Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House to speak to the bill. I want to give my hon. colleagues the actual history of what went down around safe drinking water and why we are here today.
The bill before us is supposed to reflect the consultation that happened as a result of the horrific E. coli contamination in Kashechewan in 2005. I was in Kashechewan in 2004 and 2005 when we were trying to deal with the federal Liberal government at the time and warn it about the water crisis and the fact that there were no water standards on reserve. However, the fact that there were no water standards on reserve was a perfect get-out-of-jail card for the then Liberal government.
With my dear friend, Jack Layton, who was leader of the party at the time, we visited the Kashechewan water treatment plant because the community was concerned. There was no real training in any of those communities for the maintenance of water safety and the equipment was completely breaking down. Jack and I saw pumps that were being held together with duct tape and they were using boards to hold up supports.
Of course, when E. coli broke out in November 2005, the then Department of Indian Affairs completely ignored the situation because it did not want to spend the money. Within the capital budgets of the Department of Indian Affairs, then and now, money is used to put out fires here, there and everywhere, but the department ignores actual health and safety issues.
The other department that had a key role to play was Health Canada, which has, over the years, continually left people at risk if it means spending any money. Therefore, when E. coli was found in the water system in Kashechewan, Health Canada's response was the rubber stamp that it responds with every single time first nations are put at risk: “boil your water”.
We have had communities that have had a boil water advisory for five, six, seven or ten years running. In the case of Kashechewan, Health Canada actually had the nerve to tell people that the solution for E. coli was to just boil the water. It was like telling the families to bathe their children in the toilet. That would be the same thing.
To put this in context, it happened in Ontario, which was ground zero of the biggest E. coli scandal in Canadian history and basically a direct result of the front line of the current Conservative government bench, who were then under the Harris Conservatives in the “common sense revolution”. The Walkerton E. coli scandal shocked people and changed water standards in every community in Ontario, except on reserve. For the people on reserve, they were left completely on their own.
We were in Ontario with a major E. coli outbreak and the federal and provincial governments fought back and forth for about two to three weeks about what they were going to do. As unfortunately happens, whenever we have a crisis in one of our communities, they just hope that people stop complaining and it will go away. Well, it did not. The James Bay medical authority came up and, under Dr. Murray Trusler, took pictures of children. It was the pictures of children in Kashechewan in 2005 that shocked not just this nation but others around the world. We were faced with a forced full evacuation of the community of Kashechewan because the entire infrastructure had collapsed.
At the time, I was working with the then opposition critic, Jim Prentice. I have always had a great deal of respect for Jim Prentice, not just because he is from Timmins and comes from the famous Prentice brothers hockey family, but because Jim was deeply concerned. When the present Conservative government came in we had an Indian affairs minister who took his file seriously and had a level of competence. One could disagree with him and still know that he was a man who took it seriously. Jim Prentice had said that he needed to deal with the water situation on reserves because it was appalling. Jim knew that one of the problems was that there were absolutely no standards. Without any standards, anything could happen.
As the Conservatives are claiming now, there was a consultation process that was put in place. However, fast forward to today, the bill that was brought through the unelected, unaccountable Senate is not the result of the consultations that took place with first nation communities across Canada. The bill is something completely different. It really speaks to how far down the Conservative government has gone in terms of its willingness to be accountable to Canada's most vulnerable population, which is within our first nation communities.
The bill has a lot of window dressing on language about water quality, but is about the transferring of liability to communities that do not have the resources to maintain adequate water safety standards. There is always this underlying dog whistle to the Conservative base that says the government has to bring in these standards to make people actually bother to look after their own communities, as if the communities have not been calling out for years for what they need, which are the dollars and the infrastructure to maintain proper water treatment plants. I do not know of a single community in my riding or any community in this country where safe water drinking standards can be maintained if there are no adequate systems.
According to the April 2011 release of the National Assessment of First Nation Water and Wastewater Systems, we have a situation under the current government, despite all the consultations, where 39% of the first nation communities in Canada are high risk, which means that people can die. Of those communities, 34% are at medium risk. We are looking at a bill that is going to transfer liability to the Bantustans and shanty shack towns of the far north and tell them to fix it without doing anything to ensure that those Canadian citizens have the resources that any other Canadian would take for granted. That is what the bill is about.
Think about the kind of money the government was going to blow on the F-35 in 2011. Yet it told 39% of first nation communities that they could remain at high risk, and if they did not have the training or the money to fix it, the government would go after them. That is the systemic negligence that has gone on and continues to go on in this country. Whether we are talking about health services, policing or education, it is a system of apartheid that has been set up and maintained. There are two levels of people in this country. When 39% of first nation communities are at high risk because their water is dirty and the government tells them that it is their responsibility, that is absolutely intolerable.
The government's sleight of hand is to set the standards but to not put the money in place. What has been identified to deal with the shortfall right now is $146 million. That is what is needed. Dollars and cents are needed to get these water treatment centres up to standard. It is going to cost $4.7 billion over the next 10 years to maintain them, with an annual maintenance cost of $419 million. That is what the government needs to do. There needs to be a throne speech from the Government of Canada saying that the days of maintaining the fourth world communities in northern Canada are going to end and that it is going to put the funding and training in place. I have been in communities where people said they wanted the training.
Let us look at Bill S-8 in terms of a practical example. The Marten Falls First Nation is right beside the Ring of Fire. The federal and provincial governments are licking their chops to get their hands on the Ring of Fire. They are saying the Ring of Fire is going to be the greatest thing. Dalton McGuinty thinks it is going to restart his economic credibility once he gets his hands on it. The federal government is saying the Ring of Fire is going to be the oil sands of Ontario. Marten Falls is a little community that is right beside the Ring of Fire. It has been on a boil water advisory since 2005, for seven years. It is considered normal that the community has to boil its water year after year.
Health Canada has decided it spent a little too much looking after Marten Falls, so it is suspending the bottled water that has been going to the community. It has decided not to do it any more. This little community sits beside what will probably be one of the richest mineral developments in this coming century and its bottled water is being cut off.
How does that relate to Bill S-8? It actually relates in a very clear way, which I can explain to people back home. The community has been concerned. I remember people in the community were asking for help when the sewage lift was hit by lightning. They told Indian Affairs that they did not have, within their little community, the resources to fix it. They asked Indian Affairs to come in to work with them to fix it. However, Indian Affairs did not want to spend the money, so the sewage overflowed and the water system was contaminated. Now the government is saying it is tired of the situation in Marten Falls and that it will just put in a reverse osmosis water system and walk away.
At the same time, the government has commissioned a study to find out how to fix the problem in Marten Falls, how to fix the sewage and the water, but the department does not want to wait for the study. The band wants clean drinking water for its community. The band wants to work with the department, but it asks whether it would not be prudent to actually get the report, find out what works and then put the money in to ensure that it works in the long term. In first nation communities, again and again, the federal government always does what is cheapest and quickest. It puts whatever Band-Aid it can on the septic wound and walks away. When the Band-Aid fails, the federal government blames the community.
The community has raised legitimate, serious questions about whether a reverse osmosis system would work in their community. Because of the heavy level of turbidity in the water, the amount of bacteria that sits in the tank, it is not a system that would work. People in the community are asking the department to work with them. It does not necessarily have to be adversarial. However, the department has decided, thanks to some fonctionnaire at some level, that this is how it will go and the community can take it or leave it. Bill S-8 will then allow the government to hold the community accountable if something goes wrong, because it would be the community's responsibility, even though the community was not able to participate in the decision making.
I think I have had probably 12 or 13 states of emergency in four communities that I represent since 2005. A state of emergency is not something easy to declare. It just does not happen. A state of emergency happens when an entire community is put at risk.
The response in Ontario is interesting. If a municipality declares a state of emergency, Emergency Management Ontario is sent in at the provincial level and it will do an assessment immediately. Once that is done, plans are set up. What happens in first nation communities when a state of emergency is declared? People in the community call Indian Affairs, and Indian Affairs says, “Hell, no, we're not paying”, and the province will say that it is sorry but that the community is on its own. That has happened again and again.
I will give a few examples. We had two evacuations in one year in Kashechewan in 2008. The entire sewage system in Fort Albany collapsed and thousands of gallons of raw sewage, actual human waste, was piling up in people's basements. The department's response was to tell the people to stay there. People were actually staying in homes where the methane gas was coming up to such a toxic level that people were lighting candles in their basements to try to put the methane gas down.
The Indian affairs minister knew this. The department knew this. They had footage of it. They knew those houses were in danger of blowing up from methane gas. Families had little babies in those houses. The department thought that was okay because it did not want to spend the money. It did one Band-Aid solution after another because it did not want to do it right. A private company ended up flying in bottled water. A private company flew in pumps. The deadbeat government did not want to pay any bills. At the same time we had the ongoing rebuilding in Kashechewan from the floods there.
In 2009, we had a state of emergency declared in Attawapiskat from the sewage lift collapsing there. Once again, think of the communities on a stretch from Windsor to London and imagine three or four communities where the entire sewage system, in community after community, just collapses to the point that thousands of gallons of human waste is pumped into people's basements. That was happening on the James Bay coast between 2008 and 2011, and the government's response was to blame the community.
The Prime Minister got up and did his famous, “We gave those Indians $50,000 each, every man, woman and child. What did they do with our money?” That was the Prime Minister's response on the day when the International Red Cross came in to help people in Attawapiskat.
Of course, the Prime Minister did not bother to say that the price on the head of every first nation child and parent in Attawapiskat was based on overall spending over a six-, seven- and eight-year period. The Conservatives never put that number on non-native people, but thought it was perfectly okay in Attawapiskat because they were trying to divert attention from the fact that they had allowed not one, two, three nor four states of emergency in Attawapiskat to create a situation that we saw this past year in which the entire community was put at risk.
Let us talk about the Attawapiskat state of emergency in 2009 when the sewage systems failed and we had numerous homes damaged to the point where people were getting sick and needing to be medevaced. The Department of Indian Affairs and Health Canada said to keep the families in the houses with the raw sewage. Former minister Chuck Strahl was a great guy for never knowing there was a problem. He would just cover his ears and say he was just going to ignore these people until they shut up. That was the attitude, for a community that was calling for help.
Our new minister over there was shocked. He did not know there was a problem in Attawapiskat. Nobody told him. They had been told since 2009 that people were living in tents. Why were they living in tents? They were living in tents because their homes had been destroyed because the sewage had backed up.
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation is opposing Bill S-8 because it expected the government would work with the communities to put in the necessary resources so that when we have water standards on reserves, we would actually have the resources to ensure the communities can have standards. We have been pushing from the beginning to establish the same standards at the provincial and federal levels, so if they have water standards in a municipality in Ontario, first nations should have the same standards at the federal level.
We have been asking that for fire protection, and that does not happen. In 2007, Ricardo Wesley and Jamie Goodwin burned to death in a fire in a makeshift cell in Kashechewan. The federal and provincial governments fund the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service. They knew that those police officers were working in a situation where there were no fire sprinklers. They could not put in fire sprinklers because it was a shack. No police officer would be expected to work under those conditions in a provincial jurisdiction, but it was okay to do it at the federal level because it did not cost as much, so two young men burned to death. The 80-some recommendations from the jury, which came out of that horrific Kashechewan fire inquest, said that if there had been a basic sprinkler system those young men might not have died and the police officers who were seriously injured trying to save them would not have been put at risk.
It is about this system we have now, where there is one set of standards for all the municipalities and the provinces and all the non-native people across Canada. They live at one level, and then the first nations communities are left down at another level. The only time they changed that standard was on the so-called “session of accountability”, where we would hold those communities to account and blame those communities.
My good friend from Fort McMurray asked me about the chiefs who are taking the money down and spending it on gambling. I was scratching my head and wondering. Was he talking about Fort Chip or about Fort McKay, or about the communities that are living downstream from the oil sands investments, communities that are trying to get by? Are we to believe that they are taking their money and gambling in casinos? However, this is the kind of talk the current government members use. They are going to put a level of accountability on these impoverished first nations communities, without the money.
Are my hon. colleagues on the other side serious about following through on what Jim Prentice started? He was working with us at that time because Jim Prentice was a collaborative kind of guy. Where is the money? Where is the money to ensure we have these standards, because until we see the money, this is just another Conservative bill that would punish communities and leave them on their own.