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Trudeau needs to do more in this coming federal budget to address boil water advisories on First Nations

Trudeau is falling short on his promise to address boil water advisories while also approving tar sands pipelines – without Indigenous consent – that further put at risk drinking water for First Nations.

The Trudeau government needs to do more to fulfill their promise of eliminating boil water advisories on First Nations within five years.

On October 5, 2015, Justin Trudeau stated, “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.”

Now CBC reports, “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.”

Last week, The Council of Canadians and the David Suzuki Foundation released a report titled, Glass Half Empty? Year 1 Progress Toward Resolving Drinking Water Advisories in Nine First Nations in Ontario.

Global News reported, “The research revealed that only three of the nine communities either had or were on track to have their advisories lifted by 2020. In another three of the examined communities, efforts were underway but it was not certain whether they would result in their advisories being lifted by 2020. In terms of the final three communities, the report found there was virtually no hope their residents would have their advisories lifted. In one of the three communities that had its advisory lifted, however, the water operator reported the system required almost $800,000 in repairs.”

That news report highlighted, “Among the key recommendations in the report, the authors call on the Liberal government to expedite the process, include First Nations in more decision-making on the issue and greater transparency on how the government is tracking its progress.”

The Council of Canadians has also 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 $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, 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 concludes, “It falls short of what is needed.”

NDP Indigenous Affairs critic Romeo Saganash says, “[The Liberal government has] been here for a year and a half, almost. And at that race and that pace, I don’t think we will get to the finish line with the remaining three and a half years.”

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.

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, in its upcoming federal budget that is likely to be tabled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau next month.

In April 2016, Trudeau stated, “If I say we’re going to eliminate all boil water advisories in five years, and it ends up taking five-and-a-half years, or six years, I think I’ll be okay with that. And if it ends up taking 20 years, then I did break my promise.”

The United Nations recognizes the human right to water and sanitation. Canada will next have to report at the UN on its human rights record in July 2020.

Indigenous Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett is expected to release an update this week and explain how she hopes to reach the five year goal.