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

June 6th, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand this afternoon and speak to Bill S-8.

I have the privilege of serving as the chair of the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee. I note, Mr. Speaker, that it is a role you undertook prior to your current position, and it is a privilege to succeed you in that role.

It has been a privilege to serve as chair amid the relationships that have developed across party lines, and I believe our committee has been able to undertake some good work. We have been able to do that in a way that respects not only the desire to bring different perspectives together but to move things forward. It has been a privilege for me to serve in this capacity, and I owe a debt of gratitude to all committee members of all parties who have worked together.

In the consultations and work we did in reviewing Bill S-8, that relationship was paramount, because we desired to hear from folks from different locations across the country. We desired to hear from first nations as well as experts, and from municipalities in addition to that. We desired to hear from people who could speak to the issue of drinking water on reserves specifically, and how we might move toward safe drinking water for all first nations communities and for all first nations people across the country.

There has been much said already about the bill, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not. However, this piece of legislation is enabling legislation. It will allow for regulations to be created to ensure that the water every first nation is using and providing to their local grassroots members is safe.

Clean, safe drinking water is something that we all, as Canadians, take for granted. Water in most municipalities and water systems is provincially regulated, and we know that the regulations that have been established do provide assurance of cleanliness and safety. However, this is not the case in first nations communities. I wanted to note that off the top.

One of the privileges that I have had as well is to serve with the member for Medicine Hat on these important issues. I will be sharing my time today with the member from Medicine Hat.

An important thing to note with regard to this legislation is that some people have asked for additional clarity or for provision of what the regulations would look like once they are done. We recognize as a government—and I think our minister and the minister before him have articulated it well—that it is important that we do not create, or try to create, a one-size-fits-all approach. First nations across the country were loud and clear that one size does not fit all. It never will and never has, for a number of reasons.

Number one, there are differences in our geography in terms of where water comes from, in terms of the number of people it serves and in terms of the technologies available.

There are also differences in what has been undertaken by different municipalities and different provinces. Often first nations communities depend on or collaborate with neighbouring municipalities, so if a set of regulations in one province is different from the regulations in another province, yet they both comply with their respective provincial regulations, then to try to manufacture a national, pan-Canadian regulation system would not take in the differences that we should all accommodate.

Just because there are different regulations does not mean there are different levels of water quality. Different regulations are often required because of different hydrology or different sources of water that local people are drawing from, as well as a result of the number of people who live in certain areas. A water system that serves 100 people or 25 people is vastly different from a water system that supports tens of thousands of people.

That is the reality in municipalities. It is also the reality in first nations communities. That is why an enabling piece of legislation would allow flexibility to work with first nations, to respond to their desires and hopes but also to the realities within their communities. I think we all want a system that will work and provide assurance for clean drinking water into the future.

Our government has invested significantly in providing clean drinking water. I can say that in my own constituency, we have seen significant amounts of money allocated toward water systems that provide water to first nation communities. In some cases, these water systems have been set up to be separate and only for first nation communities. In other cases, we have collaborative efforts that have been undertaken between first nations communities and neighbouring municipalities. The water systems that are built are different because the needs are different and because the water sources are different. However, I can say that with the money that has been leveraged into these systems, many first nations throughout my constituency are being better served with cleaner water and the assurance of that.

However, if we build these systems without regulations, we know that there is a possibility we cannot be assured that the people who are running these systems are trained to run them, and we heard testimony of that at committee. We heard again and again of the necessity of ensuring that for the water systems. All the money in the world could be spent on a water system, but if there is no one running it who knows how to do so, there is a chance that these systems will fall into disrepair, or as a result of either flooding or some type of change in the source water, there may be contamination or problems in terms of the water. Therefore, it is important that we have trained folks, and that is what regulations would set out. Obviously they would ensure that the people who should be running these systems are doing so.

As we look across this country, we see significant diversity. When we look at it region by region, we know we will have to be responsive not only to different realities in terms of population but also different realities in terms of the demographics, geography and distribution needs.

We have heard some concern from the members opposite that maybe people were not consulted to the extent they should have been. I can say we heard person after person come to our committee and say they had been consulted but they still had some desire to see things articulated in the regulations, which is the exciting thing about this undertaking. This process would continue to be a consultation. It would continue to work with first nations to build a regulatory regime that would work for them in their region.

We heard from first nations, some of which span between provinces where half the community is in one province and half in another. We heard from communities that live near urban centres and from some that are quite a distance from urban centres, from some that are in remote locations and from some that live where there is access to different technologies. However, the exciting thing about this process is that there would be a region-by-region recognition and implementation of different regulations.

This goes back to the fact that we are not a government that believes that a one-size-fits-all approach is the right approach. We recognize that, with more than 630 first nations, there is diversity of opinion in terms of what should work but also practical differences in terms of geography and demographics, and these things need to be addressed with regulation. This is why we believe strongly that working in collaboration with the jurisdictions in which these communities are located, whether that be provincial jurisdictions or municipalities, we can come up with a regulation that is uniquely tailored to the communities that these regulations are intended to serve. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, it would be a more customized approach to ensure that people who are living in first nations are well served by the regulation.

We know this is not a quick fix. We know it will take many years to ensure that all systems across this country are established to ensure everyone is receiving clean drinking water. However, we are well on our way, and this enabling legislation would ensure we continue to move in that direction.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, it was a great honour to meet with the Algonquin people in my riding after being elected.

There are two first nations in my riding, namely the Kitigan Zibi Algonquins and the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, or Rapid Lake. From the outset, they told me they faced a lot of challenges in regard to drinking water, especially tap water. At Kitigan Zibi, 60% of the people do not have drinkable tap water. In Barriere Lake, or Rapid Lake, the situation is even worse.

This country is witnessing a water crisis on first nations lands, and this problem will not be solved by half measures or goodwill. A thorough consultation is badly needed, but the Algonquin people in my riding told me they do not think they were consulted.

I appreciated my colleague's speech, but can he rise in the House today and honestly say that this bill will provide real solutions to this problem and the crisis affecting many of our aboriginal peoples in Canada?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do sincerely believe that this legislation would lead to a lasting solution to the issues of challenges with clean drinking water in communities.

What the government was told during consultations for this bill is that first nations do not need and would be hindered by a one-size-fits-all approach across this country. Therefore, our government recognized that there needed to be a region-by-region approach. That is why this is enabling legislation. It does not spell out every aspect of every water system that would be placed in every community across this country. It says that there would be basic standards that would be upheld and that, through region-by-region local regulation, we would ensure every community has a regulatory system that works for it.

What we have heard is the hon. member saying that the necessity is still out there to engage first nations. Our government is saying that, through this legislation, we would be able to engage those first nations and address their concerns.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that there is a legislative need out there. How the government ultimately brought this particular bill before the House is somewhat questionable in terms of what we hear from first nation leaders and the concerns they have expressed even in terms of the manner in which it was brought forward.

Having said that, the other side is also the need for financial resources. One of the member's colleagues spoke a little earlier stating that the government has allocated and spent $3 billion on improving the quality of water on reserve or in our rural communities.

The question I posed to her is the same question I pose to this member, which is this. If the government has spent $3 billion, can it provide to the House something that clearly shows where that $3 billion was spent? Was it on civil servants or on pipes? Where was the money actually spent?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 3:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the hon. member that the money was spent on water systems for first nation communities across this country.

We do know that the vast majority of that went into infrastructure. We know there is an infrastructure deficit across this country. Unfortunately, that was something our government inherited, something we take seriously. Therefore, we have implemented an aggressive strategy to build an infrastructure system to ensure there is clean drinking water.

When we build these systems we also have to have a regulatory regime to ensure that we address the people who are running these systems, the protocols in terms of drawing source water and a number of other aspects. I am not a water expert, but I understand there is a whole complex necessity for regulation to ensure clean drinking water. I think the Canadian taxpayer needs to be assured that the $3 billion that has been placed into infrastructure thus far would not be compromised by a lack of regulation.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 3:55 p.m.
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Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague, I had the privilege of sitting on the aboriginal and northern affairs committee under your tutelage as the committee chair, and also under my colleague from Peace River. That was an important part of an opportunity to learn a lot about the first nations.

Now, of course, we have the safe drinking water act. I am really pleased to be able to stand here and speak to this. The legislation includes a mechanism that would allow for the development of these regulations. They are desperately needed to safeguard drinking water and allow for proper waste water treatment in first nations communities.

It is time to move forward to create the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities. Bill S-8 addresses an urgent need, and I implore the opposition to support the government on this legislation.

Currently, provincial and territorial regulations protect the safety of drinking water in the vast majority of communities across Canada. In first nations communities, however, no such regulations apply. The lack of regulations has been a major contributor to the poor state of drinking water in many first nations communities.

A lengthy process of consultation did occur, and engagement and review contributed to the legislation now before us. The process began more than seven years ago, when the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations considered a series of regulatory options. The panel hosted a series of public hearings in first nations communities across Canada. More than 110 people presented to the panel, and a total of more than two dozen individuals and organizations provided written submissions. This work helped identify that a region-by-region approach was needed to develop effective regulations, as stated by my colleague from Peace River. Bill S-8 proposes this approach and recognizes that no one-size-fits-all solutions exist.

In 2010, the Government of Canada introduced Bill S-11, a different version of the legislation now before us, which also called for a region-by-region approach. Although this version died on the order paper, the review conducted by the standing committee of the other place clarified many of the issues that remained to be addressed. A key issue was that legislation on drinking water might abrogate or derogate from existing aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations. Most first nations representatives and many parliamentarians repeatedly raised concerns that the legislation and subsequent regulations on drinking water could infringe on existing aboriginal and treaty rights. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, protects these rights.

Between Bill S-11 and the introduction of Bill S-8 in February of last year, the Government of Canada continued to discuss legislative options with first nations groups. A breakthrough on the non-derogation issue came during the “without prejudice” discussions that the Government of Canada held with regional first nations organizations. During these discussions, first nations proposed that future legislation include a non-derogation clause, a provision clarifying the relationship between drinking water regulations and first nations rights. This was also a sentiment echoed by many witnesses who appeared to speak to Bill S-11. The clause now included in Bill S-8, clause 3, is virtually the same as the version proposed by the first nations as a result of those discussions.

In essence, the non-derogation clause included in Bill S-8 would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal and treaty rights if it is necessary to ensure the safety of first nations drinking water. The non-derogation clause in Bill S-8 would effectively balance the need to respect aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the need to protect human health.

It is a delicate balance to strike, but I believe the clause in Bill S-8 succeeds and would help achieve a larger goal. Consider the following example. Let us say that the only feasible water drinking source for the first nations community is on reserve lands. Under Bill S-8, regulations could be developed to protect this drinking water source, even if the regulations limited the ability of first nations individuals to use the land pursuant to their treaty rights.

Perhaps the first nation wanted to build a commercial development on the land. If the proposed land use threatened the viability of the water source, and by extension, the health and safety of community residents, derogating from a possible aboriginal treaty right to use the land could be justified.

The inclusion of the non-derogation clause in Bill S-8 would immensely strengthen the proposed legislation. It would address a key concern of first nations and other groups while promoting the health and safety of members of first nations communities.

Another important development that occurred with Bills S-11 and S-8 was the publication of the national assessment of first nations water and waste water management systems. It represents the most comprehensive study ever done of the facilities used to treat and distribute drinking water in first nations communities. The national assessment is valuable, because it provides not only an important point of reference but also an impetus for parties to work toward an effective solution.

It is important to recognize that Bill S-8 proposes a collaborative process to establish regulations in each region of the country. The government will work with first nations and other stakeholders to draft effective regulations. These regulations could be crafted to meet the particular circumstances of the region and the needs of the first nations community.

Much work remains to be done to ensure that residents of first nations communities can have the same level of confidence as other Canadians when it comes to their drinking water. Moving ahead with Bill S-8, complete with the non-derogation clause, represents an essential step forward in providing first nations with the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities. I encourage the members of the opposition to stop voting against Bill S-8 and to recognize the important health and safety issues at stake.

Canadians across this land, in most communities we are aware of, have safe drinking water. It is really important that all Canadians have safe drinking water, including first nations, who have suffered for a long time, in certain circumstances, without it. It is incumbent upon our government to assist those first nations to make sure that, in fact, they have the same kind of safe drinking water that all other Canadians enjoy.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative side is trying to say that its members heard at committee what first nations really want. I can tell the House that this is not what we heard. Over and over again, we heard that there was not proper consultation with first nations on this bill.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs came to committee, and this is what it had to say:

We have watched with dismay as legislation after legislation continues to be drafted and passed with little regard or participation from First Nations while resulting in significant impacts over our lives.

They made some recommendations, including this one:

It is also recommended that the Committee take a position in favour of First Nations that Bill S-8 be abandoned or tabled to establish a good faith and honourable process that explores the Custom Water Law option from the Expert Water Panel.

How could Conservatives say that they did proper consultation, when chief after chief and first nation after first nation told us otherwise? Not only did they tell us otherwise, but I can say that the Metro Vancouver position paper and presentation said the exact same thing. Does he truly believe that they did the proper consultation for moving this bill forward?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, in terms of consultation, I would like to point out to the member that in 2006, the expert panel held hearings across Canada. It heard from over 110 participants and received more than two dozen submissions. In February and March 2009, a series of engagements was held with first nations communities, regional first nations organizations, and provincial and territorial officials. There were 700 participants, of which there were 544 first nations.

I find it hard to believe that there was no consultation. We know that there was, in fact, consultation. We know that there were over 700 organizations and individuals, and of those, at least 544 were first nations. How can the member stand in her place and suggest that we did not have any kind of consultation? The member needs to go back and have another look.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was not going to enter into this debate at this point, but I just have to remind my colleague that maybe he would like to take another look at the definition of “consultation” as it pertains to the legal context.

Consultation means more than just asking what someone thinks of it; it means accommodating some of the legitimate concerns brought forward by those 500-some-odd first nations, most of whom gave the government and that panel an earful. They said that this piece of legislation would go nowhere near meeting the legitimate needs of their communities. Many were offended, in fact, that the only consideration of the urgent, crisis conditions in their communities would be this lip-service regulatory legislative piece of paper we have before us.

Consultation is meaningless without the accommodation of the legitimate concerns brought forward by those they invite.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his comments on consultation. I find it hard to believe that he did not understand that as part of this consultation, we consulted with first nations. One of the big issues they had was derogation and what it would do in terms of treaty rights under the Constitution. We have taken that into consideration.

My colleague from Peace River also said that in every region, we will be talking with each and every individual organization to help develop the regional requirements.

I do not understand where this member is coming from in saying that we are not doing the consultation we need to do. It is important. As my previous colleague said, we are putting over $3 billion into infrastructure for first nations. I think we are going a long way, as opposed to what the Liberal government in 13 years under its watch.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, maybe I will have an opportunity to expand somewhat on those thoughts and remind my colleague again of the legal meaning of the word “consultation” and all that it implies.

Let me preface my remarks today with two opening comments. First of all, I am holding the bill we are debating today in my hand, an act respecting the safety of drinking water on first nation lands. There could be no more important subject for the House of Commons to be seized with, I would argue, given the state of the nation as it pertains to the right to safe drinking water in first nations communities. However, it also goes on to say “AS PASSED BY THE SENATE June 18, 2012”.

There are two things about that. Where does the Senate get off dealing with a piece of legislation before the House of Commons gets its kick at the can on it? How do the senators pass legislation? Who gave them the right, the mandate, to generate legislation? Where does their legitimacy come from? I would argue that they have no legitimacy, have no right and have no mandate to generate legislation in the other place. They have things completely turned around backwards.

Legislation is generated here by the duly elected representatives of the people of Canada, as chosen in a fair and free federal election, at least when it is not meddled with by the Conservative Party rigging elections. We are the representatives of the people. We deal with legislation. Senators have the constitutional right to review the legislation we pass. They even have a history of vetoing legislation in the Senate.

In the early years of this country, fully 10% of all the legislation passed by the people's representatives was vetoed outright by the other place. Fully 25% was amended significantly. However, rarely, and in fact, I would argue never, in those days, as per the founding fathers of Confederation's vision of our federal system, did we see legislation generated in the Senate. This is a new phenomenon.

Now senators are cranking bills out like there was no tomorrow. Bill after bill after bill comes to the House of Commons. We get the second shot at looking at something that has already achieved all the levels of debate, scrutiny and oversight in the Senate. It is fundamentally wrong. Every time they come to our door with another piece of Senate legislation, we should reject it. We should march it back down to the Senate, drop it on the doorstep and leave it there, because I argue that they have no right. It offends the sensibilities of anyone who would call themselves a democrat, in my view.

The second thing I would point out is that in light of the importance of the subject matter we are dealing with, we should really take a moment today and reflect on the fact that the government has moved closure on this important bill, once again. If one asked how often the government uses the intrusive heavy hand of the tyranny of the majority to shut down debate and pull the shroud of its oppressive nature over our opportunity to deal with this matter, I would answer that it does it every time.

It used to be a rare, infrequent thing. Only when there was a logjam on issues of national significance or national importance would the government of the day advance a bill in spite of it being against the will of the other chamber. They were issues such as the national pipeline debate, in the late fifties. They were huge issues of national significance. Now Conservatives do it at every stage on every piece of legislation, and they do not allow a single amendment to a single bill in the 41st Parliament.

I would argue that our democracy is in tatters. This is only a facsimile of a democracy that is left here. It is kind of like a California strawberry. It has the look of a real strawberry, but when it is bitten into, it tastes like cardboard. This has the outward appearances of a democracy, but in actual fact, it falls short in every respect, because all the checks and balances have been stripped away. All the checks and balances that used to put some restraint on the absolute power of the Prime Minister's office and the ruling party have been tossed aside. Again, that offends me.

I do not want to use my whole speech railing about those two items, but it makes my blood boil to watch the status of our great chamber deteriorate and be undermined and sabotaged by, what I would argue, some very insensitive people. We are dealing with an issue of grave concern and I want to give it the attention it deserves.

I start my remarks by telling the House that the social conditions of our first nations, Metis and Inuit people are our country's greatest failure, our country's greatest shame.

We live in the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world and we cannot provide basic needs to a family to survive in 2013.

In Pikangikum, Ontario pipes are laying there with weeds growing over them because they have been there 5 to 15 years. There have been 100 false starts to its promised fresh water and sewage system and yet those first nations still have no running water in their homes and they are using a five gallon oil pail as a toilet. It is a national disgrace.

I have been here 16 years and for 16 years we have been saying that very same thing. When Jim Prentice, a friend of mine, was made the minister of Indian affairs, he announced that this would be his number one priority. Then I watched other ministers of Indian affairs year after year adopt one theme. Andy Scott's number one priority was education. With Jim Prentice, it was going to be water, that most fundamental and basic human right and need. How many years has it been since we have seen Jim Prentice around here? His government is now imposing, and I use that word with all the weight that it implies, a pile of regulations instead of addressing the legitimate basic needs of first nations communities.

Without fresh water and adequate housing, this permanent underclass in our society will continue. As elected representatives, it is our greatest failure. I find it hard to express how disappointed I am in us, and I say that collectively, that we have not been seized with the issue sufficiently to make significant progress on something that is so easy. We are talking about fresh water for communities. We can do this. This is not rocket science.

The government says that it is all about money, that it cannot keep shovelling money at the problem as that is not the solution. I have news for the Conservatives. That is the solution. It is a complete paucity of money that causes those pipes in Pikangikum to lay there with weeds growing over them. The government's solution is to imply that all first nations leadership is either corrupt or incompetent.

That was the government's big priority. It was not a government priority to address the basic needs of first nations people. The government wanted to clean up the act. It said that it gave them lots of money, but there was nothing to show for it. Let us do the math. With 1 million people and $7 billion in total project, $3 billion or $4 billion gets lost, what we call line loss in engineering, and $3 billion or $4 billion gets to an intended person. That amounts to $7,000 per person for their housing, education, health care and infrastructure. We pay $15,000 per student for just high school in Manitoba in non-aboriginal communities and the government allows $7,000 per person for everything. We wonder why we have a permanent underclass and we why children do not achieve their full potential.

Children are growing up in chronic, long-term, multi-generational poverty and they are not being welcomed into the full economy, even though we have all of these skill shortages. The government will bring in 500,000 temporary foreign workers and allow an unemployment rate of 85% in communities in northern Manitoba, that is people between 16 and 25 years old. Who is failing to make this connection? We are, as elected representatives. It is an appalling situation.

The shortcomings of this legislation are legion and well-documented by all of the witnesses. Virtually all of the witnesses representing legitimate first nation organizations condemn this legislation. Yet it is being imposed in the customary way for them.

The Conservatives have been looking for validators. They have lost their number one stooge, Patrick Brazeau. They had to kick him out of their caucus. Therefore, they do not have a stooge anymore to support some of these initiatives, to say that this is exactly what first nations need, that the reason they are poor is because they are all corrupt. Therefore, they can pass some legislation to ram and impose some more accounting down their throats.

If the Conservatives knew anything about the reality of life administering a first nation reserve these days, they would know, as the Auditor General pointed out, that first nations are over-audited. These people have to put in 160-some-odd financial reports per year, over three a week, to the five funding agencies. They are doing nothing but paperwork. If they file one of those 160 documents incorrectly, they are told that they will be put under trusteeship, third-party management, because they are not managing their money properly.

Then the Conservatives impose, through the Indian Act, an instrument of oppression, if I ever heard one, an instrument of oppression unworthy of any western democracy. As per the Indian Act, they have to re-elect a new band council every two years, so nobody ever develops any expertise in doing this kind of thing.

It is a paternalistic Eurocentric cluster something is what it is.

I remind anybody who has any working knowledge of these things, and I have noticed some of the guys claiming they have spent some time on the aboriginal affairs committee, to read this penultimate Harvard study that took place a number of years ago. It noted that the degree of successful economic development in first nation communities all over North America, not just in Canada, was directly proportional to the degree of self-determination and independence. If they can get out from under the yoke of the paternalistic Eurocentric Indian Act and the meddling of naive people who are trying to impose some set of rules without any sensitivity to culture, heritage or anything else and starved for resources and finances, there would be a road forward.

This bill represents the worst manifestation of that same paternalism that we have seen since the Indian Act was imposed on day one. There is pretty much a blanket condemnation here.

This reminds me of the days of the first nations governance act, the Liberal version of imposing even more Eurocentric naivety on them. It had many of the same properties of some of the critics who came forward condemning this, after being consulted and not having any of their concerns accommodated. Some of them were blanket condemnation of which we should really take note.

Jim Ransom, the director of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, said:

The last concern we have with Bill S-8 is in the sense of how it confers to the provinces jurisdiction over first nation water systems.

What a hodgepodge of overlapping jurisdictions that is sort of a recipe for paralyzing any progress. It is almost institutionalizing some long squabble over jurisdiction and obligations.

In Manitoba, we have been dealing with this for years now when it comes to child and family services and health services. Even though the Conservatives adopted Jordan's Principle, as put forward by our colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan to make the case that a child is a child is a child and deserves equal treatment whether it is under section 15 of the charter or section 35 or under first nations rights, we are not going to squabble about that. We are not going to wait for an air ambulance to take some kid to Winnipeg because nobody could figure out who is going to pay for the treatment of this child. We are going to do it now and we are going to fight with Ottawa later. That is what we are left doing.

The same is true for education. We have kids in Thompson off reserve. The budget is $15,000 a year to keep a kid in high school there. The budget for educating a similar student in a reserve 100 miles away is $8,000 per year. That is almost a 50% difference.

Some would argue that it should cost more to provide a comparable level of education on reserve because of the isolation, all kinds of different costs, the economy of scale and so forth, but it is about 50%. Then we wonder why the outcomes are poor in the education system.

No one can tell me that it is not about money and that in the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world we cannot provide for the basic needs of a child and indeed a family to survive, because that is an absolute myth.

I heard a speech one time by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He had a very poignant way of pointing things out. He said that if one had five children and only three pork chops the solution would not be to kill two of the children, but neither would it be a solution to divide those three pork chops into five equal pieces. The social democratic view of that problem is to challenge the basic assumption that there is only three pork chops because that is the big lie in a society and a civilization like this. There is enough money to provide for the basic needs of families in this society.

Nobody worked with the communities, nobody worked in a respectful nation-to-nation relationship that we had all been promised for so many years when the government dedicated that $330 million to infrastructure in the first nations. It has become almost a meaningless cliché. People actually cringe when we use that term now because that commitment has been broken and compromised so many times that nobody believes it anymore. The relationship is so strained, the leadership is so challenged to keep a lid on that simmering pot of unrest that it is tempting fate.

I am not here to speak for anyone, but I have nothing but admiration for the leadership in first nation communities to have kept the youth down as much as they have in terms of social unrest because it is a recipe for social unrest. A bunch of able-bodied young ambitious 18 to 25 year old youth completely excluded from the economy yet seeing on television and on their iPads what the world is really like in western society and they have none of it is a recipe for social unrest and we had better get in front of that bus or we will get run over by it, in my view.

Shawn Atleo has announced that the level of unrest this summer could be a concern. It is dependent on the level of accommodation that they get from the government. The leadership has to be able to tell the people that there is hope, that there is promise on the horizon. If it is the status quo and more of the same, it cannot keep a lid on it forever. I hate to say where I would be if I was a young aboriginal man today. I think I would have a very difficult time containing myself, given the injustice of it all, the social injustice of the social conditions of our first nations, Metis and Inuit youth.

I have used much of my time criticizing the fact that this bill comes from the Senate when it should not. The government has invoked closure not once, not twice, but 41 times in this Parliament on every bill, every stage of every bill and has never accommodated a single amendment to a single piece of legislation in the entire 41st Parliament.

Our democracy is in tatters. It has become a farce in three acts. The Conservatives are losing members. Principled MPs are walking out and I believe more will as they realize they have come to most resemble that which they used to most condemn, which was the corruption of the Liberal Party. It was the culture of secrecy in the Liberals that allowed corruption to flourish. The Conservatives are obsessed with secrecy and they are not making any progress on what I believe is the most pressing social emergency of our day, and that is the social conditions of our first nations, Inuit and Metis people.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always entertaining when that member rises to his feet and speaks about just about anything but the bill in front of us. He did that again today.

The member talked about lip service. He asked us to do the math. We have some math here. Between 2006 and 2014, approximately $3 billion will be invested to support first nations communities in managing their water and waste water infrastructure. In 2011-12 alone, there were 402 major and minor first nations water and waste water infrastructure projects, with 286 more planned for this fiscal year.

The hon. member talked a lot, but not about Bill S-8. He talked about the lack of funding, when there has actually been $3 billion. He talked about a lack of projects, when there have been 600, approaching 700 projects.

Perhaps the member could reconcile the facts with the rhetoric in his speech.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the fact is, $330 million was spent in 2011, we have a record of zero in 2012 and we do not know what the long-range plan is. We do know that these figures were arrived at without the necessary prerequisite consultation.

We know the status quo, and the record has been abject failure. The conditions have not improved dramatically. If it was an urgent emergency in any other community in the country, if it was Selkirk or Plum Coulee, Manitoba, or any other community, people would be swooping in there and fixing the problem. It would be addressed.

There would not be yet another panel struck, and yet another consultation asking 700 people if they have any water or if they have a toilet in their house. The answer is no, they still do not have toilets.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, to make this personal, to make this real to people in this chamber, 82-year-old Mr. Taylor is diabetic. He requires dialysis every few days. He has no bathroom and no running water. He draws his water from a hole in the ice. He has an outhouse, but the temperatures drop to -40° C.

Former auditor general Sheila Fraser reported that the government had failed time and again to take measures that would improve the quality of life for first nations. The basics of life, such as adequate housing, clean drinking water, child welfare and education, are persistently and dramatically substandard.

Ms. Fraser said, in her parting words to Parliament, “a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted.... In a country as rich as Canada, this disparity is unacceptable.”

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for reminding us of the powerful words of one of the most respected auditors general Canada has ever seen, and the admonition that she expressed as one of her parting speeches.

We just heard that Elijah Harper passed away, quite an iconic aboriginal leader. My colleague is right, in Red Sucker Lake, there is no running water and that is where he is from. There was a funeral service for him. My colleague, the member for Churchill attended. It is not that there is no running water, it is that a lot of the houses have no running water in Red Sucker Lake.

Shamattawa, Pukatawagan, Poplar River, we have toured those communities. It is absurd. Not only are there 15 people living in a house designed for 5, but when we took off the drywall to observe, we found black fur mould. Kids were crawling around on the streets. They have mold in their houses, no running water and are using a five-gallon oil can as their toilet.

We should not tolerate these conditions. Why do we? Desmond Tutu had it right when he visited Canada. He shook his head at our northern reserves and said, “Ah, yes, we have this, too, in my country. It is appalling”.