on First Nations drinking water and sanitation services, including an immediate infusion of $1.2 billion for high-risk systems.

We also call on the government to implement the twelve recommendations outlined in Glass Half Empty? Year 1 Progress Toward Resolving Drinking Water Advisories in Nine First Nations in Ontario including speeding up and simplifying the process and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly free, prior and informed consent for water laws and regulations.