Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act

An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on first nation lands

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.


In committee (Senate), as of Dec. 14, 2010
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment addresses health and safety issues on reserve lands and certain other lands by providing for regulations to govern drinking water and waste water treatment in first nations communities. Regulations could be made on a province-by-province basis to mirror existing provincial regulatory regimes, with adaptations to address the circumstances of first nations living on those lands.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

June 14th, 2022 / 11:40 a.m.
See context


Eric Duncan Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

There are a lot of common themes over my time in the last couple of months on public accounts. With this item being a key priority of the Government of Canada, as alluded to in the reports and the government's response, it is very frustrating.

I'll never malign anybody's intent. I believe that everybody around the table here in committee and the department officials mean well and want to do well. Where I question the government's ability is in the management and leadership to actually effect the change to make the result happen.

As Mr. Schmale was alluding to in his opening as well, what we're seeing time and time again in public accounts is that spending money is not a result. Saying that we're investing x number of millions of dollars is not an actual result. What we're seeing through the Auditor General and what we're seeing through the PBO is that we're actually spending more money and getting fewer results and less value for money. It speaks to the system. I've given the government a lot of frustration. A repeated line that I've used is that they get an “A” for announcements and a “F” for follow-through on this.

I just want to give an example of the frustration, of the broken cycle or system we find ourselves in, in this report and on the follow-up of this. The report a year and a half ago talked about the inadequacy and the lack of a regulatory regime when it came to drinking water systems and the relationship the department has with first nations communities. It was determined through consultation that the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act was to be repealed by March 31, 2022. We're three months past the deadline.

Deputy Minister Fox, can you give me the bill number that's in Parliament right now to repeal this?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 8:05 p.m.
See context


Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to rise today to speak in support of Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act.

I would like to begin by describing, perhaps for those who have not yet heard, the framework of this and how we arrived at this place tonight in debating this bill. In Canada, water and waste water operations and systems are generally the responsibility of the provincial and territorial governments. Over the years, different jurisdictions have developed comprehensive regulatory regimes for the protection of source water, water quality standards, and the oversight of water treatment plants and water delivery services.

Over the time that Canada has been growing as a nation, we have, in our various communities, learned from our mistakes. For example, most tragically, Walkerton, which is in my own province. Therefore, the provinces and territories have developed a highly regarded set of regulations across the country which serves the majority of Canadians very well. Of course, it guides the infrastructure that is necessary to provide for safe drinking water and water services.

However, because section 91, paragraph 24 of the Constitution Act of 1867 grants to the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for Indians”, provincial regulatory water standards do not apply to on-reserve first nations communities. To date, there has been no federal legislative framework governing drinking water and waste water in first nations communities beyond what is set out in a welter of public federal policies, administrative guidelines and funding arrangements.

We have to ask ourselves here tonight, and Canadians across the country have to ask: Why is it that after almost 150 years, since Confederation, first nations are the only Canadians who do not have proper and healthy regulations for drinking water and waste water?

I must say that when I speak to my constituents about first nations issues, I always begin by explaining to them how complex it is, the lengthy history we have of relationships with our first nations, and what a diversity of views there are. Chief among them has been the constant question of first nations sovereignty, to what degree the Government of Canada can deal with first nations on a local, regional or national basis, and who is responsible for what.

Determining roles and responsibilities is a problem. There are three federal departments involved, and I am just going to mention one of them when it comes to drinking water and waste water, and that is Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. It provides funding, including funds for capital construction, upgrading and a portion of operating and maintenance costs.

How much funding? Well, 80% of first nations' operating and capital costs is paid by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to first nations for the provision of water services to their communities. It also oversees the design, construction and maintenance of water facilities. However, first nation communities, through their chiefs and councils, are responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of water systems, and they assume 20% of the costs.

Where has that taken us?

Well, reports have been done over the years, but I think at this point it is fairly notorious that waste water and drinking water conditions on reserves have been in very poor shape.

In fact, there was an inspection done in 2011 of 587 first nations communities across the country, 97% of all first nations communities. It was found that of the assessed water systems, 39% were at high overall risk, 34% were medium and 27% were low overall risk.

At that time, it was estimated that the cost to upgrade existing water and waste water systems to meet federal protocols and guidelines, as well as provincial standards and regulations, would be $1.08 billion. Is it the case that the Government of Canada, after all these years has not been willing to spend the money necessary? No, that is not the case. That is not where the problem lies. In fact, between 2006 and 2014, the life of the present government, the government will have invested approximately $3 billion to support first nations communities in managing their water and waste water infrastructure and related public health activities.

Let me repeat that so that listeners at home do not think they misheard. Three billion dollars in eight years to really do what the report suggested would cost $1.08 billion. In spite of that, we hear continued calls from the opposition for more funding.

I will not pretend to know what the value of a billion dollars is. It reminds me, if memory serves me, of a Liberal minister who a few years ago was taken to task for saying “What's a million?” Today, the refrain from across the aisle is, “What's a billion?” In fact, what is $3 billion?

In light of the fact that we have been at this 150 years, and particularly acutely in the last 10 years, and particularly having spent $3 billion in the last seven or eight years alone, we still have these problems, we have to look elsewhere. We have to start elsewhere to solve this problem.

The government has gone at it with a willing heart. Bill S-8 was introduced in Parliament on February 29, 2012, to provide for the development of federal regulations governing the provision of drinking water, water quality standards and the disposal of waste water in first nations communities. The bill would also establish that federal regulations may incorporate by reference provincial regulations governing drinking water and waste water in first nations communities.

The reality is, water is water and health needs are health needs and all Canadians, all citizens of the country, including first nations, should enjoy the benefit of the same minimum standards. There is no reason why those standards cannot apply in first nations. It is true, first nations would be responsible for implementing them, but only responsible for 20% of the cost. The government is more than prepared to come up with the other 80% and to oversee and supervise the implementation of these standards.

However, this is not the first time. That is what really makes it frustrating. The member who spoke last talked about a lack of political will. Well indeed, that is what we are witnessing here tonight if we do not pass the bill because it has been tried before.

Bill S-11 in the previous Parliament was introduced in the Senate on May 26, 2010. It was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for examination in December of 2010. From February to March, the committee held nine meetings on the proposed legislation and heard witnesses and listened to ideas. However, unfortunately, thanks again to the opposition and the bringing down of the last Parliament and the provoking of an election, Bill S-11 died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved on March 26, 2011.

Bill S-8 does retain several of the features of the former Bill S-11, but there are key differences. It would be beyond the scope of my time to go into those.

I just have to say that the delivery of safe drinking water to on-reserve first nations is critical to the health and safety of the communities' residents. Access to safe, clean, potable water is also closely tied to the economic viability of individual communities.

It is up to this Parliament to just take this step. We would do more. This would not be the end of it. However, let us at least get off the ground with this step forward. I urge the members opposite to support this bill.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:50 p.m.
See context


John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this particular bill today.

All of the government members have talked about two things. One is regulation, which is what they say this bill is all about, and the second is that they say that implementation will come later.

In other words, what they are saying is they will impose the rules, but they are not going to follow up or carry on or commit to ensuring that any funding is there to make that happen. Therefore, it is destined for failure.

I do not know why the government did not put just one little clause in this bill that said, “Here are the regulations as we see them, and this is what we think needs to be done”.

By the way, although there is some provincial jurisdiction, it is hard to argue with regulations that talk about the training and certification of operators, source water protection, location, design, modification, maintenance, operation of water systems, drinking water distribution by truck if it is needed, the collection and treatment of waste water, monitoring, sampling, testing. No one can argue with that, whether it is a first nations municipality or a non-first nations municipality. Those kinds of things make sense.

Of course, at any given time in this country, we have more than 100 first nations on boil water advisories, and that situation continues.

Here we have regulations that are not followed up with any kind of commitment from the government. That is where the main part of the problem lies with this particular bill.

Why did the government not put a clause in the bill that simply says, “Here are the implementation rules. This is what we think needs to happen. By the way, we will ensure that this is funded to make sure that 100-plus first nations across this country do not have boil water advisories, and in fact that boil water advisories will not exist anywhere in this country any longer. We will ensure that all first nations have all the regulations in place and, by the way, we are going to back it up with money.”

We heard Conservative after Conservative say that they will pass the regulations and worry about the money and the implementation later. It seems to me that a lot of red flags should go up with all Canadians right across the country when they hear that.

Let me read a couple of quotes from first nations groups as to what they think about this bill, because the red flags have certainly gone up with first nations.

The Chiefs of Ontario recently had a headline on a news release that said, “Federal Bill S-8 fails to 'protect' drinking water for first nations”.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which I am very familiar with, is in northern Ontario, and by the way, many communities are fly-in communities, so I am not sure how this partnering thing that a previous member was talking about is going to work. The headline from there reads, “Water Legislation Fails to Address Critical Lack of Infrastructure in NAN First Nations”.

Dr. Harry Swain, the chair of the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, stated:

This is of those problems in Aboriginal Canada that will persist for ever and ever and ever. This is one that can be solved and it can be solved with the application of a good chunk of money for a limited period of time.

The end of that quote puts it all in a nutshell for us. We are not talking about money forever; we are talking about money spent, and if these regulations are the regulations that the government thinks need to be established, let us make sure the funding is there.

However, there is no commitment for funding at all.

The regulations, by and large, are the same kinds of regulations that non-first nations municipalities have right across Canada, and they are mostly governed by the provinces.

I asked a question of a government speaker earlier today. I asked what it is going to cost the provinces to monitor and implement this measure. The response was that it is not going to cost the provinces anything. I am not entirely sure, but we are going to have to take that speaker at his word. It is something to think about as we carry on this debate.

Sometimes people say that it is not about money and that we should not worry about money, because it is about regulations and making drinking water safe. The fact of the matter is that we have to commit to spend the money to make that happen.

I see some heads nodding “no” on the other side. I hope the member has a question for me later on.

We cannot put regulations in place in communities that in some cases have absolutely no infrastructure for water delivery and or for handling waste water and expect them to say, “Let us follow the regulations; no problem, we can do that”. How do they do it?

I would be interested to hear what my hon. friend across the way has to say about that.

There is another issue here, which is that these regulations could very well overrule any laws or bylaws that a first nation might have in its own community.

I think that is a concern. It limits the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of its duties under the regulations.

I think not just New Democrats but all of us want to see safe, clean water and water systems that work for first nation communities, but imposing this legislation is not the solution. The federal government cannot simply unload its liability to first nations without providing the funding to bring those systems up to the new standards in the bill.

First nations oppose this act because of the new liability provisions for first nation governments. My hon. friend across the way said that the non-derogation clause is formulated to possibly be the first step to erode constitutionally protected rights. These things are not spelled out in black and white in the bill, but they are concerns that first nations have.

The delivery of safe drinking water to on-reserve first nations communities is critical to the health and safety of first nations Canadians, but for more than a decade, many first nations have lacked adequate access to safe drinking water.

As a bit of history, this is the second legislative initiative to address safe drinking water on reserves. The predecessor was Bill S-11, but it did not proceed to third reading as a result of widespread concerns. Because it did not proceed, it subsequently died when Parliament was dissolved before the last election.

Bill S-8 retains a number of features from Bill S-11, particularly in the areas to be covered by eventual federal regulations. Non-derogation language is still included in the proposed legislation, expressly allowing for the abrogation or derogation of aboriginal and treaty rights in some circumstances. It also provides for the incorporation by reference of provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water.

Why are we opposing the bill at this point in time? New Democrats agree that the poor standards of water systems in first nation communities are hampering people's health and well-being and causing economic hardship. However, this legislation would make first nations liable for water systems that have already proven inadequate without any funding to help them improve their water systems or to give them the ability to build new ones more appropriate to their needs.

I see my time is up. I certainly welcome questions from the floor. Let me just say in closing that this is a very important bill, and I hope that someone from the other side is going to ask me a question about the implementation of this bill, should it pass.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 6:40 p.m.
See context


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton—Leduc.

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to explain to the opposition, and to Canadians, why I support Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, and why I urge my hon. colleagues to stop voting against a bill that would give first nations access to safe drinking water.

The solution at the heart of Bill S-8 is the product of more than seven years of engagement and discussion with a wide range of groups, including first nations, provinces, municipalities, parliamentary committees and organizations devoted to the science of drinking water.

Perhaps the best way to fully appreciate the considerable value of Bill S-8 is to trace its evolution.

In March 2006, our government, working with the Assembly of First Nations, announced the joint plan of action for drinking water in first nation communities. Among the five points in the plan of action was the development of an appropriate regulatory framework.

To help identify what the framework should consist of, the plan called for a panel of experts to be chosen by government and first nations officials. The expert panel held a series of hearings across Canada, in 9 locations in all, to hear from a total of 110 representatives from first nation communities, as well as other stakeholder groups. The panel also received and considered more than two dozen written submissions, most of them prepared by first nation communities and organizations. In its final report, the panel examined three regulatory options and provided valuable advice on the advantages and the disadvantages of each one.

The next step in Bill S-8's evolution occurred in 2009, when the Government of Canada held a series of engagement sessions with first nation groups. The sessions began in Whitehorse, Yukon, and continued in 12 other cities. The 13 engagement sessions attracted more than 500 participants representing first nations.

It is important to note that while work on a regulatory framework continued, our government continued to live up to the commitments it had made through the plan of action. Progress reports were tabled in Parliament, for instance, and budget 2008 invested approximately $330 million, over two years, in projects to improve drinking water in first nation communities. Budget 2009 included an additional $165 million per year, over two years, for first nation water and waste water infrastructure projects.

Our government is also committed to expanding the circuit rider training program and funding a national assessment of first nation water and waste water systems.

In 2010, the government introduced Bill S-11. A standing committee in the Senate held a series of hearings to review the proposed legislation and heard from 40 individual witnesses. Now, although this version of the bill died on the order paper in the initial review, it identified a number of challenges that have since been addressed.

In the interim, government officials continued to discuss regulatory options with first nation groups. Of particular note were the without prejudice discussions with regional first nation organizations across the country. It was during these without prejudice discussions that the first nations proposed a non-derogation clause that would resolve what was perceived to be a major problem with the previous version of Bill S-8. The problem involves the relationship between federal legislation and the constitutional rights of first nations.

The proposed clause would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal or treaty rights if it were necessary to ensure the safety of first nations' drinking water.

A second significant development came in the summer of 2011 when our government published the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems. I am proud to say that this was the most comprehensive examination of first nation water and waste water infrastructure in history.

This report shed a new light on the larger issues at play. The report found that many water systems in first nations communities had a high risk of failure to produce safe water if a problem were to arise. The report identified a need for clear guidelines and recommended the establishment of a regulatory framework for water and waste waster systems. This provided additional momentum to move ahead with the practical solutions.

Last year we introduced Bill S-8, a stronger version of its predecessor. There are several improvements worth noting, such as that the preamble in the proposed legislation explicitly states the government's intention to improve the health and safety of first nations and to work with first nations to develop drinking water regulations.

The new version includes a non-derogation clause that clearly addresses the relationship between the legislation and aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Clause 4.(1)(b) of the new version clarifies that any regulation on source water protection on first nation lands would be restricted so as to protect it from contamination.

The new version also clarifies that regulations could not include the power to allocate water supplies or to license users of water for any purpose other than for accessing drinking water.

There is new language to clarify that the regulations could confer to any person or body only the powers necessary to effectively regulate drinking water and waste water systems. Wording that was perceived to negate first nations authority over water on their lands has been deleted.

Another part of the previous version that has been removed is language that could be interpreted as powers to compel first nations into an agreement with third parties to manage water and the waste water on first nations lands.

Finally, Bill S-8 also features language to clarify that first nations would not be held liable for systems owned by third parties that are on first nations lands.

There have been many changes to this legislation since its last iteration in order to address the concerns raised by first nations, parliamentarians and other stakeholders. In fact, these changes respond directly to the concerns raised by first nations groups.

Moreover, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommended an amendment to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development that further addresses concerns raised by first nations to remove the opt-in provision from the bill, demonstrating that our government is listening to first nations concerns and working to address them. I am pleased to see that the hard-working members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development agreed by removing this from the bill.

The proposed legislation now before the House has been informed by a comprehensive process of consultation, review and improvement.

Bill S-8 proposes an effective solution to a problem that continues to threaten the health and safety of residents of first nations communities. I hope that the opposition can recognize the urgent health and safety issues at stake here and support Bill S-8.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 5:10 p.m.
See context


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Manicouagan.

I rise today to speak to Bill S-8. I had the opportunity to speak to this bill last November. I sat on the committee and I must say that the testimony from witnesses only reinforced the NDP's opinion that this is a flawed piece of legislation.

At the heart of this debate is a basic human right: the right to safe, affordable and adequate drinking water. Unfortunately, this is a challenge in many Canadian communities, including several first nations and Inuit communities.

Canada has such an abundance of water that it is hard to imagine that such problems could exist in such a developed country.

While the appropriate course of action is to develop safe, reliable systems in partnership with the communities in need, the Conservative government has chosen to legislate regulations that would force these communities to go it alone. In fact, this legislation seems more about pursuing a Conservative view of how first nations should be run than about dealing with the actual problem. It would create demands and conditions for first nations, yet it is predictably short on the resources that would allow these communities to comply.

Bill S-8 excuses the government from its primary obligations to first nations while subjecting them to substantial risk, significant financial burdens and a patchwork of provincial standards for the delivery of safe drinking water.

This bill fails miserably when it comes to the real challenge, which is helping first nations build the capacity that would allow them to do the work of administering water and waste water systems on their lands. It is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. In the case of communities that have been consistently asking for assistance for specific problems, they are getting rules and regulations instead of help with bricks and mortar.

The problems we have seen with flooding this spring in Kashechewan help illustrate this point. That community has been asking for help with waste water, which has been identified as problematic, since flooding in 2008. It has asked for assistance in developing storm sewers and with placing back-flow limiters on each house. Guess what? The government has consistently refused to step up, and this spring, homes in that community were inundated with backed-up raw sewage, which then forced the community to be evacuated. The minister tried to blame this on the lack of training, yet it was a company that was actually monitoring this.

On a larger scale, we can consider the testimony the committee heard from a municipal group that included the mayor of Maple Ridge and metro Vancouver's general manager of corporate services, both of whom sit on metro Vancouver's aboriginal relations committee. They reminded the committee that the report of the 2009 national assessment of first nations water and waste water estimated the cost to bring 618 individual first nations up to standard would be $4.7 billion, and it would take a decade. In addition to that, the cost to operate these improved systems would be $419 million a year.

The metro Vancouver delegation told us that local governments were concerned about this legislation's broad powers to delegate to any person or body any aspect of drinking water provision, monitoring and enforcement, which could have significant implications for local governments, as providers of utility services. It also highlighted areas of concern identified by local governments.

On that note, I want to tell the House that what we were hearing was that it may be very difficult to have municipal governments even wanting to assist first nations in hooking up to their systems because of the onerous aspects of this legislation.

Among their concerns were the following: there has been a lack of consultation and local government input; the transfer of responsibilities is unknown; the level of services is unclear; there are challenges with bylaw regulations and enforcement; there are legislative and jurisdictional uncertainties, which appear to be similar to the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act; regulatory authority over reserves is unclear; there is a need to clarify financial liabilities; there are unknown funding capacities; and there is a lack of an adequate implementation plan. Does that sound like legislation that is ready to roll out? I do not think so.

As I mentioned, the committee heard from many witnesses who spoke to the deficiencies in Bill S-8. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has made three submissions on this bill and its predecessor, Bill S-11. It echoed many of the criticisms of other witnesses and stated:

We remain alarmed and concerned with the federal government’s continued approach and insistence that legislation is the answer for First Nations. We question why the current Canadian Government must be compelled to legislate as opposed to doing what is humane and just by providing adequate resources to ensure comparable water systems as the rest of Canada.

It went on to state:

Trust is earned through respectful, reciprocal and honourable actions and good faith negotiations.

It added:

The creation of legislation and policy without seeking and meeting the realistic needs of First Nations will not create success or the accountability that government is seeking for its investments.

It is not for a lack of desire that first nations do not have appropriate systems to deliver safe drinking water or manage waste water. If there is a deficiency in the process, it is certainly related to being able to deliver on those desires.

I have heard from Whitefish River First Nation on this subject as well. In a letter to the minister, Chief Shining Turtle provided the government with some basic math that showed how flimsy the government's community infrastructure investment was, and also illustrated the incredible costs related to doing the kind of work that Bill S-8 would make mandatory for these communities.

Here is the math that I believe needs to be considered by all members. The government has committed $155 million over 10 years, so let us do the math. This comes out to about $15 million a year, divide that over 8 regions that INAC uses and it becomes $1.94 million a year per region. We are going down. Divide the $1.94 million over the Ontario region's 133 first nations and the total is $14,567.67 a year. How far will that go?

One more crucial number that has been provided is the cost per metre to construct water mains on the Whitefish River First Nation. It is $300 per metre.

While the government brags about the size of their investment in community infrastructure for first nations, in reality that money is only enough to build 48.5 metres of water main a year.

In addition to these problems, Bill S-8 regulations may incorporate, by reference, provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water in first nations communities, but those regulations are not uniform, which could lead to unequal burdens for communities for what is primarily a federal responsibility.

The expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations expressed concern about using provincial regulations, claiming it would result in a patchwork of regulations leading to some first nations having more stringent standards than others.

In addition to that, the regulations in this bill would overrule any laws or bylaws made by first nations. Bill S-8 would also limit the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of their duties under the regulations the bill sets out.

As I mentioned at the outset, safe drinking water is a basic human right. The connection to health and economic well-being that flows from safe, dependable and affordable water cannot be dismissed, but this legislation is missing the mark entirely.

In addition to that, the bill would leave communities on the hook for existing problems they may not have created themselves. In those instances, if what these places really want is to start over in an attempt to get things right, the reality is they will be saddled with problem systems they have inherited.

It will make first nations liable for water systems that have already proven inadequate, but offers no funding to help them improve those deficient systems. Even if a first nation wants to build a replacement to better suit its needs, it will have to maintain its old, often costly systems at the same time.

Here is an example of how that will work. Constance Lake First Nation's water supply has been through a state of emergency. Its traditional water source was contaminated by blue-green alga, which resulted in a shutdown of its water treatment plant. It has drilled two new wells and has been off boil-water advisories for the first time in years, but also requires a new system to ensure quality and to meet its growing demand. Under the provisions of this legislation, it will be liable for the old system, while it tries to build a new one. It will be forced to waste money instead of being allowed to invest it smartly.

I see my time is up, and I will finish up the rest during the question and answer period.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
See context


Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, not to disagree with the member, but we think enough time has been allocated to discuss and debate views and concerns about this bill.

The fact is that over 50 witnesses spoke on Bill S-11, the previous version, and on Bill S-8, the current version. Members heard from many organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, the Institute on Governance and the Indigenous Bar Association.

Bill S-8 was introduced only after many hours of discussion. There has been enough debate. It is time to act.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 4:45 p.m.
See context

Kenora Ontario


Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the opposition and to Canadians about why I and the other members of the Conservative government will be supporting Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, and why I urge all hon. colleagues in the House to vote in favour of a bill that will finally give first nations the tools they need to access safe drinking water on reserve.

It has taken seven years for us to get to this point. For seven years, we have had continuous dialogue and consultations with first nations, including formal engagement sessions, informal discussions, and consultations with community members and leadership, technical experts and department officials. This legislative proposal evolved as we worked together, listening to and accommodating the concerns of first nations living on reserve.

The legislation before Parliament today is the result of hard work and collaboration from coast to coast to coast. It is time to move forward and create the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities.

Right now, there is no such protection for tens of thousands of first nations, so Bill S-8 addresses this urgent need. Until regulations and standards are in place, the safety and quality of water in first nations communities will continue to remain at risk and pose a significant health threat for thousands of individuals living on reserve. It is unfortunate, if not shameful, that the opposition continues to oppose this bill. It would rather stand by and allow for the current situation to continue to be a reality for first nations across the country.

Currently, laws are in place to protect the safety of drinking water accessed by all other Canadians, except in first nations communities. While it is true that a handful of self-governing first nations have enacted laws dealing with drinking water and waste water treatment, they are very much the exception. The truth is that when it comes to regulating drinking water, residents of most first nations communities are left unprotected. We cannot tolerate this any longer.

Access to safe drinking water is a hallmark of a progressive, modern society. It is a basic form of infrastructure that Canadian communities depend on. Without a dependable supply of water, it is much harder to maintain public health. This is precisely why so much effort and expense are devoted to acquiring and securing consistent access to safe drinking water.

A closer examination of this effort and expense sheds light on the needs that Bill S-8 would address. They are these. Safe drinking water results from a chain of events, such as actively protecting sources, filtering and treating water, and regularly conducting quality tests to ensure that all systems are functioning properly. Like all chains, the one that safeguards drinking water is only as strong as its weakest link.

Regulations represent a key link in the chain. While they vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another, all regulations specify science-based standards for quality testing, treatment protocols and other factors. Municipal utilities that supply water to the public must abide by these regulations. If not, the justice system holds them to account. The penalties can be severe, and rightly so, given that the health and safety of Canadians is at stake. After all, contaminated drinking water can lead to disaster.

That is precisely what happened 13 years ago in the town of Walkerton, Ontario. A combination of operator negligence and lax regulatory standards led to the death of seven people and more than 2,000 people falling ill. The tragedy inspired a series of improvements to Ontario's drinking water regulations. Today, the vast majority of Ontarians trust that the water that comes out of their tap is safe to drink. It is our government's objective that first nations communities can have that same trust in their water systems.

Our government strongly believes that the law should afford all Canadians similar protections when it comes to drinking water. Bill S-8 would provide the authorities needed to develop and establish regulatory regimes for safe drinking and the treatment of waste water in first nations communities. The absence of regulations makes it impossible to ensure the safety of drinking water in first nations communities over the long term.

In fact, several studies have made this point abundantly clear. For instance, seven years ago, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development published an in-depth study on the issue. The study concluded that, in most first nations communities, responsibility for the various steps involved in the treatment and delivery of drinking water is diffused among several groups. As a result, it is nearly impossible to hold any single group accountable if something goes wrong; for example, when a pump fails or a water quality test is not done properly.

Here is a quote from that study, “...until a regulatory regime comparable with that in provinces is in place, INAC and Health Canada cannot ensure that First Nations people living on reserves have continuing access to safe drinking water.”

It is clear that without regulations there can be no assurance of the safety of drinking water in first nations communities. Regulations lead to accountability. They assign responsibility for specific tasks and for meeting science-based standards. Regulations provide the overarching framework of a drinking water system and guide the efforts of everyone involved in that system synchronously.

Our government appreciates that regulations alone cannot produce consistently safe drinking water. The other links in the chain must also be in place, such as functional equipment, trained operators, reliable sources of drinking water, proper distribution networks, and appropriate standards, guidelines and protocols. That is why, since 2006, this government has made improving drinking water in first nations communities a top priority.

We have made significant investments in water and waste water infrastructure with approximately $3 billion between 2006 and 2014. As part of Canada's economic action plan version 2012 alone, $330.8 million is being invested over two years. This money has paid for new treatment facilities, upgrades to existing systems, operator training and distribution networks.

While significant progress has been made, regulations are still not in place. However, as a result of these important investments, the percentage of high-risk water systems has decreased by 8.1% and the percentage of high-risk waste water systems by 2.1%. We have doubled funding for the circuit rider training program, which has helped support and train hundreds of first nations water and waste water system operators.

I will take this opportunity to highlight the important work that Confederation College and Northern Waterworks are doing in the great Kenora riding in upgrading the certifications for first nations community members who go back to their isolated first nations communities with more appropriate, if not higher than required, standards to operate water and waste water treatment facilities in their communities.

These programs have seen significant results. For example, since July 2011, the percentage of first nations systems that have primary operators certified to the level of drinking water systems has increased from 51% to 60%, and the percentage of certified waste water system operators has increased from 42% to almost 54%.

Going forward, as we have stated on numerous occasions, I can assure members that our government will continue to invest in water and waste water infrastructure on reserve. As members can see, Bill S-8 is an essential part of our government's larger comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of drinking water for residents of first nations communities.

There are three essential pillars born out of the extensive consultations and the important work done by a coast to coast to coast consultation process in co-operation with the Assembly of First Nations. These three essential pillars are: capacity, with the ability to report, monitor and maintain infrastructure; continued investment in infrastructure; and the development of a clear regulatory framework, which is the basis of today's debate and discussion on Bill S-8.

The legislation before us would help address the third pillar and establish regulatory regimes similar to those that make the drinking water systems in other communities reliable and safe.

Bill S-8 would inspire further progress, not only by establishing regulatory standards but also by extending the collaboration with first nations that continues to generate positive results. When Bill S-8 receives royal assent, our government will continue to work with first nations and other stakeholders to develop regulations on a region-by-region basis. This is important.

Developing regulations by region would enable the government and first nations to partner with municipalities and regional technical experts who deal with the most responsible and the most appropriate forms of water and waste water treatment, which prevail in those regions for a variety of different reasons. This collaborative region-by-region approach would also leverage the value of existing regulations rather than creating entirely new regulations. The most efficient approach is to build upon existing provincial and territorial regulatory frameworks and adapt, where needed, in order to reflect specific local conditions.

We are talking about a very flexible piece of legislation, but let me be clear. This approach would not take jurisdiction away from the first nations, nor would it give a province, territory or municipality jurisdiction over first nation lands. To the contrary, by developing regulations that are comparable to those that exist off reserve, first nations would be better positioned to partner with neighbouring municipalities in the delivery of water treatment services and to co-operate on other matters, such as operator training, business ventures and the adoption of new technologies.

I should add that we are already seeing this. The previous minister of aboriginal affairs and I had an opportunity to tour some water and waste water treatment facilities in Quebec. There we saw water and waste water treatment facilities operating on a reserve for the benefit of that community and the municipality. We also saw communities where water and waste water treatment systems were operating in a municipality or city for the benefit of the reserve. In both instances, there were trained certified operators from both respective communities for the collective benefit of everybody there, better economies and better safety.

There is no question that it will take time to develop and implement regulations across Canada. For this reason, the regulations would be phased in to ensure there is adequate time for the government and first nations to bring drinking water and waste water infrastructure and operating capacity to the levels required to be able to conform with the new regulations. As our government has stated many times in the past, we are not going to roll out regulations until first nations have the capacity to abide by them. Health and safety remain our ultimate goals.

We talked about those three pillars. They support the concept that the pillars not mutually exclusive of each other. They depend on each other to support the kind of framework we are moving forward with first nations on. Namely, if we are going to have legislation, we have to ensure that we have certified operators and that they have the capacity to report, monitor and maintain that infrastructure. Similarly, we have to ensure that they have the infrastructure in place in those communities to be able to meet those standards.

I fully recognize that some first nations do not have the resources needed to help develop these regulations, so back in April 2012 the former minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development sent a letter to all chiefs and band councils confirming that our government would provide the funds needed for eligible activities. We have already provided funding to the Atlantic policy congress to support its researching and analyzing the development of regulations for first nations in the Atlantic region.

In order to continue progress on drinking water in first nation communities, the establishment of an appropriate regulatory regime is required. In the absence of such a regime, investments in infrastructure and training can do little to safeguard water quality. The government has been engaging with first nation partners since coming to government in 2006 and we have continued to engage with first nations on the proposed legislation every step of the way. In fact, this engagement has never stopped.

After the last iteration of the legislation, Bill S-11, died on the order paper, we took action to address some of the concerns that had been raised by first nations and other important stakeholders by making a number of amendments to the current iteration or version of the bill we have before this place.

On the current bill, Bill S-8, we have also continued to consult and we have taken action to address some of those concerns that were raised in regard to the opt-in provision for self-governing first nations. As a result of extensive discussions between stakeholders on this matter, the government brought forward an amendment at committee recommending the removal of this provision from the bill. Removing the opt-in provision serves as yet another good example of the positive results produced by ongoing collaborative discussions with first nations and other stakeholders.

The legislation now before us offers a sensible, practical, balanced solution to an urgent problem that threatens the health of tens of thousands of Canadians. The regulations stemming from Bill S-8 will provide residents of first nation communities with the same level of confidence as other Canadians when it comes to their drinking water.

In closing, this is a matter of health and safety. I appreciate my colleagues' debate. I appreciate the points they have raised in previous readings of the bill and the important work of all committee members as we worked through Bill S-8. However, the priority moving forward is to bring the kind of legislation into play that will support and reflect the need to continue making investments in training and to ensure there are certified operators for the infrastructure, which on an ongoing basis needs to be rehabilitated or replaced.

As a result of those two things, we will find over the course of time, hopefully sooner rather than later, that standards for drinking water and waste water treatment on reserve are at the same levels that other Canadians have come to expect from their respective governments. Therefore, I reach across the way and ask my colleagues to join us and support Bill S-8.

May 30th, 2013 / 8:50 a.m.
See context


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Thank you.

In support of our amendment, I'd like to refer you back to the Canadian Bar Association.

They specifically said:

While the wording about section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 in the previous Bill S-11 has been revised, section 3 of S-8 remains problematic. We believe that the qualification “except to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of the drinking water on First Nation lands” is in itself an explicit abrogation or derogation of existing Aboriginal or treaty rights pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The qualification in section 3 of Bill S-8 does not, in our view, ameliorate the constitutional problems identified in our earlier submissions on Bill S-11.

Then it goes on.

Obviously, this is coming from the Bar Association. Maybe the legal representation would like to comment on this as well.

May 28th, 2013 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Christopher Devlin Executive Member, National Aboriginal Law Section, Canadian Bar Association

Thank you. I note that it's already past six or seven in Victoria, so I'm fine at this point. It's not quite as early as the last time.

Our comments today are really focusing on the non-derogation clause of the bill, but I want to start by saying that it is critical that there be safe drinking water on reserve. The CBA supports that. The bill, by design, is a framework bill; it's enabling legislation for subsequent regulations. That's fairly obvious, and there's a great deal of flexibility in the bill, particularly with respect to subclause 4(1), subclause 5(4), and clause 7. I'll be coming back to that at the end of my opening comments.

Our concern—and this survives from the previous iteration of the bill, BillS-11—is now with clause 3 of Bill S-8. That's where there's this exception or ability of the regulations to derogate and abrogate the aboriginal rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on first nation lands.

Our simple point to the committee is that we don't believe this is necessary and we don't believe it is required for the bill to be effective as it's drafted. We don't see anything that suggests that it's necessary for the bill to be implemented, and we also question whether it's constitutionally valid to have this kind of language in the legislation. When we made previous submissions, we have talked about the test for infringement that was set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Sparrow decision. I'm sure you've heard testimony about that. It does place safety and conservation of resources at the top of the priority list when one is looking at potential infringements, and then you go down in order after that, to the provision of sustenance and ceremonial and traditional practices for first nations, then to commercial rights, and finally to other kinds of users of resources.

I want to dwell on that for a little bit, because inherent to aboriginal rights and to treaty rights is the safe exercise of those rights, which is something that may have been missed by the drafters of the bill. Safety and the preservation of resources are actually inherent, and the courts have discussed this in a variety of contexts, to the exercise of aboriginal rights. Most of the time the courts have discussed it in the context of hunting. You can't hunt in an unsafe manner. You can't shoot from your pickup truck on the side of the road. You actually have to engage in safe hunting practices, and I think with respect to any aboriginal rights involving water and water management, those have to be exercised in a safe manner.

So we really see this qualification as being unnecessary, because inherent to aboriginal rights and treaty rights is safe management, ensuring the safety of the resource so that it is managed and applied in a safe manner.

The other point that I want to bring up is that because this is framework legislation, we don't have the regulations in front of the committee. We don't really know what they're going to be. I did mention that it's a very flexible bill and that the bill anticipates a variety of regulatory regimes across the country. There could be one uniform regulation. There could be a multitude of regulations—we don't know at this point. And for us, that raises a concern or there being not only a multitude of federal regulations but also the potential for the incorporation by reference of provincial water regimes in lieu of federal regulatory regimes. We're not sure of the degree to which those provincial regimes will honour the section 35 rights of the first nations in question. Those provincial regimes have not been developed, frankly, with any reference, for the most part, to section 35 rights, and so it's quite an open question on how that is all going to interrelate.

Here I think of Chief Roland Twinn's earlier comments. He was anticipating the potential for significant litigation. I think there's a real risk of that here, particularly when we're thinking about the derogation of the section 35 rights by referentially incorporating provincial water management regimes.

I think the ideal way to proceed is to develop regulations on a case-by-case basis with the affected first nations regarding safe drinking water on their particular reserves. Then regulations are drafted specific to those first nations, whether it's the first nations that were here today or other witnesses that you've heard from.

To do all of that does not require the derogation clause or the exception at the end of clause 3 of the bill.

I'll leave those as my opening comments.

May 28th, 2013 / 9 a.m.
See context

Chief Charles Weaselhead Chief, Blood Tribe/Kainai

Thank you.

[Witness speaks in Blackfoot language]

Good morning, Chairman, and members of the standing committee. On behalf of the Blood Tribe, thank you for the opportunity to address you on Bill S-8.

As you know, the Blood Tribe has a population of just under 12,000 on a huge tract of land, so Bill S-8 will affect us not only with regard to our constitution but also in the way the bill is delivered through regulations in our community.

The Blood Tribe, of course, has expressed concerns with this bill, through submissions and representations, from its inception as Bill S-11. Unfortunately, these efforts have not met the intended goals as the existing legislation, Bill S-8, will not provide safe drinking water for first nations peoples. Bill S-8 will put in place a legislative framework that will place the responsibility and liability for safe drinking water systems on the shoulders of the first nations chiefs and councils without giving them the financial resources and the capacity to carry out the responsibilities. Appendix A shows the amount of resources required to make sure we come up to speed with what is necessary for safe drinking water and wastewater management.

By transferring the liability to the first nations, Bill S-8 absolves the federal and provincial governments of liability. We do not see this as the proper exercise of the federal crown's fiduciary duty to first nations, a duty that has been recognized by the Supreme Court. Bill S-8 will not provide safe drinking water to first nations communities. It will only saddle first nations government with a responsibility that they do not have the resources to carry out. When they fail to carry out that responsibility, they will have broken the law and will be subject to punitive measures under the law. That is the situation that will be brought about by Bill S-8.

Earlier, I spoke to Bill S-11, and that was specifically what was stated in there, that the number one priority was to provide the necessary resources before regulation or legislation was set out. How does this scenario bring about safe drinking water for first nations communities? How is this the solution for the desperate and deplorable state of drinking water for first nations communities which has drawn worldwide attention?

In May 2003, Indian Affairs' own assessment of water and wastewater systems in first nations communities found that 75% of first nations water systems in Canada posed a risk and required a massive investment, having been neglected for decades. In 2006, the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, commissioned by the federal government, found that the primary issue was insufficient resources for first nations water systems and recommended that adequate resources be a precondition to any legislation. That is spelled out clearly in appendix A of the submission by the Blood Tribe.

The expert panel realized that a regulatory regime would not address the situation. Creating and enforcing a regulatory regime would take time, attention, and money that might be better invested in systems, operators, management, and governance.

In 2007, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in its final report on safe drinking water for first nations recommended that the resource gap for first nations water systems be addressed first as a precondition to any new legislation, and that first nations be consulted about the development of new legislation.

Recently, the national engineering assessment of first nations drinking water systems, commissioned by the federal government, found that a $4.9-billion investment is required to ensure that first nations peoples get the same level of drinking water services that are available to other Canadians. Of that, $162 million is needed in Alberta and $30 million is needed in the Blood Tribe. The United Nations has recognized a human right to safe drinking water. Without the required $4.9 billion investment in first nations water systems, this bill will violate our human rights for safe drinking water.

The national engineering assessment also found that in Alberta 64% of water systems cannot afford qualified operators. Only three out of 82 first nations water systems are operating without risk. Some 26% of first nations water systems are high risk, deliver inadequate water supplies, and need immediate corrective action.

These reports, panels, and committees on first nation drinking water systems all come to the same conclusion: only resources will ensure the safety of first nations' drinking water. Legislation cannot create safe drinking water. How can anyone, in the face of credible expert advice, pass this legislation? The $4.9-billion shortfall needs to be addressed. That is what will begin the process of ensuring the safety of water for our first nation communities.

As far as legal rights are concerned, it has been said that the bill is not about rights. That is not true. Safe drinking water for our people is our priority, and always has been. However, Bill S-8 not only fails to provide for safe drinking water, it also gives rise to serious legal issues that need to be addressed. These include no consultation.

Canada is legally required to meaningfully consult with the Blood Tribe whenever it contemplates action that may adversely affect our constitutionally protected aboriginal and treaty rights. Given that the bill provides for the derogation of such rights, Canada's duty to consult has been triggered; however, there has been no consultation with the Blood Tribe.

As far as our band council authority goes, the Blood Tribe council has authority under the Indian Act to pass bylaws dealing with the construction and regulation of wells, cisterns, reservoirs, and other water supplies. The bill provides that the regulations may prevail over any of our laws, including any that we make under the Indian Act respecting these matters. This bill amounts to regulations having the ability to usurp our statutory authority to make these laws.

The expert panel on first nations drinking water did an independent legal analysis of section 35 rights and concluded that there was a sound, legal basis for first nations' right of self government over water in our communities. Canada has refused to consult with us about the implications of Bill S-8 in this regard.

As far as third-party powers are concerned, the bill provides for the conferring of very broad legislative, administrative, judicial, or other powers on some unknown third party, who can, among other things, appoint an unidentified person or entity to manage our drinking water system. Essentially, it could punish us if we failed to adhere to the regulations, through the imposition of fines or imprisonment, or both. The bill further allows this third party to seize and detain things when verifying compliance with the regulations, and to obtain warrants to search places.

On imposition of liability, the bill provides authority to deem us to be the owner of a water system that is not ours. As a result of being deemed an owner, we would consequently possess certain liabilities that we would not otherwise have. At the same time, the bill makes provision for extensive liability protection for third parties and federal and provincial representatives.

On the matter of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Canada has endorsed that declaration, which states that legislation of this nature must be developed with the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples. A half-day engagement session on the legislation does not meet this obligation.

Where do we go from here?

We have sent out a profile of the Blood Tribe in appendix A, which is attached to this submission. You will see that we are obligated, through our tribal principles as expressed in Kainayssini, to protect our rights. What Bill S-8 proposes will adversely impact our rights. We are therefore opposed to it for these reasons. We are not opposed to safe drinking water or wastewater management. That must be at the forefront.

For these reasons, as well as the underlying and fundamental reasons we have mentioned above, we do not believe that amendments alone can remedy the problems inherent in this bill. We are of the view that Bill S-8 ought not to proceed at all, because Canada has not discharged its legal duty to meaningfully consult with first nations, including the Blood Tribe. Canada cannot continue to act in disregard of its duty.

We are of the further view that prior to this proposed legislation moving forward in the House, meaningful consultation should occur. We therefore recommend that this bill not be passed or enforced until such consultation has taken place. Additionally, any proposed solution to the issue of safe drinking water, whether by legislation, policy, or otherwise, ought to ensure that practical solutions are provided so that our people ultimately have access to safe drinking water. That ought to be the focus of any action Canada takes, rather than on violating our rights and imposing a paternalistic and punitive approach to the problem.

Our submission does not constitute consultation. We respectfully submit our concerns about Bill S-8 to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. On behalf of the Blood Tribe chief and council, thank you for giving us this opportunity to provide the Blood Tribe's submission.

May 21st, 2013 / 9:15 a.m.
See context


Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

During the consultation process and parliamentary deliberations on the former bill, Bill S-11, first nation representatives, including the Assembly of First Nations, and Liberal senators raised the concern that the legislation and future regulations could infringe on existing aboriginal and treaty rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act unless a non-derogation clause was added to the bill.

As you know, Bill S-11 included a clause addressing aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35. The clause would have allowed non-derogation clauses to be added to federal regulations made under the legislation in order to ensure safe, clean, reliable drinking water on first nation lands. However, the unintended omission of a non-derogation clause in the legislation was interpreted by several senators and first nation representatives, including the Alberta chiefs you referred to, as a sign that the government intended to derogate from or infringe on aboriginal and treaty rights.

After that bill died on the order paper, we considered this and talked to first nations. Thus, in respect of these without prejudice discussions that I referred to earlier, we have included clause 3, which is the non-derogation clause that addresses the relationship between the legislation and aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
See context


Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on the important issue of the health and safety of all Canadian citizens, and, in particular, on Canada's first nations and their right to have access to the same safe, clean, reliable drinking water that other Canadian citizens enjoy.

Bill S-8, safe drinking water for first nations act, will enable the government to develop regulations with first nations to provide access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water to men, women and children living on first nations lands.

My support for Bill S-8 is further founded on two facts: the proposed legislation has been developed in collaboration with first nations; and, upon royal assent, regulations will be developed on a region-by-region basis in collaboration with first nations, provinces, territories and other stakeholders.

Bill S-8 proposes a mechanism to resolve another complex problem: the lack of a regulatory foundation to protect the quality of drinking water available in first nations communities.

This proposed legislation is the product of years of engagement, consultation and collaboration with first nations. There have been formal and informal meetings, town hall sessions, without prejudice discussions and workshops. Hundreds of people, including representatives of the Assembly of First Nations and associations of first nations chiefs, along with residents of first nations communities, have participated in these sessions. Their input has shaped the contents of the legislation now before us in several significant ways.

Bill S-8 calls for this collaboration to continue. Governmental officials would work alongside their first nations counterparts on a region-by-region basis to establish a series of regulatory regimes. Under this process, the parties would craft regimes that could draw on existing provincial, territorial or first nations regimes and adapt them to the particular circumstances of first nations. This is entirely appropriate, as a one-size-fits-all approach could never hope to accommodate the social, economic and geographic diversity of first nations communities. A regulatory approach that works for a remote community in northern Manitoba, for instance, might not work for a first nation in urban British Columbia.

Of course, every regime would have to satisfy minimum standards for safety, the same standards required by the provincial and territorial laws that protect drinking water quality off reserve. Under the regimes established through Bill S-8, drinking water would have to be sampled and tested in accordance with established methods and standards, and contamination thresholds would have to be based on scientific evidence.

This co-operative approach would ensure that those who would be subject to the regulations would have a role in creating them. This would help promote a greater understanding of the new regimes as well as ensure that these regimes are reflective of the diverse needs of each region.

We can expect that the federal regulations governing drinking water in a given first nation would be similar to the regulations governing the drinking water of nearby communities. Complementary regimes would open the door to further collaboration, such as joint training and certification programs or shared treatment and distribution facilities. This would, in turn, inspire co-operation on other common issues and opportunities.

Ultimately, of course, the goal is to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, can access safe drinking water. Access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water is an important determinant of health and a driver of socio-economic development. Yet the truth is that most first nation communities do not have regulations in place that safeguard water quality.

The current regime comprises a tangled web of protocols and funding agreements that are not legally enforceable. As a result, standards are not clear and it is impossible to hold anyone accountable for substandard and unsafe drinking water.

As I mentioned a moment ago, Bill S-8 is the product of a lengthy and collaborative process. Seven years ago, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development called on the Government of Canada to address the regulatory gap related to drinking water in first nations communities. Since then, two other authoritative bodies—an expert panel and a standing committee of the other place—studied the matter and made similar recommendations.

Even the Liberals, back in November 2011, put forward a motion calling on the government to improve first nations' access to safe drinking water. The House fully endorsed that motion. I hope that now my hon. colleagues opposite will put aside their partisanship, honour their noble commitment to improving access to safe drinking water and back this important legislation, which goes far beyond the words of that motion.

The collaboration that inspired Bill S-8 began in 2006, when the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations announced a plan of action on first nations' drinking water. This joint undertaking, the plan of action, called for a number of measures, including the development of appropriate regulations. From the outset, the government has directly involved various first nations organizations in the development of legislative options.

In 2007, the expert panel created under the plan of action met with first nations representatives and technical experts from all over the country and subsequently recommended the development of safe drinking water legislation. Departmental officials met with the Assembly of First Nations technical water experts group to discuss options for this legislation. Then, in 2008, the government began to meet with representatives of first nations groups.

The following year, the government released a discussion paper based on the option of incorporation by reference of provincial and territorial standards and held a series of 13 engagement sessions. It heard from more than 500 members of first nations. Although a consensus emerged about the need to address health and environmental concerns, there remained concerns about the proposed approach to legislation.

After the engagement sessions, the government held a series of meetings with regional and national organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations. These discussions involved a range of concerns about the proposed legislation.

The Government of Canada then introduced into the Senate an earlier version of the legislation, Bill S-11. The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples began to review the proposed legislation and heard from more than 40 witnesses before the previous Parliament was dissolved.

Rather than simply reintroduce the same legislation, our government chose to collaborate further to identify and incorporate improvements. In particular, officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada held without prejudice discussions with first nations groups. Invites were sent to first nations organizations from all over Canada, and some first nations organizations were willing to work with the government to improve the legislation, in particular those from Alberta and the Atlantic.

During these discussions, new ideas emerged to address specific concerns with the previous version of the bill. Several changes were made, and as such, I am proud to say that first nations organizations directly influenced the contents of Bill S-8. As a result of this collaboration, the legislation now before us is stronger.

Thousands of people residing in first nations communities lack regulations that safeguard the quality of their drinking water. Bill S-8 would provide authority for the government to draft and implement appropriate regulations, working with first nations. These regulations would help protect the health and safety of first nations men, women and children.

This important legislation fully deserves the support of the House. I urge my hon. colleagues to vote in favour of Bill S-8.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:15 p.m.
See context


Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the previous question on the issue of consultation was important, and I could have gone on and on.

Members may remember Bill S-11 in the previous Parliament. That legislation was also the subject of debate in the House and in the Senate. The legislation has been debated a lot since 2006.

In answer to the question from my learned friend, the Government of Canada and first nations have shared the goal of ensuring that first nations communities have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water. Progress and improvements have been made to address the provision of drinking water, especially with the investment of close to $3 billion since 2006.

This legislation would enable the development of regulations, in partnership with first nations and stakeholders, that would increase the level of capacity of first nations to provide their membership with the kind of water that all other Canadians enjoy.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
See context


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House to speak to such an important piece of legislation that will have a direct impact on my constituency of Churchill in northern Manitoba.

I have the honour of representing 33 first nations in northern Manitoba. Many of these first nations have tremendous opportunity. They have the youngest population in Canada. The young people on these first nations are looking toward training and education, opportunities in the job market, the ability to have families and the opportunity to contribute to their communities in all sorts of ways. However, along with these opportunities are some significant barriers and none perhaps is more entrenched than the lack of access to safe drinking water, which a number of the first nations that I represent face. It is obviously a barrier that affects their day-to-day lives in a very real way. It is not a question of comfort; it is a question of basic health.

Aboriginal people as a whole in Canada share a lower life expectancy than non-aboriginal people. I think we would all agree that the fact that first nations people live less than everyone else is shameful in a country as wealthy as Canada. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why that is the case. One of the indicators is the lack of access to basic rights, including the right to safe drinking water and the use of safe water systems. That is very much the case with respect to some of the first nations that I represent. I have seen it first-hand.

I want to share the experience of the Island Lake first nations. It is a group of four first nations located on the east side of Lake Winnipeg close to the Ontario border. The Oji-Cree people live there in the communities of Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack and Red Sucker Lake. These first nations are isolated in that they do not have a road that they can use year round to access their communities. People must depend on the ice roads to get in and out at an affordable cost. The only other option is flying in and out, which is completely out of the reach of the average resident of these communities. It is often only used at the eleventh hour when people either need to see a doctor or need medevac because of an unfortunate urgent incident.

These communities face some of the highest levels of water insecurity. I had the opportunity to visit these communities on many occasions. I even drove on winter roads. The lack of access to safe drinking water is one issue that has come up time and time again.

I also had the opportunity to visit St. Theresa Point during the H1N1 outbreak, which impacted the Island Lake first nations disproportionately. Many medical professionals indicated that the number one reason why more people on Island Lake were impacted by H1N1, and by impacted I mean sent to emergency wards in Winnipeg and other communities, is that they did not have access to safe drinking water. What was so disturbing and disgusting at the time was the federal government's slow reaction to the demands for hand sanitizer and a long-term investment in water infrastructure, when it was so clearly linked to the serious health implications that we were seeing.

Shortly after that the federal government made some basic commitments to the Island Lake first nations. I remember being in Garden Hill when one of those commitments came to fruition in the form of large bins to be used as toilets. Everyone in the House and probably everyone across Canada would agree that is not only an inadequate response but an offensive response, when the day-to-day reality on first nations is one that is so far off the average Canadian's. It is quite clear that inadequate sewage and water systems have held people back on these first nations and continue to hold people back.

It is an issue that has been raised by local and regional leadership. We have seen the federal government respond to these demands in a very inadequate way through the continuous use of short-term and, in some cases, even offensive measures through the sending of bins to be used as toilets.

The fact of the matter remains that these are not issues mired in silence. There are international campaigns that have focused on the plight of the Island Lake first nations and other first nations in Canada, pointing to the lack of water security and the need for immediate action by the federal government.

I want to reference a study that was commissioned by the government itself that found that an investment of $5 billion over 10 years was needed to truly ensure safe water systems for first nations. This also included the need for an immediate investment of $1.2 billion. That study was commissioned by the government itself, so the numbers are clear, stark and significant. This would be an answer to what is perhaps the clearest indication yet that there are still first peoples of Canada living in third world conditions, which is unacceptable.

Instead, however, the Conservatives have only committed $330 million over two years. We saw that in 2010 and no commitments were made in 2011. Now we are in 2012. As we know, as these first nations communities grow, the need to access safe drinking water only grows along with them.

What we have here today is again an inadequate and very problematic response to a very serious issue facing first nations.

We as New Democrats are proud to be able to work with first nations' national leadership, but also regional, local leaders and community band members to say that Bill S-8 is absolutely the wrong way to go.

I want to make another point as well. One wonders how a government could go so far back in time. One only has to look at the kind of legislation the government is bringing forward when it comes to first nations to understand that trend, because Bill S-8 also involves no consultation with first nations. This is not an optional piece. We certainly have learned from our political and societal evolution and the mistakes of the past that if we do not consult with first nations and use a top-down approach, it is the wrong way to go. It simply revives the colonial relationship that Canada for so long imposed on first nations, a relationship that has caused nothing but grief.

We have an opportunity here to break free from that trend and sit down with first nations to not just hear from them or media reports about how bad things are, but also to work to find an adequate solution that works for them. This lack of consultation is extremely disturbing.

The Conservatives have a track record of broken promises. In March 2006 they announced a plan to implement the protocol for safe drinking water for first nations communities. Their piecemeal strategy was not fully implemented and failed to solve the problem. In 2010, the Conservatives introduced Bill S-11 to improve standards for first nations' drinking water quality, focusing on existing provincial regimes, contrary to the preference of its own expert panel and the wishes of the Assembly of First Nations.

Aboriginal groups were also unhappy with the legislation because the government failed to adequately consult them, ignoring first nations' right to self-government and to water and environmental protection. Now the Conservatives are introducing Bill S-8, with only minor changes from previous legislation. Again, I want to reiterate the important point about lack of consultation.

I noted earlier in response to the speech by my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona that we are seeing this disturbing trend in a host of pieces of legislation when it comes to first nations. The same applies to the matrimonial property rights bill and the first nations transparency bill. First nations have caught onto this and so have Canadians. For us to move forward, however, consultation with first nations is absolutely key.

The Prime Minister himself indicated that he was interested in a new relationship and a new chapter when it came to first nations. It was something he spoke of very clearly in his apology to residential school survivors and those who have suffered the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. Evidently, they are just words because when it comes to action, we are seeing bill after bill seeking to impose a framework on first nations without consultation. However, the government goes even further by imposing some real challenges when it comes to respect for aboriginal rights.

The regulations in Bill S-8 would overrule any laws or bylaws made by a first nation. However, interestingly, the bill would limit the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of its duties under the regulations.

Therefore, we see a system with two standards. One is for first nations in taking on a liability without, of course, the necessary support for building infrastructure and human resource capacity to deliver safe water systems. On the other hand, the government is able to run away from its own potential liability. If that is not a clear indication of how unfair Bill S-8 is, then I do not know what is. I believe this to be an indication that the government would pull away from its own commitments. I would also note that this is an option that the government is increasingly interested in as it moves forward in reaching out to first nations.

Another key trend that we are seeing, not just in terms of first nations but also in terms of the provinces, is the Conservative government's zeal in downloading services and responsibilities on other jurisdictions.

Let us look at the example of first nations, the most impoverished jurisdiction in the country bar none. They are not like municipalities or provinces that face challenges. We know that the situation first nations face in terms of lack of resources and capacity is the most extreme. However, the government, through Bill S-8, would like to download a critical service, which it ought to be responsible for, onto first nations without giving them the support they need to ensure they have the right infrastructure and capacity.

That is setting them up to fail. It is the federal government absconding on its responsibility and it really speaks to its lack understanding of its fiduciary obligation to first nations. Perhaps, more broadly, it is a complete lack of vision when it comes to building a better Canada. I believe this is the saddest part of what we are debating here and what we often debate in the House.

The Conservative government, with its omnibus budget bills, and with health transfers and support for post-secondary education and the need for stronger infrastructure programs, is like no other in its desire to pull away from what is fundamentally its responsibility.

We saw a similar kind of zeal under the Liberal government in the 1990s. One would have expected the Conservative government to take note of that kind of approach to governing. The government has taken it to the next level at hyper speed, saying that it has nothing to do with fundamental services that ought to be offered to Canadians. That is something that I and many other Canadians we are increasingly opposed to. The federal government has less and less to do with health transfers, with supporting affordable education and with making sure that our roads are of good quality and that there is adequate infrastructure in communities, and with playing a role when it comes to protecting the environment and with supporting people at the margins of society in achieving a better quality of life and, most specifically, in the context of Bill S-8, with making sure that first nations have access to safe drinking water like any other Canadians. It is a sad state of affairs when the leadership of the federal government pulls away from its responsibility and the concept that a better Canada involves a federal government working with other partners, including in consultation with first nations in addressing the real gap that exists with the lack of safe drinking water in first nation communities.

I know well the experience of first nations communities in my part of the country in northern Manitoba. However, I also know there are many members across the aisle who also represent first nation communities where similar challenges exist, where they see people getting sick because of the lack of safe drinking water and living in abject poverty without the kinds of services other Canadians take for granted. I would ask them what they are doing for those people and why they are letting go of the responsibility they have to ensure that first nations, Métis, Inuit and all Canadians have access to the kinds of infrastructure we all expect in a country as wealthy as Canada.

I am proud to be part of the New Democratic Party that stands with first nations and opposes legislation that re-enacts the colonial relationship and fails to consult with first nations. I am proud to be part of a party that calls for immediate action so that first nations can live in dignity, the way we all deserve to.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
See context


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a hugely important topic that we are discussing this afternoon. I do not think that there is anyone in this chamber who does not believe that the question of unsafe drinking water has been a chronic problem and an embarrassment to Canada. Many first nation communities, especially northern and rural communities, are still living in third world conditions here in Canada in 2012.

On September 30, 2012, 116 first nations communities throughout Canada were still subject to a drinking water advisory.

This is clearly unacceptable and requires immediate action.

As National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, Assembly of First Nations, said, “Access to safe, potable water and sanitation is a basic human right”. Unfortunately, the bill would simply provide for the development of federal regulations governing the provision of drinking water, water quality standards and the disposal of waste water in first nation communities.

According to every report addressing the tragic situation of water on reserve, the massive infrastructure deficit—and problems with capacity—must first be addressed before any legislation is passed.

I remember visiting the communities in northern Manitoba a little more than two years ago during the outbreak of H1N1. In Garden Hill, only 50% of the community had access to safe drinking water. In Wasagamack, only 20% of the homes had access to safe drinking water, and those are the homes on the footprint of the health unit. There are federal labour laws that insist people working in that space have to have clean drinking water.

Unfortunately, this bill does not provide any additional resources or funding to address this critical capacity gap in infrastructure, nor in training. Further, there are serious concerns about the lack of real consultation with first nations during the development of the legislation, infringements on first nations jurisdiction and the inadequacy of the non-derogation clause currently in the bill.

The government's own national assessment on first nations water and waste waster systems, released on July 14, 2011, identified 314 water systems as high risk. It is interesting that the report was ready in April but somehow ended up delayed in order to not actually influence the election of 2011. The majority of high-risk systems served a small population, and water systems in remote communities were 2.5 times more likely be at high risk than low risk.

Now, more than a year after the release of that report on the national assessment on first nations water and waste water systems, which shows 73% of reserve water systems at high or medium risk, the Conservatives have failed to make any real progress toward the right of every first nations community to clean, safe, running water. As previously noted, as of September 30, 2012, there were still 116 first nations communities across Canada under a drinking water advisory. This is simply unacceptable.

I want to remind this Chamber that some of the communities that do not have drinking water at all and have to truck bottles of water to each home are not included in those statistics.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates that it will cost approximately $6.6 billion over 10 years to address this deficit. The 2012 federal budget allocated $33.8 million over two years for first nations water systems and wastewater infrastructure. This level of funding will perpetuate the status quo from previous years and is grossly inadequate.

“The National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems” said it would cost $1.08 billion to bring everything up to protocol immediately. The government's own estimates identify a $5.8 billion funding shortfall to deal with the first nations water and waste water capacity gap.

After the release of the national report on September 13, 2011, I wrote to the minister with respect to what we thought was impending legislation on water and waste water management. I quote:

I am writing to you on behalf of Liberal Leader Bob Rae and my Liberal colleagues in the Senate and House of Commons to convey the position of our caucus regarding the government's approach to creating a regulatory regime for drinking water for First Nations on reserve. Our position [which has not changed] has two main points:

First, Liberals will not support any legislation on safe drinking water that is introduced without an implementation plan for additional resourcing that fully addresses the deficiencies identified in the National Assessment of First Nations Water and Waste Water Systems (prepared by Neegan Burnside Ltd., April 2011). There is a clear consensus that the resource gap must be addressed as a precondition to any regulatory regime. The Report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations (November 2006) states unequivocally that “it is not credible to go forward with any regulatory regime without adequate capacity to satisfy the regulatory requirements..”. This precondition was repeated by witnesses at the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples during its study of Bill S-11, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on first nations lands, in spring of 2011.

Second, the government must collaborate with First Nations and obtain their free, prior and informed consent [as stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People] on the range of regulatory options regarding safe drinking water identified by the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations before the re-introduction of legislation. This approach is consistent with the Crown's obligation under the law, existing treaties and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We went on to say:

It is essential that the concerns raised in this letter are fully addressed in the government's policy on safe drinking water for First Nations. The body of survey data, research and parliamentary testimony on this matter are a clear guide on what must be done. It is up to the government to adopt a new approach of collaboration and mutual accountability—one that we believe will surely have better results for the health and well-being of First Nation citizens.

That was the letter we sent September 13, 2011, and we have not changed our minds.

A year ago, in November 2011, the Conservative government supported the Liberal Party motion introduced in the House of Commons calling on the government to address, on an urgent basis, the needs of those first nations communities whose members have no access to clean running water in their homes. Yet, the government has still not moved to resolve this deplorable situation a year later.

The 2012 federal budget allocated a measly $330.8 million over two years for first nations water infrastructure. However, this money simply maintained the status quo from the previous year and was far from what is required. The Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations was clear, and I will say it again. It is not credible to go forward with any regulatory regime without adequate capacity to satisfy the regulatory requirements.

According to that report, regulation alone will not ensure safe drinking water. Any regulations must be accompanied by the adequate investment in human resources and physical assets. Yet, the government is content to impose standards and regulation on first nations regarding water and waste water treatment without providing the required investment in physical assets or capacity-building assistance to deal with the problem.

Where are the additional resources and funding to address the capacity gap? Where is the credible plan to bring first nations water systems up to a level comparable with other Canadian communities and the plan to keep them there, meaning the adequate training to keep those systems working after they have been installed? Where is the credible plan to have enough training and certification that the first nations themselves can design?

When I visited the Beausoleil First Nation in your riding, Mr. Speaker, I heard the story of unacceptable waits for a membrane just to fix a state-of-the-art treatment plant. There was worry after a lightning storm. There were fully qualified and very experienced 20-year veterans, who were unable to step into the water treatment plant after an electrical storm because they had not met the criteria. Even though in any oral exam these people were encyclopedic about the microbiology and the planning of it, they had to wait until the next morning for the first ferry for someone from the mainland to come along, to even walk into the plant.

It is ridiculous that we cannot find a system that allows people to work who know how to do the things that need to be done for their people. They end up on a boil water advisory because of that gap. It is just totally unacceptable and shows that no one is listening to these people as to what it takes to meet their needs.

The government must immediately target sufficient financial resources to close the capacity gap for first nations, in terms of both infrastructure and training regarding water and waste water systems on first nations land. Most of all, it must listen to first nations themselves and involve them in the planning for the placement of these projects as well as the training and certification.

There is no question that the goal of the bill is right. We want to address health and safety issues on reserve lands and certain other lands, by providing for regulations and waste water. Unfortunately, we believe the work has not been done in developing the kinds of regulations that are required. The regulations, on a province-to-province basis, to mirror existing provincial regulatory schemes, may not work all of the time. First nations must be consulted this time.

Despite the Prime Minister's rhetoric at the recent Crown–first nations gathering about resetting the relationship, the Conservative government has shown a total disregard for the rights of indigenous people. The government has used the same flawed approach on first nations accountability and matrimonial real property without discussions on the specifics of the bill with stakeholders or political parties before tabling.

Numerous witnesses who appeared before the Senate committee said that they were frustrated that the government did not consult the first nations regarding the drafting of this bill.

Introduced in the Senate in May 2010, Bill S-11, Safe Drinking Water for First Nations act, was sharply criticized by first nations and NGOs for ignoring the expert panel recommendations and for claiming sweeping jurisdiction without consultation.

Bill S-8 has most of the same flaws as its predecessor and does not seem to have taken first nations concerns into account. Consultation requires both a substantive dialogue and that the government listen and, when appropriate, incorporate what it hears into its approach. Consultation is not an information session, as we have heard time and time again, legislation after legislation, by the government. How can the government cite The Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations as the prime example of its consultation process and then move forward with a regulatory regime without a plan to deal with capacity issues for implementation? Consultation is of no use if the government simply disregards what it hears.

It is also unacceptable that the current non-derogation clause in the bill still expressly allows for the abrogation or derogation of aboriginal and treaty rights.

It is clear that the legislation completely misses the mark and fails to deal with the real issues underscoring first nations access to clean, safe drinking water. Until the government comes forward with a credible plan to deal with the huge shortfall in funding for needed infrastructure and the training required to further develop the operational capacity within communities to maintain that infrastructure, we are not going to tackle this national disgrace.

That is what the government's own expert panel has told it. That is what first nations is telling it. It is time for the government to listen.

It is with sadness, I remind the House, that it was seven years ago when the Kelowna accord was signed, after 18 months of work with first nations and provinces and territories. Five billion dollars was assigned to close the gap, and then the agreement was torn up as soon as this government came to office. We are seven years behind where we could have begun to address the problem with that money that was expressly for these purposes.

This afternoon I asked the minister whether we could expect to see in budget 2013 the kinds of dollars the Conservatives' own expert panels stated would be necessary to fix this problem.

To me, a strategy must be what, by when and how. My question for the government and the minister, accordingly, is when will 100% of first nations homes in 100% of communities have the same access to safe and potable drinking water and to waste water management as other Canadians in all communities and municipalities in this country?

I implore this House to actually call upon the government to put in place the dollars necessary to meet the objectives of the bill. Otherwise the bill is totally useless.