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 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 10, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
June 6, 2013 Passed That, in relation to Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands, not more than five further hours shall be allotted to the consideration of the third reading stage of the Bill; and that, at the expiry of the five hours provided for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.
June 4, 2013 Passed That Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments].
May 8, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
May 8, 2013 Passed That this question be now put.
May 8, 2013 Passed That, in relation to Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
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Conservative

David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the member sits on the aboriginal affairs committee with me, he would know that in the past two years our Conservative government has put forward $338 million toward first nations water and waste water systems. That is a significant amount of money. He would also understand that this money needs also to have first nations' buy-in for those systems to be put in.

Would the member agree that our government is working toward access for first nations to clean water and waste water systems but that it requires the first nations to buy in to the process and that we cannot force a first nation into it?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

There are always numbers to be cited regarding massive investments, but I would say that what is being done at present is damage control. That money could have been invested differently people’s quality of life had come first, rather than mining and industry agendas. We might not have needed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in filtration systems for remediation and to ensure that people are drinking clean water in those areas.

If there had been better oversight of resource development initiatives, perhaps we would not be in the situation we are in today. If there had been better oversight of the impact of illegal occupation of the land for decades, we would not be where we are today. The negligence of the Conservatives today is cited as the problem, but the negligence of many others, before that, has also contributed.

The negligence has piled up over the years, and today we have this utterly deplorable result. If efforts had been made from the outset, there would be no need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in water remediation and treatment in 2012.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, late last fall, the interim leader of the Liberal Party brought in a motion for an opposition day, where we would recognize the importance of having clean running water for all Canadians. If memory serves me correctly, all members of the House voted in favour of that motion.

Given the very nature of the importance of having access to clean water, to what degree does the member believe the government is making it a priority issue, considering the fact that the House itself voted in favour of a motion that virtually said this is something we have to do?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.

On the face of it, the government is going to say all the right things. It will say that it is crucial that first nations have access to clean drinking water, just as every other Canadian does. However, it will be their actions in 2012 that will be lacking, given that really fixing the problem would be extremely costly, not to mention the human resources that would be needed, often in very remote regions. Common sense must prevail, and the Conservatives will have to give in and listen to the fact that fixing the situation is crucial and that access to clean drinking water is a fundamental right that belongs to all Canadians.

It is an enormous undertaking, and even with the best intentions in the world, so it will remain until fundamental changes take place in industrial practices and in social intervention, and until water quality is monitored in these communities, which are often remote.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join the debate today on this bill, but it is not because this is a good piece of legislation. It is a bill that misses the mark on an important issue.

The legislation concerns itself with a basic human right: the right to safe, sufficient, affordable drinking water. For too many in this world, that is unattainable, but while it might be tempting to think that struggle is the stuff of distant and impoverished nations, it is difficult to admit this is a challenge in many Canadian communities. It is even more difficult to admit how many of those—in fact, a disproportionately large number of them—are first nations communities.

For a country blessed with the freshwater resources of Canada, it should be unimaginable that this is the case. Yet here we are today debating a bill that seems more interested in pursuing a Conservative view of how first nations should be run than dealing with the actual problem. Bill S-8 is long on prescriptions and predictably short on resources to back them up, which helps explain, in part, why this is a problem that persists.

What we have is another in a series of bills that excuses the government from its primary obligations to first nations while subjecting those communities to substantial risk, significant financial burdens and a patchwork of provincial standards for the delivery of safe drinking water. What this bill does not do is adequately address the needs of first nations to build capacity in order to develop and administer water and waste water systems on their lands.

This bill would provide for federal regulations to govern drinking water, water quality standards and the disposal of waste water in first nations communities, which sounds good enough, but we will see that the devil is in the details, like the way it leaves communities on the hook for existing problems they may not have created, even if what they really want to do is start over in an attempt to get things right.

Some of the items covered in this legislation are the training and certification of operators for drinking and waste water systems; source water protection; the location, design, construction, modification, maintenance, operation and decommissioning of drinking water and waste water systems; drinking water distribution by truck; the collection and treatment of waste water; the monitoring, sampling and testing of waste water and the reporting of test results; and the handling, use and disposal of products of waste water treatment.

As I mentioned, these regulations may incorporate, by reference, provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water in first nations communities. What is not mentioned is that 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. Incredibly, the regulations in this bill would overrule any laws or bylaws made by a first nation. This is becoming old hat for the government. It has an insatiable capacity for paternalistic measures when it comes to first nations. That goes hand in hand with the seemingly uncontrollable urge to shortchange first nations with crippling cutbacks, as we saw recently with tribal councils. In keeping with the Conservatives' desire to excuse themselves from federal responsibilities, this bill would 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. For many first nation communities, adequate access to this has been a well-known problem for more than a decade.

This is not the first crack the Conservatives have had at this issue, either. What is unfortunate is how this really is not any better than the previous attempt.

The other place has sent us a similar piece of legislation that also tried to undermine the primary responsibility of the federal government when it comes to first nations. We have already seen the preference to employ the mishmash of provincial regulations on water safety instead of determining an even and consistent set of regulations, regulations that should have been arrived at in consultation with first nations instead of by unelected and unaccountable professional politicians in the other place. Perhaps if there were a few people involved in developing these regulations who would ultimately have to use them, we might be debating a bill with a little more merit to it.

I would not want anyone to think that New Democrats do not appreciate the need to address inadequate water systems or to improve standards in what can only be viewed as far too many communities for a country as rich as Canada. We understand the connection to health and economic well-being that flows from safe, dependable and affordable water. It is this legislation that is missing the mark.

For example, this bill would make first nations liable for water systems that have already proven inadequate, but has no funding to help them improve those deficient systems. Even if the first nation wants to build a replacement that would better suit their needs, it has to maintain their old and often costly systems at the same time. It is a case of “Sorry, you're stuck with it, and it's a money pit”. In that respect, this is a recipe for failure.

Then there is the end run on aboriginal rights that is written in to the bill. It is a seemingly innocuous statement that sets a terrible principle. By adding the words, “except to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands”, the previous clause that states nothing in the bill may be taken as abrogating or derogating from aboriginal or treaty rights is negated.

I want to state that is a Conservative view of how relations should be pursued with first nations and bears no resemblance to the New Democrat belief that the relationship between Canada and our first nations should be rooted in a respectful nation-to-nation dialogue on matters like this.

It is a relationship that should grow out of a trust that is built in many ways, including through legislation arrived at as a result of thorough consultation and not as the product of a patriarchal view of how things could be better when viewed through the narrow lens of red and black ink on a ledger sheet.

New Democrats believe that regulations alone will not help first nations people to develop and maintain safe on-reserve water systems. They need crucial investments in human resources and physical infrastructure, including drinking water and sewage systems, and adequate housing. It is naive to think this can be achieved on the cheap.

In the riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Constance Lake First Nation's water supply has been through a state of emergency. Its traditional water source has been contaminated by blue green algae, which resulted in a shutdown of the community's water treatment plant. After drilling two new wells, it is off boil water advisories for the first time in years, but it requires a new system to ensure quality and to meet its growing demand. Under this legislation, it would be liable for the old system while it tried to build a new one.

I want to reiterate the importance of safe drinking water. I would encourage all members to take a few moments to become familiar with the good work of the Safe Drinking Water Foundation. Its excellent website is a treasure trove of information and includes this language with respect to the challenges we are discussing today:

While it is hard for many rural communities to provide safe drinking water, the situation in First Nations communities is especially difficult. Since 1995, a number of reports have highlighted the unacceptable situation in these communities. Health Canada still tells approximately 120 communities to boil their water and Indian Affairs says that there is a good chance that water systems in 85 communities could break down. Without a proper regulatory framework and enough resources, First Nations will continue to face this risk to public health. We work with First Nations to improve public policies to make sure that First Nations get the systems and resources they need.

I would have the government note the reference to working with first nations and the need to provide resources to go along with the proper regulatory framework.

Ultimately, the Safe Drinking Water Foundation sees the challenges for what they are, that what is really needed is for the government to sit down with first nations in a peer-to-peer manner and work together to develop a kind of regulatory framework that will ultimately change the circumstances for many first nations.

While the government is able to ram through legislation, that should not be its goal, especially for issues as important as this. If the government is able to go back to the drawing board, undertake the necessary consultation to legitimize the process and draw up legislation that reflects as much, it will be better received on the opposition benches and, more important, among Canada's first nations.

I want to also mention that the Chiefs of Ontario, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Treaty 7 first nations in Alberta have signalled continued concerns with the proposed legislation, signing among others the need to address infrastructure and capacity issues before introducing federal regulations.

It is not only the opposition that is against this legislation; it is first nations that would actually benefit from better drinking water. They know this is not what they need. They need actual resources.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to the drinking water advisory notices. When we have a situation on a reserve where the quality of the water is questioned, these drinking advisories go out. Members might be surprised to know that back in September 2012 well over 100 of those advisories were issued for on-reserve quality of water related issues.

That is one of the reasons why I believe this chamber needs to give more attention to the issue of good quality drinking, running water for all Canadians.

Would the member comment on the serious nature every year when so many communities are given these drinking water advisory notices because of inadequate or water of poor quality?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments with respect to the advisories. It is truly a sad day, and there have been a lot of sad days, when we see so many advisories going out.

However, it is not just about the advisories. In April 2011, and let us just look at that piece because those are the specifics I have right now but I know this continues on, 1,880 first nations homes reported no water services and 1,777 reported no waste water services. We can see that the infrastructure within our first nations has been lacking for quite some time. I would have to remind the member that the Liberals had 12 years to do something about and they did not.

I did also want to add a couple of things. I mentioned Constance Lake First Nation, which is one of the first nations in my community. It has had serious issues with its water. I spoke about mercury poisoning last night during my late show. That continues on. Health Canada indicated that it was not a problem. Even the Minister of Health said that there was no issue for them to drink its water.

This is what Constance Lake First Nation have in one of its newsletters right now. It said that Health Canada had said the water was good to drink, that it was safe. The newsletter adds that this is still not believed because tea is still black in colour on top of pots and kettles. It says that the high levels of manganese and iron in its new water are causing these visual changes in tea. The first nation has questioned whether that water is still good to drink.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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Kenora Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity and I appreciate the work this member does with us on the committee. I want to raise two things as briefly as I need to be.

First, this whole notion of a lack of consultation is just foolish. Even before I was elected, in my capacity in two different professions, which were almost totally invested in first nations communities, I have never seen a government so thoroughly walk lock-step with first nations leadership across the country from coast to coast to coast since 2006 with the AFN, with community leadership.

I was working with community members to help draft reports for this national consultation. Frankly, there has not been legislation so thoroughly consulted with its constituents.

Further to that, with respect to the aboriginal treaty rights the hon. member raised in her speech, I remind her that Bill S-8 addresses the relationship between legislation and aboriginal treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act and it will not infringe on aboriginal and treaty rights, other than to the extent necessary to take health and safety measures to protect the source of drinking water.

I hope she can grasp the technical dimensions of that and the important and prevailing help—

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have to question with respect to consultation. We are getting emails, we are talking to the chiefs and they are telling us the same thing, that they are not being consulted.

When the government says that it is consulting, it is specifically picking on who it wants to consult with to get the point of view for which it is looking.

Just on this note, I could turn around and ask the questions. If the hon. member wants to make a speech, he is more than welcome to make it. Why is the government refusing to invest in safe drinking water for aboriginal communities, despite the recommendations of a government-commissioned study and the recommendations of its own expert panel? This is the question that needs to be answered by the government.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

I will start by quoting Shakespeare, who said, "Much ado about nothing". Clearly, with regard to drinking water, we have a collective obligation to achieve a result. It is not enough just to talk about it; we actually have to do something about it.

We have before us a bill that comes from the Senate, which in theory embodies wisdom and experience. However, this Senate is asleep at the wheel. They only wake up at about the same time as my colleagues in the Liberal Party. The Liberals were in power for 12 years, and now that they are in the opposition, they realize there is a problem with drinking water. It is sad to say, but it is astonishing to see how some people are concerned about problems not when they are in a position to solve them, but only once people have withdrawn their support. The current Conservative government policy is based on the policy that was developed by our colleagues in the Liberal Party.

There are people who do not deliver on their mandate, and who never deliver on their mandate. They only want to talk about these problems once they are in opposition. For example, the 2% increase on spending on higher education was introduced by the Liberal Party. It would be interesting if, one day, the Liberal Party actually put their money where their mouth is. They should stop saying one thing and doing another. That would solve a lot of problems.

Unfortunately, Canada as a whole is affected by this record of failure, and this is the main problem. There is an old proverb that says, “Charity begins at home”. In the future, Liberal policies will have to be distinct from Conservative policies, once they are in power. The record on the whole range of aboriginal issues is a disaster on every point right down the line, and drinking water is only one problem among many.

Infrastructure is not tailored to suit the needs of the aboriginal communities. It is deteriorating while the first nations population is experiencing its highest growth rate ever. This is not a problem that will diminish, but one that will intensify over the years. People on reserves are living in third world conditions. They are living in third world conditions here, in Canada. In a country that claims to be rich and developed, we allow a part of our population to live in conditions that are comparable with those in the third world. This situation is the result of a long-standing lack of political will.

Support for education is very low. We talked about it again this fall. The government talks about it, but perhaps it should stop introducing Senate bills and private members' motions and actually decide to take action on education.

I would like to bring up a particularly important point and say that education is probably the best way for people to lift themselves out of poverty and to participate fully in the prosperity of this country. This is important to note.

Access to health care is difficult and sometimes there are no health care services. Aboriginal communities have the highest rate of suicide in Canada. More attention must be given to health care and prevention. All this results in an extremely high unemployment rate and grinding poverty, and leads to exclusion. It makes me wonder whether so much negligence is perhaps not race-related.

If there were no drinking water for a week in a neighbourhood in my riding, there would be a riot, and the whole of Parliament would support me in finding a solution to the problem. In this example, I am talking about a drinking water shortage that lasts just a few weeks, but in aboriginal communities it is a problem that has gone on for years and years.

It is obvious that Parliament is still at the discussion and research stage. That is where the problem lies.

We are dealing with a government that invites white supremacists to speak before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We can only imagine what it will do with petitions from aboriginal peoples. They are the government’s lowest priority, and it shows.

I invite everyone here to observe the reaction of the Conservatives when aboriginal communities appear before the Standing Committee on Finance. They ignore them, barely listen to them, are paternalistic and behave in a haughty manner towards them. The problem with fine speeches is that “words are wasted on a hungry man”. We suggest that the government “deliver the goods”. Once it does that, we might be able to listen to its proposals a little more attentively. Credibility is something that has to be built.

Since 1911, there has been a long string of reports, including one on aboriginal communities and their right to a water and sewer system. The report stated clearly that a substantial financial commitment would be necessary for the development of infrastructure and that it would cost $4.7 billion over 10 years to meet the needs of the community. An amount and an objective are clearly stated: it will cost this much for drinking water and for sewer systems.

In response to the urgent need to invest $1.2 billion, the government committed to paying $330 million over two years, in 2010, and nothing in 2011. It simply threw in the towel. It is all very well to talk about projects, but promises must be kept. The funds need to be available, but they are not. It has been claimed that efforts were made in the past, but they were clearly inadequate and did not continue.

This leads us to ask an important question. Are the Conservatives really in power to serve Canadians? Providing drinking water to Canadians ought to be a government priority, because the government should care for its citizens. But no, they do not see the urgency of the situation.

I can guarantee that if there were ever a shortage of drinking water somewhere in a Conservative riding, the Conservatives would not talk about it for six years before taking action. Things would move more quickly. Studies carried out over a 10-year period have shown that first nations communities do not have access to drinking water. This is not exactly news.

The bill includes the following words:

[...] to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on first nations lands.

It was a United Nations priority. The problem is that the current government pays about as much attention to the United Nations priorities for aboriginal peoples as it does to aboriginal peoples themselves.

The results have been disastrous. Let us not forgot that the government, in fact all parliamentarians and the people of Canada, have an indisputable moral obligation as human beings to provide assistance to anyone who is in danger. It is even mentioned in the Criminal Code. Unfortunately, when aboriginal people are involved, this moral obligation disappears.

As a people, If we deny assistance to others in need, we become accomplices to genocide. It is morally unacceptable and amounts to throwing in the towel. The NDP refuses to do so, and to be a party to the inaction of far too many previous successive governments.

It is a debate that we, the NDP members, will engage in once we are in power. We will deliver the goods.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the New Democratic members choose to throw stones in glass houses. I would refer to a report of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs related to the flooding of massive amounts of water. On April 3, 2012, a class action was commenced against the government of Manitoba—that being NDP of course—for damages suffered by members of the first nation residing on several different reserves that the flood cut through.

It says that the members of the first nation allege that the government of Manitoba breached their treaty rights to use and occupy the reserve lands and that they are in a position that, once they were evacuated by the government of Manitoba, Manitoba breached its fiduciary duty to provide them with adequate accommodations, medical care, schooling for their children and dietary needs. This is the NDP government in the province of Manitoba.

When the member tries to say the Liberals could have done something, we are trying to address the issues of today. Will the member not acknowledge that today there is a very serious issue regarding water quality and attempts to ensure there is running water in all of our communities across Canada? In fact the leader of the Liberal Party brought in a motion to that effect, which all members of the House supported. All political parties need to pick up and do what they can to deal with this issue as opposed to trying to politicize—

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will say it again: governments must put their money where their mouth is. Governments have never delivered the goods. There comes a time when we must produce results. There is more to results than just talk. It takes more than just scribbling on a piece of paper from the Senate and calling it legislation. We must deliver the goods.

Unfortunately, whether the issue is drinking water, housing, access to education, access to economic prosperity or anything else, Canada as a country has never delivered the goods, and that responsibility falls to all politicians.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his excellent speech. I share his outrage at this government's highly paternalistic attitude toward first nations.

As the hon. member mentioned, the lack of infrastructure is a major problem.

Could he comment on the shortfall regarding how much this government has invested in infrastructure for first nations reserves?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, there used to be an agreement between first nations and the Government of Canada: the Kelowna accord, which provided for a $1 billion investment every year. Had we had that money, we could have started solving the problem long ago. Funding is severely lacking now.

Moreover, reports from experts—including the government's own experts—show that we need an additional $4.7 billion for infrastructure, including water systems and drinking water. That is significant.

On top of that, this government has the unfortunate habit, when criticized by a band council, to put that band in trusteeship. We saw a sad demonstration of that approach to the housing situation in Attawapiskat. We can hardly speak of negotiating infrastructure issues when one party acts as judge, jury and executioner.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on Bill S-8 concerning the safety of drinking water on first nation lands.

Essentially, the bill provides for the development of federal regulations governing the supply of drinking water, water quality standards and the elimination of wastewater in first nations communities.

It also stipulates that these regulations may incorporate, by reference, provincial regulations concerning drinking water and wastewater in first nations communities. Access to drinking water is crucial to the health and safety of all Canadians, including the 500,000 people spread out among approximately 560 first nations.

Access to drinking water is also closely tied to the economic viability of various communities. For the past 10 years or more, studies have shown that many first nations communities do not have adequate access to safe drinking water. On September 30, 2012, 116 first nations communities across Canada were subject to an advisory regarding the quality of their drinking water.

In April 2011, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development estimated that 1,880 aboriginal households did not have running water and that 1,777 households did not have sewage services. In total, 807 water systems serve 560 first nations. It is estimated that a quarter of the water systems in first nations communities present a potential risk for the health and safety of the consumers.

I would like to speak briefly about the sharing of responsibilities in the area of water management. On first nations reserves south of the 60th parallel, the responsibility to guarantee the safety of drinking water is shared among first nations communities and the federal government. The chief and council are responsible for the planning and development of facilities that meet the needs of the community, especially in the supply of drinking water.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada provides funding for the supply of water and its associated infrastructure, in particular for the construction, modernization, operation and maintenance of water treatment facilities on reserve. The department also provides financial support for training purposes and for the issuance of facility operator certificates.

In this debate, it is important to stress that the crux of the problem has to do with under-investment by the federal government. According to a 2011 independent evaluation on water and sewage systems in first nations communities, $1.08 billion would be required to bring existing water and sewage systems in compliance with federal guidelines and protocols, and provincial standards and regulations.

It will also be necessary to put about $79.8 million into work that is not related to construction, such as training operators and preparing plans for protecting water sources and emergency response plans. In total, it will cost $4.7 billion over 10 years to guarantee that the first nations communities’ water and wastewater system needs are met. That one-time investment of $4.7 billion is in addition to the regular operating and maintenance budget, estimated at $420 million a year.

When we consider the extent of the need, it is easy to understand that the Conservative government’s recent investments amount to only a drop in the ocean. We also have to understand that access to drinking water involves investing in infrastructure, but also funding the science and the regulation.

Drinking water has to be stringently managed and regularly analyzed to ensure that it is safe and to protect public health. The provinces have put legislation and regulations in place to secure their drinking water distribution systems, but those do not apply on reserves.

Health Canada is responsible for ensuring that drinking water quality monitoring programs are in place and has to collaborate with the provinces and territories to make recommendations about drinking water quality in Canada.

Environment Canada is responsible for developing standards, guidelines and protocols for wastewater systems located on federal or aboriginal land, as defined in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

These same departments, which are responsible for conducting water management studies based on rigorous scientific standards, are engaging in mass layoffs of dozens of scientists because of the Conservative government’s budget cuts.

It must be noted that over 1,500 federal government professionals and scientists represented by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada were informed this week that their positions will be affected by the government’s irresponsible budget cuts.

Two thousand professionals represented by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, including 100 at health Canada, received a work force adjustment notice when the 2012 federal budget was tabled.

As well, in the Public Service Alliance, it is estimated that 1,200 unionized positions will be affected by the cuts at Health Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. In short, the Conservative government’s budget cuts could reduce oversight.

In 2005, however, the Auditor General of Canada said that in most first nations communities, drinking water was analyzed less often than required under the recommendations for drinking water quality in Canada.

Why does the Conservative government want to set us back 10 years by making cuts to science and oversight?

In March 2012, I had the opportunity to participate in the showing of Wapikoni mobile in Boisbriand. This is an excellent travelling audiovisual creation project that criss-crosses aboriginal communities in Quebec to give young people an opportunity to tell their stories on film and in music. It is an excellent project, and one that has unfortunately been cut by the Conservative government.

In short, the NDP recognizes that the water supply systems are jeopardizing the health and welfare of the first nations.

But we also find it unacceptable that Bill S-2 proposes only to transfer responsibility for water supply systems to the first nations without giving them the resources they need in order to acquire adequate systems that meet their needs.

Like most first nations organizations that have spoken to this, and I am thinking in particular of the Assembly of First Nations, the Chiefs of Ontario, the Nishnawbe Aski nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the nations that have signed Treaty 7 in Alberta—