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 / 6:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about health.

Grand Chief David Harper clearly told the Senate committee in February 2011 that the lack of running water in more than 1,000 homes in northern Manitoba was a violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He explained that his people were living in third world conditions, that families in the Island Lake region of Manitoba had less water every day than people in refugee camps. People in the Island Lake region survive on just 10 litres, usually carried by family members in pails from local water pipes. Additional water comes untreated from lakes and rivers that tested positive for contamination.

I would like the House to know that Ecojustice issued a report card on water, and its lowest mark was awarded to the federal government.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the national assessment identified 1.5% of homes on first nations lands as having no water service, and many of those homes are in Manitoba. In 2011-12, $5.5 million was allocated to the four Island Lake first nations. It was used to purchase and ship material for retrofitting up to 100 homes, six water trucks, seven sewage trucks and building material for garages. In addition to these projects, the funding is being used in 2012-13 for first nations to carry out retrofits and to build the garages for the water and sewage trucks.

The Canada economic action plan 2012 investment included $2 million for Bunibonibee first nation to develop a plan to address the service needs of homes in that community and to purchase materials to begin work to retrofit homes with plumbing.

Our government is listening and is working on this.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 6:50 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I read Bill S-8. I can see that the regulation-making powers are extensive but without action to ensure that there is capacity in first nations communities, and there have been some expressions of concern from first nations, to make sure that there is money to make this work.

I cannot see anything wrong with Bill S-8 now that the egregious section that suggested that the bill might abrogate first nations treaty rights has been fixed. I accept that it has been fixed.

I am wondering if the hon. member knows if there is a larger plan and a commitment to funding to make the skeletal regulatory authorities in this bill result in clean water.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite mentioned capacity and the ability to ensure that the water is clean.

Under the circuit rider training program, first nations operators receive ongoing on-site training and mentoring on how to operate their drinking water and waste water systems. Since 2006, AANDC has increased funding from approximately $5 million per year to approximately $10 million per year to hire more circuit rider trainers to ensure that the services are available to all first nations communities. There are currently approximately 65 circuit rider trainers working in first nations communities across the country.

Since the results of the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems was released in July 2011, the percentage of first nations systems that have primary operators certified to the level of drinking water systems has increased from 51% to 60%. That is for 463 out of 771 systems. The percentage of waste water systems that have primary operators certified to the level of waste water systems has also increased, from 42% of operators to 54%, which is 280 out of 519 systems.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to stand in this House and speak in support of Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act.

This proposed legislation is a key part of a collaborative, comprehensive plan to improve the quality of water available to first nation communities. The bill includes a mechanism to establish regulatory regimes to safeguard water quality. These regimes, typically under provincial law, exist in every community in this country, except first nation communities. While the primary goal of these regimes is to establish water treatment and water quality standards to protect the health and safety of Canadians, they also serve to protect the sizeable investments made in infrastructure, such as the treatment facilities and distribution networks that serve these communities.

Bill S-8 strives to ensure that first nations communities can access the same benefits that regulations afford other communities: safe drinking water, with efficient treatment and distribution facilities that function effectively throughout their entire operational life cycles.

To fully appreciate the importance of this bill, we must also understand the other parts of this plan, in particular the investments in infrastructure.

Our government continues to invest a significant amount of resources in the infrastructure needed to deliver safe drinking water to residents of first nation communities. In fact, between 2006 and 2013-14, our government will have invested approximately $3 billion. These investments are supporting first nations to fund a variety of projects, including installations of new systems, repairs to aging systems and the replacement of components. The projects have involved all aspects of water systems and waste water infrastructure, such as treatment facilities, pumping stations, storage tanks and piping networks. These investments are helping these communities meet their needs.

A closer look at a few of the projects supported by these investments demonstrates the very tangible impact they have on these communities and the people who live there. Let us consider the four first nations of St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack, Red Sucker Lake and Garden Hill in the Island Lake region of east-central Manitoba.

Providing safe drinking water has long been a challenge in this region, for several reasons. Until the late 1990s, diesel generators represented the only source of electricity in Island Lake communities. Local geography in the Island Lake region creates a second challenge. The community sits on the hard, mostly bare rock of the Canadian Shield, making it difficult and expensive to install and maintain pipes to distribute water to each home. A few homes have indoor plumbing and bathrooms, which are amenities that have to be added to take full advantage of an integrated water and waste water system. Addressing these challenges has required careful planning and considerable investments.

Since April 1, 2006, the government has made investments of $50 million to improve and maintain water and waste water systems in these communities. Major investments include over $26 million for a piped-water distribution and sewage collection system at Garden Hill, and nearly $10 million for a water treatment plant, two water trucks and a sewage truck at Red Sucker Lake.

Today, residents of the four first nations access drinking water through a hybrid system of pipes, cisterns, tanks, standpipes and a fleet of trucks. Work on these projects continues this year. To help the first nations plan and implement further improvements, the Government of Canada has also provided resources for feasibility studies.

According to Chief Alex McDougall of Wasagamack First Nation, the projects have had a dramatic impact on Island Lake communities. In his words, and I quote: “It means a healthier and cleaner environment, clean drinking water for the entire family.... This has been a true effort to work together, and that relationship needs to continue to be nurtured”.

Similar results are being achieved in dozens of first nation communities across Canada. Earlier this year, Marcel Colomb First Nation, located about 600 kilometres northwest of Island Lake, opened a new water treatment system, thanks to a Government of Canada investment of more than $8 million.

We are investing more than $2 million to support the design and construction of a pumphouse and water storage tank for Bouctouche First Nation in New Brunswick. An investment of a similar amount led to last year's completion of upgrades to a water treatment system that serves both the Gitanmaax Band and the village of Hazelton. These two communities in northwest British Columbia have a long history of co-operation and share a number of services, including water storage and distribution and waste disposal.

The last project I will mention today involves Wasauksing First Nation, located near Parry Sound, Ontario. Thanks in part to a government investment of more than $16 million, this first nation has a new water treatment system that takes into account local geography and hydrology.

The system includes a new intake and low-lift pumping station, a slow sand filtration system treatment plant, an elevated water reservoir and a delivery truck and heated garage. The project created 15 temporary jobs for members of the first nation and three full-time permanent positions for two plant operators and one driver.

These are just a few of the numerous first nations drinking water and waste water projects our government has supported over the last seven years. The project's aim is to improve the health and safety of community residents. To ensure that these systems can continuously produce safe drinking water, they must be supported by regulatory regimes that stipulate quality standards and treatment protocols. Until an appropriate accountability mechanism is in place, investments in water infrastructure will remain at risk. Bill S-8 proposes to establish these necessary accountability mechanisms.

Bill S-8 is an important part of a larger comprehensive strategy, built on three pillars, to improve the quality of drinking water in first nation communities. Along with the establishment of regulations and ongoing investments in infrastructure, the strategy calls for improvements in the training and certification of the men and women who operate first nations' water systems.

Our government invests approximately $10 million annually to train and certify these operators. In the last year alone, the number of certified operators of water and waste water facilities has increased by 10%. This is significantly increasing the water quality enjoyed by first nations across the country and is decreasing the risks associated with these water systems. This is in addition to funding the maintenance and operation of some 1,200 on-reserve water and waste water systems.

Our government will continue to make these investments so that residents of first nations communities can access safe, clean drinking water. Nevertheless, without the support of regulatory regimes, these investments and the health and safety of thousands of Canadians living on reserve will remain at risk. The regulations stemming from Bill S-8 will provide residents of first nation communities with the same level of confidence as other Canadians when it comes to their own drinking water.

I therefore ask all hon. colleagues on both sides of the House to stand up for first nations and those communities across the country and to join me in supporting this piece of legislation.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just want to pick up on the member's last comment on standing up for first nations in support of the legislation.

There is a great deal of concern among many of our first nations leaders that quite often the government has made the decision to bring in legislation without working hand-in-hand with them. We have had court rulings that have made it very clear to the government that it has an obligation to work with our first nations before it brings in legislation. There is a sense that the government has not been co-operative in working in consultation prior to bringing in legislation.

The specific piece of legislation before us dealing with safe water is something that is really important to our first nations communities. It is not only legislation. It is also having the resources necessary to make it happen.

I have heard a number of Conservative members talk about the $3 billion the government has invested. Can the member provide us with a clear indication of where that $3 billion has actually been spent?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:05 p.m.
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Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, the first part of the member's question dealt with consultation. He is correct in the sense that the government obviously has a duty to consult. To respond to him on that point, since 2006, there have been expert panel public hearings held across Canada. They heard from over 110 presenters and received more than two dozen submissions. There was a series of engagement sessions held with first nations communities in February and March 2009. There were 700 participants, of which 544 were first nations. In the fall and winter of 2009-10, government officials met with first nations chiefs and organizations to discuss specific regional issues raised during the engagement sessions. From October 2010 to October 2011, there were discussions held with first nations organizations to deal with this as well.

His own party, and the former leader of the party, introduced a motion in the House to address the urgency with respect to water quality for first nations communities and those residents. That is exactly why the government is acting on this.

With respect to the $3 billion in investments between 2006 and 2013 the member referenced, during my speech I mentioned a number of the communities that have received very specific investments. One community received $10 million. The Bouctouche First Nation in New Brunswick received $2 million. The Wasauksing First Nation, located near Parry Sound, received $16 million. There are very specific investments across the country. I referenced the--

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:05 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to read a quick piece from the member's minister. I think this is testimony from the committee.

He said:

You may recall that one of the key findings of the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems was that the majority of the risk identified in high-risk systems relates to the issue of capacity, with only 30% relating to design risk and infrastructure issues.

If the question is really of capacity, why is the government not putting forward something to deal with capacity, actually investing in people while they invest in the infrastructure?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:05 p.m.
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Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, in terms of capacity, my colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke mentioned the circuit rider training program. I think this is an excellent program that members on both sides can certainly support.

The government invested in the development and implementation of a remote watering system, for instance, in my own province of Alberta. The total cost for this initiative was $4.3 million. It was in direct response to a number of recurring issues that have been identified by the circuit rider trainers.

It is a very specific example with respect to capacity to ensure that these changes were going to be made both in terms of regulation, but also in terms of investments. They can make a real difference in terms of the impacts for people who live in first nations communities.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill S-8 today. I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary Centre.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, so I am very familiar with this legislation. It is important legislation, necessary legislation, and legislation that I am proud to stand here and support.

One of the things that often gets lost in this debate, and I have heard over and over again at committee, is the misunderstanding of what this legislation actually is designed to do. We often hear from members on the opposite side of the House who say that the bill does not do this or does not do that.

It is not designed to be a panacea. It is not designed to solve every single problem. It is designed to solve one specific issue that was raised by the expert panel, and that is the need for regulations to set safe drinking water standards. The panel recommended other things as well, but that was one of the key issues that the experts said needed to be moved forward. That is why this legislation is so important. It would give the authority to enact regulations to ensure we have standards consistent to allow for safe drinking water. Safe drinking water is important, and we know that. It is a huge issue.

The issues that we have with first nations communities are varied and many. We have geographical challenges and different circumstances. They are complex. We have to find ways to filter water to remove contaminants, and we have to find ways to deal with waste water.

A lot of these issues are faced by non-aboriginal communities across Canada. And, what is the number one tool that they will use to ensure that they have safe drinking water? It is a system of regulation that is designed to ensure that treated water is up to certain standards, and that is why this legislation is so important. Right now, there are no legally enforceable standards to regulate both water and waste water on most first nations communities. There are some self-governing first nations that do, and they have established and enforced water quality regimes, but they are the exception and not the rule. Bill S-8 would help to turn that exception into the rule.

People have come to the committee and said that the legislation could do this or that, and it might transfer some liability to first nations. I remind them that is because this is enabling legislation. The legislation does not say “it shall” do this or that. What it says is, here is a list of things that may end up being regulated. It would give the authority to engage in a comprehensive discussion with first nations communities with respect to regulations that need to be in place to suit each community. We always have to remember that this is enabling legislation.

We have a strategy on safe drinking water, and there are three pillars: continuing investments in water and waste water infrastructure, developing enforceable standards and protocols, and enhancing capacity building and operator training. We just heard the member for Winnipeg North ask a question about capacity. Of course, we have invested a significant amount in capacity through the circuit rider training program, which is a fantastic program that is making big differences.

When we talk about some of the issues surrounding capacity, we can say that seven years ago only a small minority of first nations had water systems that had trained and certified operators. There were very few. The progress is clear. By 2011, the national assessment found that operators with the appropriate level of certification managed 51% of first nations water systems and 42% of first nations waste water systems. Therefore, we have gone from a few to 51% and 42%. That is a significant increase.

A year later, annual performance inspections of the same systems had determined that these percentages had increased to 60.1% and 53.9%. Yes, it is not 100%, we want it to be at 100%, but we are getting there. Properly trained operators will ensure that the systems comply with regulations and consistently produce clean and reliable drinking water.

We are looking at all of these things. They do not operate in a vacuum; we have to have the regulations. That was raised by the expert panel. We have to have skilled operators. We are making those investments. We also have to have investments in the infrastructure that is necessary to produce the safe water and the drinking water and the waste water. That is why we have invested close to $3 billion in waste water and drinking water systems since 2006. Those investments are making a real difference.

However, not only are we making those investments, we are making the right investments. Why are we doing that? It is because we went forward with the most comprehensive review in the history of our country to look at water and waste water systems. It is a review that was not done by the previous government. We did that. We wanted to know which systems needed to have those investments. Systems are rated as high risk, medium risk and low risk. Therefore, we can prioritize where the investments need to be. Look at the high risk ones. Let us work on those first. We look at this as a multi-faceted approach, one that is going to make a significant difference.

When we look at the regulations, we want time to do that. We are saying we are going to take time and develop them in consultation with first nations to make sure that we have the right regulations to ensure we have safe drinking water and properly treated waste water.

Some people have said “Wait a minute, where is the money? We cannot impose these regulations without money.” Well, I say, how does one build a house without knowing what the designs are? Someone does not just go up and say, “I want a house. Here's the money.” They have to actually design the house. That is what the regulations do. They are designing. They are saying these are the regulations that need to be in place. Once they know what those regulations are, then they can figure out what it is going to cost to implement those regulations. That is exactly the process we are following. We are going to develop the regulations, in consultation with first nations, and then we are going to figure out what, if any, funding arrangements need to change.

Seven years ago, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations agreed to work together on drinking water. Today, the House has the opportunity to support this collaboration by endorsing Bill S-8. Surely, residents of first nations communities have waited long enough to have these regulations brought forward and put in place. We want to move forward with this and I am hoping that we are going to have the support of all parties in the House to make sure that we can move forward with regulations that will help bring safe drinking water and waste water to first nations communities.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:15 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was interesting to listen to, but there was one part that kind of stuck in my craw a little. He talked about needing regulation first and then deal with the money piece later and one cannot build a house unless one knows what the design is.

I can buy that argument, except when I look at the Conservative track record. For example, we had a national housing strategy bill in the House that was just the framework. The reason the Conservatives said they voted against it was because it would cost millions and billions of dollars and bankrupt the country. However, hang on, this piece of legislation is just the design plans. It is just the structure that we need and we will deal with what it will cost and what it will actually look like after. I wonder how the member can stand up in the House and make that argument when it is clearly a pretty hypocritical position?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not see it as hypocritical at all because we are talking about an important issue with first nations drinking water. If we are going to do it we are going to do it right. We have to know what the regulations are before we say what it is going to cost. This is a very simple thing.

We are not coming up with, as she was talking about, an amorphous national strategy. What we are saying is we are going to develop specific regulations. Once we know what those specific regulations are and what standards are going to have to be applied, then we can determine what that is going to cost. We cannot put the cart before the horse, and we are not going to do that.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have learned a lot on this subject from today's debate. I would like to go back to the previous member's comments. When we talk about these things, most of the time the devil is in the details. I remember reading the bill the member spoke of, which called for all affordable housing, a provincial responsibility, to be up to LEED standards. That is just not acceptable. It will not be acceptable by the provinces and at the end of the day we would end up with less affordable housing with less money going towards these programs.

Why does the member believe the approach the government is taking, specifically on a case-by-case basis, would benefit an individual first nation band? At the end of the day, it would be that band that would benefit by a case-by-case system. I would like to hear his comments about how the bill would help move that forward.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has quite clearly pointed out the differences with what my colleague here was suggesting in this bill. We have to have the regulations. I keep going back to that, and I know I am, because we have to have the design of what the program would be before deciding what the funding envelope would have to be. That is exactly what we do.

I keep going back to this over and over again. I say it when we are going through this at committee. This is enabling legislation. It would enable us to go forward and put forward regulations to regulate waste water and drinking water. Again we would do that constructively with first nations, and once we had that, we would then be able to figure out what costs we needed to go forward with. Of course we would continue the investments we have made with respect to building infrastructure and building capacity. Then we would go forward with regulations.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is talking about referencing provincial laws right across the country. My question is very straightforward. What that means is effectively placing on the province a lot of the responsibility for the monitoring, enforcement and so on. It is a form of downloading. I wonder if the member would like to comment on how much this would cost the provinces.