Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this particular bill today.
All of the government members have talked about two things. One is regulation, which is what they say this bill is all about, and the second is that they say that implementation will come later.
In other words, what they are saying is they will impose the rules, but they are not going to follow up or carry on or commit to ensuring that any funding is there to make that happen. Therefore, it is destined for failure.
I do not know why the government did not put just one little clause in this bill that said, “Here are the regulations as we see them, and this is what we think needs to be done”.
By the way, although there is some provincial jurisdiction, it is hard to argue with regulations that talk about the training and certification of operators, source water protection, location, design, modification, maintenance, operation of water systems, drinking water distribution by truck if it is needed, the collection and treatment of waste water, monitoring, sampling, testing. No one can argue with that, whether it is a first nations municipality or a non-first nations municipality. Those kinds of things make sense.
Of course, at any given time in this country, we have more than 100 first nations on boil water advisories, and that situation continues.
Here we have regulations that are not followed up with any kind of commitment from the government. That is where the main part of the problem lies with this particular bill.
Why did the government not put a clause in the bill that simply says, “Here are the implementation rules. This is what we think needs to happen. By the way, we will ensure that this is funded to make sure that 100-plus first nations across this country do not have boil water advisories, and in fact that boil water advisories will not exist anywhere in this country any longer. We will ensure that all first nations have all the regulations in place and, by the way, we are going to back it up with money.”
We heard Conservative after Conservative say that they will pass the regulations and worry about the money and the implementation later. It seems to me that a lot of red flags should go up with all Canadians right across the country when they hear that.
Let me read a couple of quotes from first nations groups as to what they think about this bill, because the red flags have certainly gone up with first nations.
The Chiefs of Ontario recently had a headline on a news release that said, “Federal Bill S-8 fails to 'protect' drinking water for first nations”.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which I am very familiar with, is in northern Ontario, and by the way, many communities are fly-in communities, so I am not sure how this partnering thing that a previous member was talking about is going to work. The headline from there reads, “Water Legislation Fails to Address Critical Lack of Infrastructure in NAN First Nations”.
Dr. Harry Swain, the chair of the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, stated:
This is not...one of those problems in Aboriginal Canada that will persist for ever and ever and ever. This is one that can be solved and it can be solved with the application of a good chunk of money for a limited period of time.
The end of that quote puts it all in a nutshell for us. We are not talking about money forever; we are talking about money spent, and if these regulations are the regulations that the government thinks need to be established, let us make sure the funding is there.
However, there is no commitment for funding at all.
The regulations, by and large, are the same kinds of regulations that non-first nations municipalities have right across Canada, and they are mostly governed by the provinces.
I asked a question of a government speaker earlier today. I asked what it is going to cost the provinces to monitor and implement this measure. The response was that it is not going to cost the provinces anything. I am not entirely sure, but we are going to have to take that speaker at his word. It is something to think about as we carry on this debate.
Sometimes people say that it is not about money and that we should not worry about money, because it is about regulations and making drinking water safe. The fact of the matter is that we have to commit to spend the money to make that happen.
I see some heads nodding “no” on the other side. I hope the member has a question for me later on.
We cannot put regulations in place in communities that in some cases have absolutely no infrastructure for water delivery and or for handling waste water and expect them to say, “Let us follow the regulations; no problem, we can do that”. How do they do it?
I would be interested to hear what my hon. friend across the way has to say about that.
There is another issue here, which is that these regulations could very well overrule any laws or bylaws that a first nation might have in its own community.
I think that is a concern. It limits the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of its duties under the regulations.
I think not just New Democrats but all of us want to see safe, clean water and water systems that work for first nation communities, but imposing this legislation is not the solution. The federal government cannot simply unload its liability to first nations without providing the funding to bring those systems up to the new standards in the bill.
First nations oppose this act because of the new liability provisions for first nation governments. My hon. friend across the way said that the non-derogation clause is formulated to possibly be the first step to erode constitutionally protected rights. These things are not spelled out in black and white in the bill, but they are concerns that first nations have.
The delivery of safe drinking water to on-reserve first nations communities is critical to the health and safety of first nations Canadians, but for more than a decade, many first nations have lacked adequate access to safe drinking water.
As a bit of history, this is the second legislative initiative to address safe drinking water on reserves. The predecessor was Bill S-11, but it did not proceed to third reading as a result of widespread concerns. Because it did not proceed, it subsequently died when Parliament was dissolved before the last election.
Bill S-8 retains a number of features from Bill S-11, particularly in the areas to be covered by eventual federal regulations. Non-derogation language is still included in the proposed legislation, expressly allowing for the abrogation or derogation of aboriginal and treaty rights in some circumstances. It also provides for the incorporation by reference of provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water.
Why are we opposing the bill at this point in time? New Democrats agree that the poor standards of water systems in first nation communities are hampering people's health and well-being and causing economic hardship. However, this legislation would make first nations liable for water systems that have already proven inadequate without any funding to help them improve their water systems or to give them the ability to build new ones more appropriate to their needs.
I see my time is up. I certainly welcome questions from the floor. Let me just say in closing that this is a very important bill, and I hope that someone from the other side is going to ask me a question about the implementation of this bill, should it pass.