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 10th, 2013 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I can appreciate the leader of the official opposition on the front bench was a little confused. My understanding of the rules is that a person can only vote once. We saw members of the NDP from the front bench initially support the bill. I believe they should have to withdraw their original vote.

If we think of the ramifications of allowing members to stand and not denounce their first vote, it could lead us into further complications going forward.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 10th, 2013 / 3:20 p.m.
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Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I do not mean to challenge you, but there are many bills for which I would like to vote on both sides when I go home and tell my voters that I voted with them.

However, the fact is that it is very unclear. Mr. Speaker, you cannot allow members to vote one way and then appear to vote the other way without a correction. We typically expect that of members as we have in the past. The rules of the House have to apply to all of us equally.

I ask that they stand and record their votes properly, as my seatmate had to some time ago.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:25 a.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

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.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a sad moment in the history of this country and the Conservative government has a sorry record. In fact, it has broken a record by moving more than 40 time allocation motions in order to shut down debate and democracy. We on this side of the House think that Canadians deserve better. They deserve a government that listens.

We heard from one Conservative member of Parliament yesterday, an ex-Conservative, who was willing to stand up for democracy and stand up for the Canadian House of Commons.

The member for Edmonton—St. Albert talked about the ministerial “opulence” of the Conservatives and the fact that the ministers are spending on their limousines and five-star hotels. He talked about the myriad spending scandals of the Conservatives as well. He said, and I quote, “...my constituents are gravely disappointed”, and “My constituents demand better”.

Canadians demand better than what we are seeing from this government.

He also said, referring to the Conservatives, and I quote: “...we have morphed into what we once mocked”. He was referring to the spending scandals of the Liberals and their tendency to use closure to shut down the House of Commons.

The member for Edmonton—St. Albert also said, and this is probably the saddest thing for those who voted Conservative in the last election, “I no longer recognize...the party that I joined”.

This is how the Conservatives lead: shutting down democracy, and refusing accountability and transparency. Canadians deserve better.

How many Conservative MPs are going to stand up against this motion for closure and stand up for their constituents in the House of Commons?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
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Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt ConservativeMinister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the member is not very much concerned about the substance of the subject matter of this motion.

The motion is about Bill S-8, safe drinking water for first nations. This bill is crucial to ensure that first nations have the same health and safety protections concerning drinking water and waste water treatment as are currently enjoyed by other Canadians.

It has taken seven years for us to get to this point. It has taken seven years of continuous dialogue with first nations, including formal engagement sessions and implementing measures to accommodate the concerns of first nations.

The proposed legislation before Parliament today is the result of hard work and collaboration. It is time to move forward.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, a 2011 report by Indian Affairs and Northern Development clearly states that a significant financial commitment to infrastructure development will be necessary, and that it will cost $4.7 billion over 10 years to ensure the needs of first nation communities regarding water and waste water systems are met.

My question is for the minister. Why is the government refusing to invest in access to safe drinking water for first nation communities, despite the recommendations from its own group of experts?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member's claims are completely untrue and are not based on the facts.

If she looked at the facts, she would see that, as part of the strategy the government has adopted in this bill to fix the situation, nearly $3 billion has been allocated between 2006 and 2014 to improve infrastructure on first nations reserves.

Furthermore, more than $300 million was announced in budget 2012—and is being invested as we speak—to upgrade infrastructure on first nations reserves.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my Conservative colleague to explain why his government insists on preventing us from speaking in the House of Commons and why he is in such a rush.

Canadians and members of Parliament, including the former Conservative member for Edmonton—St. Albert, want to be able to debate and want to see more transparency on the part of this government.

Why is this government not being more transparent with Canadians? That is what Canadians want to see.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, we know that members of the New Democratic Party like to spin their wheels and waste time by talking instead of acting.

This issue has been before Parliament in one form or another for seven years. First nations across the country are the only communities that do not have a regulatory system that sets standards for clean water and sewage treatment that are similar to standards in neighbouring communities.

I understand that the NDP does not want to take action, which is why the motion is before the House. This country needs legislation that will treat first nations members like other Canadian citizens who enjoy rights that those living on reserve do not.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, it is sad to see that the government is cutting off debate by imposing a gag order reducing the time allocated to members.

For those of us who are not on committees, the House is often where hear about these bills. The same is true for our constituents.

I am aware that the minister was appointed to this position just a short while ago. Maybe he has not had the time to visit the aboriginal communities, which is perhaps unfortunate.

I know that these communities need drinking water and that they live in dry areas. Often, people have to collect drinking water from rocky places between other bodies of water. It is very difficult. It is essential to take a close look at this because the technologies must be good, otherwise there will be problems. It is important that the members have a chance to discuss this.

Will the minister reconsider his proposal to reduce the time for debate?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, not to disagree with the member, but we think enough time has been allocated to discuss and debate views and concerns about this bill.

The fact is that over 50 witnesses spoke on Bill S-11, the previous version, and on Bill S-8, the current version. Members heard from many organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, the Institute on Governance and the Indigenous Bar Association.

Bill S-8 was introduced only after many hours of discussion. There has been enough debate. It is time to act.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for all the work he has done. This is a great day for first nations, as we have a government that is wanting to and will move forward. Access to drinking water and the effective treatment of waste water is a critical protection for first nations people.

As mentioned by the minister, already over $3 billion in this budget and another over $330 million over two years is going toward helping sustain progress. It is not only for building but for renovating existing water and sewage treatment plant facilities on first nations reserves. We have to understand that this involves not only building them but training so that people are trained to operate these modern plants.

I wonder if the minister would help us understand how these targeted investments our government has made are going to help move forward the three-pronged approach to improving water and waste water systems on reserve.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:40 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, in response to the 2011 national assessment, our government worked with first nations to build a long-term plan to improve on-reserve water and waste water. This is founded on three pillars, as the hon. member referred to. We are talking about enhanced capacity building and operating training, infrastructure investment and enforceable standards and protocols. When we say enforceable standards and protocols, this is what this enabling legislation would allow. We cannot move seriously, effectively and efficiently in addressing this gap on reserves throughout Canada without the proper legislative framework that would put the regulations in place to protect first nations members.

I just cannot understand why the NDP and Liberals would oppose such a legislative framework. It is required and has been recommended by committee after committee. The first nations have called for it, yet they oppose it.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:40 a.m.
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NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, we, the members on this side of the House, are against the fact that there is no debate and democracy is being weakened. We are against the fact that we are not given the opportunity to analyze things. That is why we are against this. We are against the fact that democracy is suffering, to the point where members on the other side of the House are getting fed up.

Does the minister think that we need to work together and restore a true, healthy democracy before criticizing everyone?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:40 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am always amazed to hear members of the New Democratic Party lamenting the lack of democracy in our great and beautiful country. I have a bit of experience in the House, and I had the privilege of seeing the Constitution repatriated. I have seen and I am seeing—every week and every month, in every community—peoples' representatives, elected by Canadians, who are living up to their responsibilities.

Here today, we have a mandate from Canadians. Improving the lives of first nations people is one of the objectives of that mandate. We know that there is a gap for first nations reserves in terms of the quality of drinking water and waste water treatment. Yet, when faced with a bill that all elected members are asked to vote on, they are voting no. We are asking them, urging them, to think for once about what is effective and best for the country, for first nations, and to vote in favour of this bill.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:40 a.m.
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NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it sad that they keep breaking their own time allocation records. It is always the same story: it is oh-so-important, oh-so-urgent.

My question for the minister is very simple. If it is so urgent, if it really is a priority for the government, why did the last two versions of this bill come from the Senate?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I understand the ideological position of the member's party, which wants to make Canada the only western country and the only major democracy with a unicameral system. However, at present, we have a bicameral system, and this system empowers the Senate to introduce bills.

In the end, what matters is not how the bicameral system functions, but the end result. What matters here is that first nations urgently need us to take action. The member should know this better than anyone.

I understand that he likes to spin his wheels, but we want to take action and the motion is designed to do that.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think there is new record-setting every single day for time allocation, on bill after bill. The subject matter before us in this debate is time allocation, not the substance of the bill itself.

My question is for the hon. minister. Does the government, in which the minister serves on Privy Council, have any intention of ever allowing adequate debate on the bills before us?

This is an affront to individual members. People in my position, who do not have automatic speaking slots in debates, lose them for sure every time there is time allocation. It never gets around to allowing full participation of all members of this House on issues of critical importance.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, that is the member's point of view, one that I can respect, but that I totally disagree with.

Anyone who takes a hard look at the procedures will realize that any member who wants to do serious and reasonable work will have ample time to give his or her opinion on any bill before Parliament.

When we look at the work of committees, we see that a great number of people are asked to appear and give their opinion. There is no time allocation there. The idea is that at some point decisions must be made. I understand that the NDP like to spin their wheels, but we want to move forward and it is time to rectify the situation.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to quote a former member of the expert panel on safe drinking water, Steve Hrudey, who testified in committee on May 23, 2013. He said:

If those responsible for Walkerton's drinking water had simply satisfied the very limited guidance that was in place for treating Walkerton's water, that tragedy could have been averted. This disaster arose from a failure to do what needed to be done operationally...

What is the minister going to do to prevent a Walkerton-like disaster from occurring in first nations communities?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member is concerned about the Walkerton tragedy and its outcome, he should insist that all his NDP colleagues change their minds and support this regulation, which is essential to preventing such a situation. That is what this bill is trying to and will do. Once regulations are adopted throughout the country and once first nations are subject to regulations and standards, we will be able to ensure that the drinking water in those communities is safe.

If he is serious about protecting the interests of first nations, he should be the first to vote in favour of this bill, since that is its primary objective.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the safe drinking water for first nations act is crucial to ensuring that first nations have the same health and safety precautions concerning drinking water and waste water treatment as are currently enjoyed by other Canadians.

Our government has been engaging with first nations partners since first coming to government in 2006, and we continue to engage with first nations on the proposed legislation every step of the way. There have been seven years of continuous dialogue with first nations, including formal engagement sessions and measures to accommodate the first nations. The legislation before Parliament today is a result of hard work and collaboration.

Would the minister please inform us as to whether the first nations will continue to be involved in the development and implementation of the regulations?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, indeed, the government will work with first nations and other stakeholders to develop regulations and standards on a region-by-region basis. As a matter of fact, the preamble of the bill makes it clear that this is the intention.

The government recognizes that many first nations communities face unique challenges, and their ability to meet federal regulatory requirements may vary from province to province and territory to territory. Developing federal regulations will take time. It will not happen overnight. These regulations will be implemented over a number of years, in full co-operation and collaboration with first nations and stakeholders.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the minister that, in French, the party's name is NPD, not NDP.

They do not understand some very simple things. I spent two years on a reserve providing services to the community. For example, I drove the tanker truck to deliver water to all the homes. One well would have been enough to provide water to the entire reserve. The only thing the community was missing was the money to buy pipes. It had an excavator to do the work and everything else that was needed. The community was trying to get funding to pipe water to homes on the reserve, but it never got it. I lived there in the 1980s, and I am still not sure the situation has been resolved.

There are many other similar cases. The people of Kitigan Zibi, a neighbouring reserve, solved 90% of their supply problems. Last I heard, they needed a half a kilometre of pipe to connect one neighbourhood to the water system.

These communities do not need a law. They need resources. That is what the Conservatives do not understand. Proposing this at the last minute, one week before the end of the session, and imposing a gag order is not the proper attitude for a government that claims to act in the interests of first nations.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member would have us believe that he is concerned about the resources invested in first nations.

If he is so concerned, then how can he just stand there? Let him stand up and explain to aboriginals on the reserve he was just referring to why, in 2012, he and the other NDP members all voted against the government's budget, which invested $328 million in infrastructure.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Jean-François Larose NDP Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, honestly, to see what the government is doing makes me think of South Africa in days gone by. There is a tendency to generalize, as though every first nation were going through the same thing.

The problem is that each community is unique. I am proud that members from all parties are able to talk about their own realities because it is something they care about. Unfortunately, this bill does not take communities' individual realities into account. The government did not bother to listen to these communities or even slightly address their needs.

Why does the minister need to move a time allocation motion again when we are trying to share our ideas? I do not know any other hon. member who keeps using the same rhetoric over and over again. It takes some nerve to say that we are not serious. The word “honourable” is a title. Some have to work hard for it. He should know that. It is too bad.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am not shocked by the member's comments. It sounds like something the New Democratic Party would say.

It is important to note that this bill is a response to various recommendations about drinking water on first nations land, including recommendations from the reports I mentioned earlier. These reports were from the Commissioner of the Environment, the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems, and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

They call it muzzling. We say it is time to take action. I understand that members of the New Democratic Party would like to see us end up with the same record as the Liberals at the end of our mandate, which is to say no progress on this issue. On the contrary, we have a detailed three-pronged strategy that includes regulation. That is what this bill will be able to do.

If they were seriously concerned about the issue, they would vote in favour of the bill so that it would pass.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill has to do with protecting sources of drinking water.

Another bill passed by the government provides for environmental deregulation to allow pipelines to be installed. Furthermore, a provision of this bill stipulates that nothing in the bill should abrogate or derogate from any existing treaty rights.

I have to wonder how the government will reconcile protecting sources of drinking water and making it easier for pipelines to cross first nations land. Is there not a contradiction there?

Furthermore, I do not understand what the minister means when he says that NDP members are used to spinning their wheels. That deserves an explanation. What does he mean when he says that members of the NDP are spinning their wheels?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, this is typical of the New Democratic Party, which is now questioning my French, likely because I am a simple Acadian from New Brunswick.

To come back to the question, perhaps the member would be more likely to understand if I said it in English. I am sure he would understand that.

I have to admit that aboriginal and treaty rights on first nation lands could be negatively affected if, for example, the land was used in a way that negatively affected the safety of the water. In that kind of circumstance, that could happen.

However, people's health comes first, and that is the priority with this bill.

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, this government's actions are absolutely shameful. I am outraged that it would dare impose a 41st gag order on this Parliament, this time concerning Bill S-8, especially given that this bill contains significant flaws. In particular, these legislative measures will make first nations responsible for water supply systems, which have already proven to be inadequate, without giving them the funding and the means to construct systems that are better adapted to their needs.

Last year, the NDP member for Timmins—James Bay told the government about the heartbreaking situation in the community of Attawapiskat. It is clear that first nations are not a priority for the government. Why are the Conservatives not taking action?

Bill S-8—Time Allocation MotionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, they are upset because a similar motion has been moved 41 times. However, this proves that the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party were categorically opposed to passing bills in the House. Any reasonable Canadian would wonder why they are systematically opposed to anything and everything that is in the interests of Canadians and first nations.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 12:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with very real frustration that I rise today to speak to Bill S-8, which is focused on federal regulations for water and waste water systems for first nations communities.

In his speech on Bill S-8 earlier this week, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs said:

It is time to move forward and create the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities.

That is not what the government committed to when in 2011 it supported the Liberal Party motion:

...to address on an urgent basis the needs of those First Nations communities whose members have no access to clean, running water in their homes...

The same motion provided that:

action to address this disparity begin no later than the spring of 2012.

Simply passing a bill—a year late—to allow for water regulations to be imposed on first nations is not the action contemplated in that 2011 motion passed unanimously by the House of Commons. Bill S-8 is not going to fix the problem.

People living in a large proportion of first nations communities do not have access to basic, clean, drinkable water. Lack of access to clean drinking water presents a serious health threat to first nations communities, creating a higher likelihood of disease and infection transmission and poorer overall health outcomes, as we saw with the H1N1 epidemic, particularly on the reserves in northern Manitoba. We are dealing with a crisis that needs much more than words from the government: it needs action.

Unfortunately, this legislation shows just how out of touch the government is in terms of the appalling state of water and waste water systems in hundreds of first nations communities. It will not provide clean water to one more home or one more trained operator for a first nations water facility. The only thing the bill would do is distract from the government's inexcusable inaction on confronting the appalling capacity gaps in these communities in terms of water infrastructure and maintenance.

The position of the Liberal Party has been crystal clear on this legislation since the beginning. In fact, I wrote to the then minister for aboriginal affairs in September 2011. In that letter I explained the Liberal position had two fundamental points.

First, Liberals would not support any legislation on safe drinking water that was introduced without an implementation plan for additional resourcing that fully addresses the deficiencies identified in the national assessment on first nations water and waste water systems.

Second, the government would have to collaborate with first nations and obtain their free, prior and informed consent on the range of regulatory options regarding safe drinking water, as identified by the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, before the reintroduction of legislation.

The government has failed to address either of these critical points.

Every report regarding the tragic on-reserve water situation states that the massive infrastructure and capacity gaps must be addressed before a legislative option is adopted.

The Assembly of First Nations commented:

Bill S-8 will not guarantee that First Nations have access to safe drinking water. Bill S-8 creates new regulations and standards but does not provide First Nations with any resources to meet those new standards. ... Safe drinking water requires more than writing new regulations. Safe drinking water requires infrastructure and facilities, skills, training and resources.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs wrote to the committee, stating:

AMC has stated several times the fundamental problem is a financial resource one.

The Canadian Bar Association stated:

From a policy perspective, what is still needed is a firm government commitment to provide resources to address water quality issues on reserves, not necessarily new legislation.

In fact, witness after witness came before committee in opposition to this legislation and, among other problems, specifically identified the government's decision to move forward without addressing the capacity gap as the primary issue impacting the provision of safe water to first nations communities.

Grand Chief Roland Twinn of Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta reflected what the committee heard in general from first nations when he said:

...the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs of Treaties 6, 7, and 8 in Alberta has, from the very beginning, made significant efforts to work with the Harper government to fix the deplorable state of first nations' drinking water systems. Our efforts have been rewarded by the government with political spin, broken promises, and a meaningless piece of legislation that will do nothing to ensure safe drinking water for first nation people.

The government's own expert panel found:

Regulation alone will not be effective in ensuring safe drinking water.... Regulation without the investment needed to build capacity may even put drinking water safety at risk by diverting badly needed resources into regulatory frameworks and compliance costs.

That is the key point. The government's own expert panel said that far from fixing the problem, this approach may even make matters worse.

That report, on page 29, line 2, also said that:

...adequate resources for plants and piping, training and monitoring, and operations and maintenance...are more critical to ensuring safe drinking water than is regulation alone.

The 2007 Senate report entitled Safe Drinking Water for First Nations, from the aboriginal peoples committee chaired by the Hon. Gerry St. Germain, a Conservative senator, stated in the conclusion:

Sustained investment in the capacity of First Nations community water systems and of those running the systems is absolutely essential to ensure First Nations people on-reserve enjoy safe drinking water. Without this investment, we risk introducing a regulatory regime that burdens communities and does little to help them meet legislated standards.

Given the recommendations of the expert panel and first nations about the need to deal with capacity and resourcing issues before, or at least in concert with, legislation, it is shocking that the government decided to introduce the bill in the Senate, where it is subject to increased restrictions on incorporating resources. As a Senate bill there is, and can be, no funding appropriation attached to Bill S-8.

During his speech last week, the parliamentary secretary for aboriginal affairs bragged about the fact that his government “has made significant investments in water and waste water infrastructure....”

Despite actually taking credit for money yet to be spent, the parliamentary secretary neglected to note that his government's own 2011 national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems identified an immediate funding shortfall of $1.2 million and indicated it would require $4.7 billion of new money spent over the next 10 years to deal with the first nations water and waste water capacity gap. This funding shortfall took into account the current funding levels, which have not been increased since that time.

Let us be clear: the $330 million over two years the government points to in its 2012 budget is simply a temporary extension of temporary funding from 2010 and fails to address the capacity gap identified in the 2011 assessment.

In fact, not only is the government content to impose standards and regulations on first nations without providing the required investment in physical assets or capacity-building to deal with the problem, it is actually cutting the money allocated to first nations health and safety-related infrastructure projects, such as water facilities.

Budget 2011 proposed $7 billion over the next 10 years to continue to provide support for first nations, primarily for health and safety-related infrastructure projects. Given that over the past six years this program received an average of $1.2 billion annually, this “new” funding commitment actually represents a cut of approximately $345 million per year from the 2012 funding levels and $500 million from the six-year average. This is nothing short of shocking.

The legislation would result in significant new costs and responsibilities being imposed on first nations without any commitment to transfer the necessary resources.

Despite the Prime Minister's rhetoric at the Crown-First Nations Gathering about resetting the relationship, the Conservative government has shown a total disregard for the rights of indigenous people.

The Liberal Party has heard consistently in the Senate, in the House of Commons and in discussions outside Parliament that there were not appropriate consultations with first nations on this bill.

Grand Chief Craig Makinaw summed up this issue for the House of Commons committee studying this bill, when he stated, “...we shouldn't have one-day consultations across the country and conference calls. That's not consultation.” Consultation requires both a substantive dialogue and for the government to listen and, when appropriate, incorporate what it hears into the approach. Many did not even get the courtesy of a one-way information session the government tries to pass off as consultation.

Chief Charles Weaselhead of the Blood Tribe put it simply for the commons committee when he stated, “...there has been no consultation with the Blood Tribe”. Although first nations have a constitutional right to be consulted on matters like this, the Liberal Party believes it is also just good government to consult with all those impacted by decisions.

At committee, a representative of Metro Vancouver pointed out:

A lack of acknowledgement of local government interests and the absence of a meaningful consultation process, including opportunities for local government involvement and input, pose serious challenges for local communities in that public interests with respect to Bill S-8 are not being fully considered.

Proper consultation leads to better policies and solutions that actually make sense. That has not happened regarding Bill S-8. The bill explicitly subjects existing aboriginal and treaty rights to a clause that suggests that such rights can be overridden. What is disguised as a non-derogation clause states, “to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands”.

When the Canadian Bar Association presented to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, it noted, “We believe that the qualification 'except to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of the drinking water on First Nation lands' is in itself an explicit abrogation or derogation of existing Aboriginal or treaty rights pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution Act...”.

Mr. Christopher Devlin of the CBA also made it clear to the committee, “Our simple point to the committee is that we don't believe this is necessary and we don't believe it is required for the bill to be effective as it's drafted.”

Despite evidence from legal and aboriginal experts about the serious problems with this clause, the government stubbornly refused all opposition amendments to fix it. This prompted National Chief Shawn Atleo of the AFN to write to the minister after the bill was reported back to the House, urging him to correct this flawed clause before the bill is passed into the House of Commons. He made it clear in that letter, which states, “First Nations will not accept the diminishment of Aboriginal and treaty rights in Bill S-8.” It is time for the government to listen.

All Canadians, regardless of where in Canada they live, whether it is in the north, the south or elsewhere in the country, have a fundamental right to have access to drinking water and adequate water facilities. The Liberal Party will not be supporting this legislation because the government has decided to move forward in a way that not only ignores the fundamental issues at stake, but may actually make things worse.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member's speech.

She spoke in particular about the consultation process. Conservatives often say that they held broad consultations that cost so many millions of dollars. Yet, oddly enough, first nations, among others, often say they were not consulted as they would have liked.

In committee, while studying Bill S-2, for example, I heard the Conservatives say totally absurd things. They said they had talked to their husbands, their sons or their sisters. This was the kind of comment that kept cropping up. There seems to be a need to define what constitutes real consultation.

I would like the member to talk about this. If she is saying that there has not been enough consultation while the Conservative Party says the opposite, there may be a misunderstanding. Could the member tell us more?

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very important that we properly define the word “consultation”. The first nations have been clear: there was not enough consultation on this bill.

What is more, how this government consults does not make it true consultation. The ability to listen goes hand in hand with true consultation. It is not simply an information session. That is very important.

There was not enough consultation on this bill. Had the government listened, it would have found it impossible to introduce this bill in the House.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague speaking about this issue.

The question of consultation, of course, has come up. We have had the current Conservative government impose closure time and time again. There have been a record number of closures now. Over 40 times, the government has basically used a sledgehammer to push legislation through Parliament.

As we know, the Conservatives often botch it. They have one of the worst records in terms of actually getting the legislation right. The legislation is left subject to court challenges, or is hastily redrafted. The Conservatives seem to be doing their drafting on the back of a napkin somewhere in the PMO.

The question I have is around the issue of consultation. There are chiefs in Ontario, the Assembly of Manitoba, Treaty 7 nations in Alberta, all raising concerns about this legislation that the government is now trying to ram through rather than put in place the infrastructure funding that is required and rather than putting in place the kinds of investments that are required.

I would like to ask my colleague what she thinks about the government's drive to ram this legislation through and its lack of consultation.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think that the one committee hearing where we heard from Akwesasne, the Blood Tribe and Ermineskin Nation was enough to explain that these people clearly could not have been consulted.

At Akwesasne, of course, with the jurisdictional straddle between Ontario, Quebec and the United States, it is absolutely impossible to actually think of applying provincial standards. There are such unique situations first nation by first nation, from the Blood Tribe that has a large population and would have to look after its own water system, to the smaller first nations that have to get their water from local communities, to the communities themselves that have asked what the bill would do to them if they are supplying water to a small band. It is so clear, again, if the Conservatives had listened to the committee hearing, that without the resources they cannot do the job.

What the bill would do is transfer all the liability to the band, but the red light, green light and the ability to assign resources rests with the government. The first nations would be blamed and liable for what the Government of Canada has not provided.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has been a very strong advocate for many of our first nations communities across Canada. A while back, through her advocacy, we introduced an all-party motion in the form of an opposition day to try to deal with the issue of safe drinking water for all communities.

Could the member comment on the expectation that was set by the leader of the Liberal Party when we had introduced that particular motion?

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was after the election of 2011, in July, when we realized that there had been this devastating report on the state of water and waste water across Canada, which was ready in April but was not released by the government until after the election.

When we looked at the status, where two-thirds to three-quarters of first nations had water systems that were at moderate to high risk, we were very upset. Therefore, we proposed the motion in the House, which received unanimous consent, to do whatever it takes to get first nations the quality of drinking water to which they are entitled.

It was very clear in the report that it would take $4.7 billion over the next ten years and $1.2 billion immediately. We have seen nothing coming from the government except cuts to the average expenditure on water and waste water across many years, and $330 million in last year's budget. It just goes absolutely nowhere to meet the needs of first nations.

There are so many communities that I visited during the H1N1 pandemic that were without any running water. We cannot ask people to wash their hands if there is no running water. It is totally inexcusable that in a place like Wasagamack, only 20% of homes have running water and that this is third world Canada.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member. I find them kind of fanciful right now. She did spend considerable time with the previous Liberal government when they were in power. In 13 years, they settled somewhere around 8 treaties.

This government has settled over 80 treaties since 2006. It certainly says something about the focus of our government. Something else that says it clearly is that since 2006, we have built over 30 new schools for aboriginals, renovated over 200 schools, built over 10,000 homes and renovated thousands more. We have invested in safe drinking water. The Liberals left around 300 reserves without safe drinking water when we took over in 2006. We have increased funding for child and family services by 25%. We have delivered on our promise for accountability and transparency in reserves. We have invested in over 700 projects that are linked to aboriginals and spent over $10 billion per year in 34 departments.

Very clearly, the Liberals did absolutely zero during their time in office. They did zip. They did nada. I wonder what excuse she is using to suggest that we need to do more, even though we have done ten times more as far as treaty claims go, and in half the time.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it a bit rich that the member can stand up with the talking points on treaties and schools, when we are talking about getting safe drinking water to the first nations.

I want to see a plan. I want to see what, by when and how. Why can the government not let us know when 100% of first nations homes and communities will have access to safe drinking water?

The government tore up the Kelowna accord. They had $5.1 billion there, including a first nations-led approach to infrastructure and waste water. They tore up that money and the money for education and used it in other places when it had been promised by the provinces, territories and first nations Inuit-Metis leadership. If that Kelowna accord had gone forward, we would not be in the situation we are in today.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Mississauga.

Before I get into my remarks, I had better take a minute to help my hon. colleague across the floor, because unfortunately, she has the facts all fouled up. There are no facts in what she is talking about.

Let us take a minute to look at the time frame. There was a comment made that nothing has been done on this file for years and years. The truth of the matter is that the file became very active in the summer of 2006. We are now in 2013. I respectfully suggest that there has been a fair time frame between 2006 and 2013.

From February to March 2009, there was a series of engagement sessions with first nations communities to look at their problems and at anticipated solutions. In the fall and winter of 2009-10, government officials met with first nations chiefs to discuss their needs with respect to water and waste water on their reserves. From October 2010 to October 2011, without prejudice, first nations organizations addressed various concerns about water.

I mention water, because the hon. member across the way seemed to think that we did not do anything with this file, and nothing could be further from the truth.

There was also mention of there being no funding. Let us look at that for a minute.The government has committed $330.8 million over two years through economic action plan 2012. That plan runs, as members know, into 2013, as well. Therefore, there is indeed money for this project.

As we go further into 2014, the Government of Canada will have invested $3 billion to support delivery of drinking water and waste water for first nations. I respectfully submit for members that this is a sizable piece of change. Obviously, the government is taking water and waste water very seriously.

I stand today to declare my support for Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act. The proposed legislation would lead to further progress on the remarkable collaborative effort that has been under way for more than seven years to improve safe drinking water in first nations communities.

As the members of the House recognize, although considerable progress has been made to date, much work remains to be done to ensure that the residents of first nations communities have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water. I am convinced that the key to safeguarding drinking water is to develop regulations using the same type of collaborative approach that has produced so much progress in recent years.

In 2006, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations agreed to a joint plan of action for first nations' drinking water. At that time, the parties committed to five specific action plans. They are, in no particular order, but all of them important, the following: implementing a clear protocol on water standards; ensuring that water systems operators are properly trained; making immediate fixes to water systems in 21 priority communities; establishing an expert panel to identify options for an effective regulatory regime for drinking water in first nations communities; and issuing regular updates on progress made through the plan of action. This collaborative plan inspired significant results and led to a further commitment of funds in an increased effort to make tangible, long-term progress.

For example, thanks to the government's ongoing investment in the circuit rider training program, the number of trained and certified operators, between 2010 and 2012, increased from 51% to 60%. First nations' drinking water systems have enjoyed this increased certification. For first nations' waste water systems, the number has risen from 42% to 54%.

The expert panel created under the plan of action staged a series of town hall sessions across Canada and identified three legislative options. We are talking about water and waste water, and as members in the House here this afternoon are aware, the focus is very much on targets.

One of these options, the delivery of regulations on a region-by-region basis, forms the basis of the legislative situation now before us. To improve the original version of that option, the Government of Canada has published a discussion paper and has met with representatives of first nations groups.

The government has been accused of not consulting, but here we are, a year later, after holding a series of 13 engagement sessions and hearing from more than 500 members of first nations. Throughout these sessions, the participants agreed on the urgent need to address health, safety and environmental concerns related to drinking water in first nations communities.

In 2010, the Government of Canada introduced a different version of Bill S-8, which died on the order paper at the dissolution of Parliament in March 2011.

I respectfully submit that the government has indeed paid close attention to waste water and water management on reserves. It has supplied dollars for the development of the programs. It has supplied training for the development of the programs. It has put in action a plan that ensures that the government has made a commitment to first nations for water and waste water, and it will continue that commitment over a period of years until all first nations communities have the same water and waste water as all the rest of Canada.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is quite interesting that in the debate we have had, what has emerged is that the federal Conservative government is not providing adequate funding for infrastructure to ensure that we have safe drinking water in first nations communities. That is the real debate.

The fact is that the Conservative government is wholly inadequate in its funding of first nations to ensure that we have safe drinking water. We have had a number of comments from the opposition.

The Conservatives have quickly realized the weakness of the legislation they have brought forward, which is that they are not attaching funding and are not providing for infrastructure. That is why they have moved closure. The Conservatives suddenly understand that in a debate in the House, with Canadians watching from coast to coast to coast, they are going to lose the debate, because they have not put their money where their mouths are. It is all well and good to say that first nations communities have to have safe drinking water, but they need to provide the funding and the infrastructure.

Why have the Conservatives not done this? Why have they failed first nations yet again?

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed my colleague's comments. They were rather amusing.

He suggested that nothing has been done. Let me reiterate that there is $330.8 million over two years, a dedicated plan to deal with contaminated water and waste water and another plan to deal with potable water, all in partnership with the first nations.

Speaking of consultation, there have been seven years of consultation with first nations people designed to help facilitate their initial water plan program and then add to it. The basic design gives them a chance to look at it, and it gives them a chance to expand it and make it their own. It is not one-size-fits-all. Each will be developed according to their own requirements.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:30 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 want to thank this member for his important contributions to all the work we have been doing, particularly with respect to this piece of legislation.

What we just heard from the uninformed member across the way is the NDP's stand-pat solution to every problem: If in doubt, spend. Spend money on things without the critical pieces of the rest of the puzzle, such as training, such as actually taking the time to assess the amount of certification that is lacking in first nations communities across the country and to make those investments.

The circuit rider program, Northern Waterworks, and Confederation College are ensuring that we have certified workers to actually operate that kind of infrastructure before the infrastructure comes.

Can the member comment on the necessity of this legislation, in keeping with the other two pillars, which are capacity—reporting, monitoring and maintenance—and infrastructure? It is sort of a dialectical way of thinking about and developing policy.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, the plan is in place. There have been six or seven years of consultation. Not all reserves will fit into the plan, so the plan will be modified to fit the reserve. That is a very important point.

As my colleague said, training programs have been offered to people to learn how to handle waste water and potable water. Those programs are in place and working as we speak.

I do not know what my colleague was referring to when he said that nothing was in place. Everything is in place, and it is all working.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the House about Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, a piece of legislation that deserves the full support of this House.

The proposed legislation is a crucial component of an integrated plan to resolve an issue that has persisted for far too many years and that threatens the health of tens of thousands of Canadians. Until regulations and standards are in place, the safety and quality of the water in first nations communities will remain at risk, posing a significant health risk.

I call on the opposition to stop stalling and to vote in support of this important legislation.

The long-term plan to improve the quality of drinking water in first nations communities is based on three pillars: capacity-building and operator training; investments in water and waste water infrastructure; and enforceable standards and protocols, which would be this legislation. Each of these pillars is designed to contribute in a specific way to the larger goal, which is access to safe drinking water for all first nations communities.

Improving operator training and community capacity is a case in point. One of the key problems identified in several studies on drinking water in first nations communities was the lack of capacity to operate and maintain water and waste water treatment facilities. In many case, there are simply not enough trained operators available to keep facilities running properly. Without trained and certified operators, any water system, regardless of where it is located, is unlikely to produce safe drinking water over the long term. The challenge is even greater when the system is in a remote part of the country, as so many first nations communities are. It is notoriously difficult to attract qualified workers and to retain them in these remote communities. This is true for a wide range of occupations. The remoteness of a community also contributes to delays in obtaining supplies, replacement parts and qualified repair technicians, which in turn can cause the system components to wear out more quickly.

The best way to address these challenges is to train and employ community residents, because they have a personal stake in ensuring the availability of safe, clean and reliable drinking water in their own communities. This is precisely what the circuit rider training program does.

Under this highly successful program, trainers travel to first nations communities and provide system operators with on-site, hands-on training on how to operate, maintain and monitor water and waste water systems. To increase the number of trained and certified operators, our government invests approximately $10 million each year in this program. Thanks to the circuit rider training program, there are now more trained and certified system operators than ever before.

In 2011, the national assessment determined that operators with the appropriate level of certification managed only 51% of first nations' water systems and 42% of first nations' waste water systems. One year later, annual performance inspections of the same systems concluded that these numbers had increased to 60% and 54% respectively.

Obviously, systems operated by properly trained and certified staff are more likely to consistently produce safe drinking water.

Less obvious, perhaps, are two other important benefits. First, properly trained operators are better able to ensure that facilities function effectively throughout their expected service life, maximizing the value of the infrastructure investments. Another benefit is that trained and certified operators will be better able to ensure that their systems can meet future regulatory standards.

Even the best qualified operators would struggle to consistently produce safe drinking water if they had to work with outdated or unserviceable equipment. That is why investments in water system infrastructure represent the second pillar in the Government of Canada's strategy to improve the quality of drinking water in first nations communities. Between 2006 and 2014, our government will have invested approximately $3 billion in water and waste water infrastructure in first nations communities. Economic action plan 2012 included more than $330 million over two years to build and renovate water and waste water infrastructure.

In this 2012-13 fiscal year alone, this investment supported some 286 major water and waste water infrastructure projects in first nation communities across the country. The government would continue to provide funding so that first nations could improve the quality of their water system infrastructure.

To get the full value of infrastructure investments, however, water systems must also be supported by enforceable regulations. That is what we are talking about today. These regulations would specify treatment standards, testing protocols, allowable levels of contaminants and all of the other factors that help define safe drinking water.

Regulations would foster accountability and provide community residents with the assurance they need to trust the water that comes out of their tap. Delivering safe drinking water on a consistent basis would require a chain of interventions: sources must be protected, for instance; and water must be filtered, treated and tested. Although these processes may vary, based upon the quality of the source water and the size of the distribution network, they must all be solid. Also, like all chains, the one that safeguards drinking water is only as strong as its weakest link.

Regulations would represent a key component of the overall process. They would specify science-based standards for quality testing, treatment protocols and other factors. Regulations would also assign responsibility for specific tasks. The organizations, such as municipal utilities, that supply water to the public must abide by these regulations.

Without regulations, there could be no assurance of the safety of drinking water in first nation communities. Regulations would provide the overarching framework of a drinking water system and guide the efforts of everyone involved in the system.

Bill S-8 would include a mechanism to establish regulatory regimes concerning the drinking water systems in first nation communities. This it the third pillar of the plan. The regimes would include rigorous standards and protocols and promote the accountability necessary to ensure that first nation communities have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water.

To develop regulations, the legislation calls for a collaborative, region-by-region approach. In each region, first nations, the Government of Canada and other stakeholder groups would, together, design a regulatory regime tailored to local circumstances. The regulations used in nearby communities, such as provincial regimes, would serve as valuable guidelines.

I believe there is a tremendous value in this approach, because existing regulations are typically informed by the real-world challenges of producing water in a particular part of the country—challenges such as geography, weather and the quality and availability of water sources.

All three pillars must be in place to ensure that residents of first nation communities can access safe drinking water on a consistent and reliable basis. Operators must be properly trained; facilities must be functional; and standards, guidelines and protocols must be backed by regulations that must be in place.

Considerable progress has been made on all of these during the past seven years. The legislation now before us would support further progress.

Bill S-8 would be an essential part of a sensible, practical and balanced plan to improve the quality of drinking water and protect the long-term health of tens of thousands of Canadians.

Currently, laws are in place to protect the safety of drinking water accessed by every other Canadian, except for those living on reserve.

I call upon the opposition to stand up for first nations across this country and support Bill S-8.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is rather incredible for my colleague from Mississauga South to say that opposition members, including NDP members, must stand up in the house for the well-being of the first nations.

She knows, and she mentioned it in her speech, that the Conservative government has only invested $330 million over two years to fix the water supply problem. A study commissioned by the government found that a $5-billion investment over 10 years is needed, including $1.2 billion immediately. Throwing $330 million at the problem is not enough to provide first nations with a safe drinking water supply.

My question is for my Conservative colleague. When will the Conservative government stop treating first nations like second-class citizens?

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am afraid the member opposite may not have heard all of my comments.

The $330 million committed was simply over two years, and that was in budget 2012.

Between 2006 and 2014, the Government of Canada will have invested approximately three billion—that is billion with a B—dollars to support delivery of drinking water and waste water systems in first nations.

While there is no mention of funding in this legislation, that is simply because this is enabling legislation. It is about the regulations ensuring that those Canadians who live on first nations have access to the same standards that the rest of us Canadians know we can rely on for safe drinking water every day.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on the member's comments when she said $3 billion. She emphasized the letter B as opposed to M, meaning $3 billion.

She said that the money has been spent in a very short timeframe of a few years. I am sure Canadians, in particular our first nations, would want to know exactly where that $3 billion has been spent. Is there a list of specific projects? Has it gone in the form of bureaucracy? How has that $3 billion actually been disbursed over the last few years?

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question because it gives me an opportunity to say that the priority of this government is for that $3 billion to go into training and infrastructure. I mentioned the circuit rider training program in my remarks. This is so that operators on first nations can be trained to do what is necessary because, as we have found, if operators are trained elsewhere or come from off site, when they come to the reserve and try to fit in, it often does not work as well as if someone from the first nation community actually learns about the process and is able to do it himself or herself. Those are the kinds of investments we are making.

I also talked about the 286 projects that are planned for 2013. These are new plans. I wish that the member had been at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development when the Canadian Bar Association talked about the fact that funding was needed for this. In my question to the witness from the CBA I was able to outline, because I happened to have the numbers right in front of me, all of the funding that has gone into this topic for the last seven years. I am so proud of what this government has done to support clean water on first nations reserves.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today. For the second time in two days we will be addressing first nations issues. I would like to advise the Speaker that I will be sharing my time.

Today I am speaking with the help of the MP for Nanaimo—Cowichan, who has done a tremendous amount of work on the first nations file. It almost seems to me that she does more work for the first nations than the entire Conservative caucus put together.

The regulations the government wants to impose may incorporate by reference provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water in first nations communities. However, the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations expressed concern about using provincial regulations, since that would result in a patchwork of regulations, leading to some first nations having more stringent standards than others.

These regulations would overrule any laws or by-laws made by first nations and limit the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of its duties under regulations.

New Democrats want to see safe, clean water and water systems that work for first nations 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 the systems up to new standards.

First nations oppose the act because of the new liability provisions for first nations governments and the language around the non-derogation clause that is formulated to possibly be a first step to erode the constitutionally protected rights.

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. Bill S-8 is the second legislative initiative to address safe drinking water on reserve. Its predecessor, Bill S-11, did not proceed to third reading as a result of widespread concerns and subsequently died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved on March 26, 2011.

Bill S-8 retains several of the features of former Bill S-11, particularly in 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 water and waste water.

The text of the bill would not, on its face, adequately address the needs of first nations to build capacity to develop and administer appropriate laws for the regulation of water and waste water systems on first nations lands.

New Democrats agree that the poor standards of water systems in first nations communities are hampering people's health and well-being. They are also 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 give them the ability to build new ones more appropriate to their needs.

In addition, although there is a slight wording change, there is a clause in this legislation that would give the government the ability to derogate from aboriginal rights.

A provincial regime of regulations would not do enough to protect first nations communities. The patchwork system of provincial laws was rejected by the government's own expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations. We need a national regulatory system.

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.

This is not a difficult problem to solve. It just requires political will and adequate investment.

The Assembly of First Nations submitted the following to the Senate committee:

Bill S-8, as part of ongoing process started with Bill S-11 prior to the CFNG, continues a pattern of unilaterally imposed legislation and does not meet the standards of joint development and clear recognition of First Nation jurisdiction. The engagement of some First Nations and the modest changes made to the Bill do not respond to the commitment to mutual respect and partnership envisioned by the CFNG.

The AFN also passed resolution no. 58/210 at its special chiefs assembly in December 2010 calling on the government to: ensure appropriate funds were available for any regulations implemented; support first nations in developing their own water management system; and work collaboratively with the AFN in developing an immediate plan on the lack of clean drinking water.

This resolution also puts the government on notice that the AFN expects any new water legislation to comply with first nations constitutionally protected and inherent treaty and aboriginal rights, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the report of the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations.

Chiefs of Ontario, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Treaty 7 nations in Alberta have signalled continued concerns with the proposed legislation, citing, among other things, the need to address infrastructure and capacity issues before introducing federal regulations.

In 2007, Dr. Harry Swain, chair of the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, told the Senate committee on aboriginal peoples that:

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 expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations argued that “Regulation alone will not be effective in ensuring safe drinking water unless the other requirements...are met...both human resources and physical assets”.

In 2011, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada released its “National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems--Ontario Regional Roll-Up Report”. The results show that 1,880 first nations homes are reported to have no water service and 1,777 homes are reported to have no waste water service.

In 2011, the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada commissioned an independent assessment on first nations water and waste water systems. The report clearly states that a significant financial commitment to infrastructure development will be necessary. It will cost $4.7 billion over 10 years to ensure that the needs of first nations communities in water and waste water systems are met. Instead, the Conservatives committed only $330 million over two years in 2010 and nothing in 2011.

I would just remind members of the House that most of us take for granted the fact that we own homes. When we are not in our riding we either live in a hotel or have an apartment. Every day, if we need a drink of water, we just turn on the tap. We take it for granted. Some first nations communities just cannot do that. We had a fine example of that lately in Montreal when there was a boil water advisory. People were shocked that they had to boil their water. All we have to do is think about the first nations that have to do that day in, day out every day of the year and have done so for years.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
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Kenora Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, what an interesting metaphor, to turn on the tap.

We heard from the member for Burnaby—New Westminster what he and his party's policy solutions were, and that was, if in doubt, spend. Now that member has brought a new dimension to the debate.

In his speech he said that we should have a national regulatory framework, the same across the board. Somebody who has lived in isolated remote first nations communities in northern Ontario, where the member is from, knows that the landscape is much different there than British Columbia or the Arctic.

How can we establish those national frameworks when the instruments for measurement and for water treatment will be markedly different from one jurisdiction to another? Could he answer that question, or is he like the leader of the Liberal Party, just in over his head on this one?

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess I was right when I said that the member from British Columbia and her staff had done more for first nations than the entire Conservative caucus put together, and the member just proved the point.

When I was talking about turning on the tap, I was referring to him, his home, his hotel or apartment. When he wants safe drinking water, all he has to do is turn on the tap. Unfortunately, because of the Conservative government, first nations cannot turn on a tap, and that goes on for days and decades. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has done nothing to solve the problem.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, shortly after the last federal election the leader of the Liberal Party introduced a motion through an opposition day dealing with the issue of clean drinking water.

I think most Canadians would be quite surprised to hear that there is a significant percentage of the population that does not have some of the basic necessities, such as going to the kitchen, turning on the water and being able to drink the water from the tap. Given the resources that Canada has as a nation, we could do a whole lot more.

Yes, we have legislation before us, but the real issue that needs to be addressed is working with our first nations.

Is it not time that we start looking at enabling our first nations and working with them to resolve these issues? Many of the drinking and bathing water issues that we talk about today could be met in two ways: first, provide the financial means to have those resources; and second, enable the first nation leadership to play a role in assisting and resolving a good portion of the problem.

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June 6th, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find that question coming from a Liberal member ironic.

The Liberals were in power for 13 years before the current government and they did nothing at all. In fact, in the last century, the Liberal Party had been in power longer than any other party and the needs of first nations did not improved, thanks to that party.

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June 6th, 2013 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to speak to a very important bill and a very important issue for the people I represent in northern Manitoba. I am honoured to represent the people of Churchill. That includes 33 first nations, first nations that are diverse, young with tremendous energy and tremendous opportunity. However, immense challenges exist on these first nations. Nowhere is that challenge more evident than the lack of access to safe drinking water, water services and sewage services on first nations.

When the reference to third world conditions is made, it is made because of the lack of access to safe drinking water that exists on many first nations in northern Manitoba. I think of the Island Lake community, four first nations that are isolated on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. I think of St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill, Wasagamack and Red Sucker Lake. All of these communities are growing, like many first nations, at a high rate. There are a lot of young people and young families. Overcrowding and lack of housing are very serious issues.

However, what is evident in these communities is the impact of the lack of safe drinking water in terms of health outcomes, in terms of broader indicators of quality of life, in terms of the mortality rate that unfortunately among first nations remains lower than the Canadian average. That mortality rate is connected to a number of factors, but the fundamental lack of access to safe drinking water is key.

It is unacceptable that in the year 2013, in a country as wealthy as Canada, that first nations, simply because they are first nations, lack access to a basic right, the right of clean water and access to safe drinking water. They lack access to the kind of infrastructure that would ensure a healthier lifestyle in line with that which all Canadians enjoy.

While members from the governing party have spoken to the disastrous indicators, what they fail to speak to is their own failure to uphold their fiduciary obligation to first nations, their own failure to live up to the treaties, to respect aboriginal and treaty rights in ensuring that first nations, no matter where they are, have access to safe drinking water.

Instead of recognizing that failure and investing in the kind of infrastructure that is necessary, investing in the kind of training that is necessary for first nations to be able to provide access to safe drinking water, the government has chosen to uphold its pattern of imposing legislation on first nations. Not only has it imposed legislation in this case, Bill S-8, but it has done so without consultation, without recognizing the tremendous concerns that first nations have brought forward with respect to previous iterations of the bill. Fundamentally it is disrespecting its commitments under the treaties, under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which it signed. Even more reason for concern is the fact it is putting first nations in even greater danger than they are already in.

We know that Bill S-8 provides no funding to improve water systems on reserve. This is shameful because, given the rhetoric that we hear from the government about commitments to first nations, the reality is that when it comes to making a difference for safe drinking water, the need for investment in infrastructure and investment in capacity building is extremely serious.

I was there in February this year, but I remember being in Little Grand Rapids a couple of years back where the water treatment plant operator talked to us about how the chemicals he needed to be able to make sure that the water was safe for his community to drink were going to run out halfway through the year. I have spoken to water treatment plant operators who have talked about the lack of access to training programs so that they can improve their skills, so they can have the knowledge and skill set to be able to provide safe drinking water for their community members.

I have heard from water treatment plant operators, sewage treatment plant operators and leaders in communities who have expressed real concern about their inability, with the little they are given from this federal government, to provide what is a basic standard of living to their people. That onus falls entirely on the backs of the federal government.

Unfortunately, this is a result of years of neglect by the previous Liberal government, the imposition of the 2% cap that was halted, and has frozen in many cases, the kind of funding that is necessary for first nations to operate, and has been very much continued by the Conservative government.

We have seen that first nations that are continuing to grow, where their needs are continuing to grow, are turning to a federal government that is not only not prepared to make the investments in infrastructure, but is actually imposing its colonial agenda to boot.

We are very concerned in the NDP that on Bill S-8, like previous bills, Bill S-2, and so many others that impact first nations, Bill C-27, the government has insisted on shutting down debate on these very important bills, preventing members of Parliament from speaking out on behalf of their constituents who would be negatively impacted as a result of this legislation. We believe that by doing so, it is also silencing the voice of the first nations in this House.

This practice has unfortunately also been applied to committees where the facts have not been heard because of the government's attempt to muzzle those who oppose its agenda.

We in the NDP also stand in solidarity with first nations that have decried the government's continued pattern in which bills affecting first nations also include a clause, and we see it in Bill S-8, that gives the government the ability to derogate from aboriginal rights. The clause says, “Except to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on first nations land”.

It is unconscionable that a federal government that is charged with a fiduciary obligation to first nations, that is there to honour the treaty relationships it is party to, would go so far as to derogate from aboriginal rights, to be able to break that very commitment it has to first nations. That is a failure on the part of the government. First nations have risen up against this failure, through the Idle No More movement, and through activism and leadership that first nations have consistently shown, saying that they are opposed to the government's agenda, and Bill S-8 is one of those reasons if we look at it clearly.

We are also very concerned about the pattern of unilaterally imposing legislation. We recognize that the AFN, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, a series of representative organizations of first nations have been very clear in their opposition to Bill S-8.

The reality is that the government is trying to change the channel on its own failed rhetoric around accountability and transparency, words that it cannot take to heart, given the recent scandals that have emerged. The government is trying to change the channel and put the blame on first nations.

When it comes to something as serious as access to safe drinking water, there is no room for these kinds of political games. The government should stand up, and instead of changing the channel, instead of imposing legislation, instead of breaking its commitment under the treaties and disrespecting aboriginal rights, it should work with first nations in partnership to make the investments that are necessary and obvious to ensure that safe access to drinking water exists in first nations communities the way it exists in communities across the country.

For the people of Island Lake, for first nations across this country, for all Canadians, we deserve better from the government.

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June 6th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to thank my colleague from Churchill for her wonderful speech and, above all, for her passion for her constituents. I know that she takes their rights and interests to heart. She demonstrates that day after day in the House.

The member spoke about the government's obligation to consult and accommodate aboriginal peoples, and I would like hear her say more about that.

Every time we raise the issue of fundamental aboriginal rights, as set out in the Constitution, it seems that the government has forgotten that aspect of its obligations. Each time, numerous aboriginal organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, write to the government to complain about the lack of consultation and, in particular, the lack of accommodation. That obligation goes hand in hand with the obligation to consult.

I would like to hear more from the member on that because I know that the Assembly of First Nations, for one, has complained about it.

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June 6th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague.

I would like to say that it is truly a privilege to be able to work with him. He is a leader among Canada's aboriginal people. I am proud that, together, we can promote the NDP's vision, which is very supportive of aboriginal peoples. We will stand firm and fearless in opposition to this government. We will oppose its agenda, which is colonial in nature and paternalistic towards first nations.

In answer to his question, I would like to quote the Assembly of First Nations. This text, which is only available in English, is about this bill and was submitted to the Senate committee.

Bill S-8, as part of an ongoing process started with Bill S-11 prior to the CFNG, continues a pattern of unilaterally imposed legislation and does not meet the standards of joint development and clear recognition of First Nation jurisdiction. The engagement of some First Nations and the modest changes made to the Bill do not respond to the commitment to mutual respect and partnership envisioned by the CFNG.

Not only is it against the duty to consult and not only is it against the Prime Minister's commitment to a new relationship during the Crown–First Nations Gathering; this bill also continues, unfortunately, a historical pattern of imposing a colonial view. As a piece of legislation on something as serious as safe drinking water, it is going to cause more damage, create the potential for tremendous liability and not actually live to up to any of the things that the government ought to be doing; in fact, it would further impoverish and marginalize first nations that need the federal government to act.

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June 6th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for Churchill, who gives her all every day defending aboriginal peoples, among others. She is the NDP caucus leader at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We just came from our review of Bill S-2, and she was able to share her vast knowledge on the subject.

Earlier, the hon. member talked about the importance of information. This concept was also raised this morning by the hon. member for Mississauga South. In her speech, she said that since we do not have enough trained people to do the work in the communities, such as installing sewers and water systems, which requires rather technical skills, we would train people there, either aboriginals or other people.

One of the challenges we are dealing with in the committee studying Bill S-2 has to do with money. People on site are being given responsibilities, but not the means to carry out those responsibilities.

I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

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

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for raising such an important point.

I will begin by saying that I invite all the Conservative members, who are listening to me closely I am sure, to visit our region in northern Manitoba to see for themselves what it means not to have access to drinking water and related essential services. That is the reality for these first nation communities.

They did not ask for this. This government and the previous Liberal governments did not invest enough money in infrastructure and training. The Harper government continues to marginalize the first nations. This is a national disgrace and it must change.

It will change in future thanks to NDP leadership.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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”.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, in all of our dealings with first nations, there is always the honour of the Crown that is involved. My colleague also rightly pointed out that the corresponding obligation with consultation is accommodation, in order to respond exactly to the concerns that were expressed in those consultations.

In the Haida case, the Supreme Court stated that consultation may also involve full consent. Those are not my words, but the Supreme Court's. On very serious issues, that is what the Supreme Court said.

Is it just me, or are we missing the point again here?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for reminding us, and I do acknowledge his long experience and expertise in this field as a well-respected leader of the James Bay Cree and the northern Quebec Cree people.

We are missing the point collectively, but some people are missing the point by design and deliberately. It is very convenient when they keep changing ministers and they keep changing members of the aboriginal affairs committee, so that nothing ever happens. We are paralyzed. It is almost too important to be left in the hands of political discourse. It is just basic needs, and it should simply be done. We might have to book $5 billion, which is the estimate of the immediate shortfall just to provide running water, never mind adequate sewage treatment, et cetera, to the homes. We are missing the boat.

I do not want my grandchildren to look up to me someday and say, “Grandpa, what did you do to address the appalling social conditions that used to exist in Canada? Were you part of the problem or part of the solution?” All of us in this chamber should be asking ourselves the same question.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, the phony outrage from my friend opposite is almost too much for me to bear, having 10 reserves in my constituency and he having none.

The contrast between the reserves in my constituency and the thriving agricultural communities around them is very stark. The agricultural communities are self-sufficient, thriving and have a very important difference from the reserve communities: people have property rights. When people have property rights, they generate property taxes. The comparison between how much money is spent by the federal government and students in general is an apples and oranges comparison, because those agricultural communities generate property taxes because they have property rights.

One thing that my hon. friend said that I did agree with is that the Indian Act needs to be changed. I agree that the Indian Act should be changed, to allow private property rights on reserves. The great Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, says that the key first step in the development of poor and desperate communities is property rights.

Would the member agree with a move by our government if we decide to do this, to allow private property rights on reserves?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is what this debate really needs: more Eurocentric ignorance from a bunch of redneck hillbillies. That is really helpful.

I once sat with a bunch of women from the Six Nations including Cayuga, Oneida and Mohawk. This is just an example of how insensitivity and naiveté are not helpful. They said that in their community women are not even allowed to run for chief. Everybody shook their heads and said that seemed terrible. However, she said that the men are not allowed to vote. Over thousands of years, they had arrived at a system that worked for them. It may not match the Human Rights Code of Canada, but over thousands of years the women were in charge of electing the chief, even if the women could not themselves run for chief. It worked for them.

One does not impose one's Eurocentric ideas on traditional cultures with thousands of years of history. Home ownership is actually not part of the culture in many communities; more of a co-operative ownership is. Therefore, it is a simplistic example from my colleague who illegally mails into my riding far too often, using his MP's mailing privileges. I am saving all the envelopes to deliver back to him, in Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette someday, all of the propaganda that he fires into my riding, which is 20% first nations by their own self-identification in the last census. That would be 20,000 people who self-identify, so I guess I have quite a few first nations people in my riding too, probably more than he has.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to participate in this debate today. I want to say at the outset that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Edmonton Centre.

Just this morning we saw the results of the good work of the Conservative government when it comes to working with first nations people. We were in the aboriginal affairs committee discussing the Yale First Nation Final Agreement, which involved Chief Robert Hope of the Yale First Nation, the Government of Canada and the Government of B.C. I am hopeful that will move ahead quickly. We saw how it can work when we work together. Certainly, I want to congratulate the Yale First Nation in my riding of Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon for all its hard work over 20 years at the table and finally getting the resolution they have been seeking with their treaty.

I am here today to talk about Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act. I believe this is an act that fully deserves the support of all colleagues in the House. The proposed legislation would address the serious problem of chronic unsafe drinking water in many first nations through an innovative and collaborative process, which is the key. The proposed process would have first nations work alongside government officials to design and implement regulatory regimes.

A starting point for this work would be the regulations that currently apply to communities adjacent to first nations, which is good common sense. More precisely, this means reviewing provincial or territorial regulations and adapting them to recognize the particular circumstances of first nations communities. We certainly recognize that an Ottawa-based, one-size-fits-all solution is not the solution that first nations need.

Members of this House need to recognize that currently no legally enforceable drinking water and waste water regulations exist for first nations on reserve. This is simply unacceptable. Regulations provide the framework for safe drinking water and waste water systems. They are essential because they map out clear lines of responsibility for each of the many steps required to safeguard water quality, such as source protection, regular quality testing and close adherence to established standards and protocols for water treatment and distribution. This is why regulations are essential for first nations communities. We must safeguard the drinking water for first nations members.

In essence, Bill S-8 is enabling legislation, as the member for Peace River, the chairman of the aboriginal affairs committee, stated earlier. It would authorize regulatory regimes developed through the collaborative process that I have just described. The proposed legislation does not dictate what the regimes must contain.

Unfortunately, some critics have chosen to misinterpret this approach and portray the bill instead as an effort by the Government of Canada to offload some of its liabilities. A closer look at the issue, however, reveals that this is simply not the case.

The truth is that collaboratively developed regulations would clarify the roles and responsibilities of all parties, including chiefs, band councils, water operators, and federal departments and agencies. The Government of Canada has no plan to offload or download its responsibilities to first nations, or to provinces and municipalities for that matter. Bill S-8 aims to engage as many stakeholders as possible in the design and implementation of regulatory regimes that protect the safety of drinking water.

Collaboration has been a defining characteristic of our government's efforts to resolve the issue of first nations access to safe drinking water since the very beginning. Seven years ago, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations agreed upon a joint plan of action. For instance, both partners appointed members to the expert panel that reviewed regulatory options. Although the panel did not recommend a particular option, it did lay out the benefits and limitation of various options. The panel's final report repeatedly emphasized the need for ongoing collaboration.

Here is an excerpt from that report:

The federal government and First Nations partners should take steps to pare away bureaucracy, collaborate with provinces on tri-partite harmonization, and both simplify and update procurement procedures. Over time, First Nations should take on an increasing share of the activities directly related to planning, procuring and gaining approval for plants.

Bill S-8 proposes to follow the expert panel's advice by authorizing regulations developed with the direct input of first nations and designed to meet the particular needs and circumstances of their communities. The government's approach with Bill S-8 effectively rejects other options that have been considered in the past, such as imposing a single federal regime or merely incorporating provincial and territorial regulations without adaptation. These one-size-fits-all approaches are attractive because they should make it easier and faster to establish regulations and assign responsibilities, but these approaches could never reconcile the significant differences that exist among first nations communities. The truth is that we believe the best solution is to design and implement regulations by working directly with first nations and other stakeholders. This is a bottom-up rather than top-down exercise.

To get a sense of what the process might look like, I draw the attention of the House to an effort led by the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat. Known as the APC, this advocacy and policy group comprises representatives from more than 30 first nations located in the Atlantic provinces. For the last few years, the APC has been studying regulatory options for drinking water.

Representatives of the APC described this work to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on May 23. Mr. John Paul, APC's executive director, said the organization appreciates that drinking water is ultimately a health and safety issue. Here is an excerpt of his testimony. He said:

We need to own whatever regulations come out of this, and we need to believe that they're workable and to figure out exactly what we need to do on the human resources side, the governance, and all of those different things.

In an effort to take ownership of regulations, the APC contracted one of Canada's most qualified experts in drinking water, Dr. Graham Gagnon, director of the Centre for Water Resources Studies at Dalhousie University. With Dr. Gagnon's help, the APC has developed a list of the technical benchmarks that could provide the basis for a regulatory regime. Perhaps more significantly, however, the APC and Dr. Gagnon have been working on a new approach to regulating the safety of first nations drinking water. The approach would involve a regional first nation water authority. The authority would be similar to those that other communities in Canada use to help govern public utilities and post-secondary education institutions.

Here is how Dr. Gagnon described the proposed authority to the standing committee:

Implementation of a first nations regional water authority would enable coordinated decision-making, maximize efficiencies of resource allocation, and establish a professionally based organization that would be in the best position to oversee activities related to drinking water and waste water disposal. This would, on a day-to-day basis, transfer liability away from chiefs and councils, and pass it to a technical group.

That is very important. He said this would, on a day-to-day basis, transfer liability away from chiefs and councils and pass it to a technical group. As the quote indicates, the creation of a first nations-owned authority could be a valuable part of the solution, at least for Atlantic first nations. APC continues to investigate this option.

It is impossible to say if all first nations would pursue such an approach, but the mechanism proposed in Bill S-8 would provide first nations with the opportunity to propose and develop solutions that best meet their needs and best protect their communities. As the APC's example indicated, liability would not be downloaded or offloaded to first nations but, rather, options would be developed to address the role and responsibilities of the various stakeholders by region. This collaborative approach is precisely why we should endorse the legislation before us.

Our government fully supports Mr. Paul and the APC as they develop their regulations, and we hope the opposition will realize how important this is and support Bill S-8. The bill would help us move forward and work with first nations to develop regulations that serve them well and help provide safe drinking water for first nations right across the country.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his fine speech.

Now there is something I would like to know: why did the government ignore the Assembly of First Nations' recommendation to address the issue of safe drinking water for everyone?

Why is the government again calling for the incorporation by reference of provincial legislation, effectively transferring responsibility to the provinces?

How much is this going to cost the provinces? Will the provinces turn to the federal government to ask for money to cover the costs of clean water in aboriginal communities?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, as chance would have it—and I am not sure if the hon. member heard that speech—I did give a riveting speech on incorporation by reference of regulations just last week. I know she was there for that.

We are working closely with first nations to develop these regulations. Certainly, we have been at the table with significant funding to ensure we are providing that infrastructure for first nations, as I mentioned earlier in the debate. Between 2006 and 2014, we will have provided $3 billion in infrastructure upgrades. Since just 2007, nearly 700 projects have been undertaken to provide that critical infrastructure for first nations who do not have it.

We are going to work with the first nations. Again, the government has committed $330.8 million over two years through economic action plan 2012 to help sustain progress made to build and renovate water infrastructure on reserve.

We continue to be there, both with a collaborative approach with first nations and with financial resources to ensure we are providing first nations with the infrastructure they need.

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June 6th, 2013 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting. I have heard a number of the Conservative members make reference to the fact that they are going to work with first nations. I had the opportunity a number of months ago to meet with some members from our first nations community. There is a sense that the government is not working with them in dealing with the legislation itself.

Now the government is passing through the legislation in a way that very much limits debate, opportunities for amendments and so forth. Yet, once the legislation passes, we are being told not to worry because the government has set some money aside. It says it will have this legislation and now it will work with our first nations.

My question is related to the credibility issue. In the minds of many first nations, in particular the leaders of first nations, there is this sense that the government has not been working with them in good faith to try to resolve this issue.

How does the member envision his government will fix the damage that has been caused as a result of the bad faith that is there? It is very real. I have seen it first hand. We hear it in committees and so forth. Is there not an issue there that has to be dealt with to build up that trust?

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June 6th, 2013 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me just say that I will certainly put the record of this government on delivering results for grassroots first nations people up against the record of 13 years of inaction of the previous Liberal government.

We have worked together. I mentioned that at the beginning of my speech. We worked together today and debated a treaty in committee, working together with three levels of government to deliver results. There is certainly no broken trust there.

We have also been involved in an extensive engagement with first nations on this issue since we formed government. In the summer of 2006, the expert panel held public hearings across Canada. It heard from 110 presenters. In March 2009, there was a series of engagement sessions with more than 700 participants, of which 544 were first nations. In the winter of 2009-10, we met with first nations chiefs to discuss implementation and engagement during the earlier sessions. From October 2010 until October 2011, we held without prejudice discussions with first nations organizations to address their concerns.

This is a collaborative approach. We are going to continue to work with first nations. We know that working with them will deliver results for first nations communities.

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June 6th, 2013 / 4:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise to speak to and declare my support for Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act.

The proposed legislation is based on a thorough review of the considerable amount of evidence available, including numerous reports and studies and testimony provided to parliamentary committees.

I believe that anyone who consulted this material would reach the inescapable conclusion that Bill S-8 must be enacted for Canada to make lasting progress on the issue of safe drinking water in first nations communities.

It is my hope that Canadians do not base their opinions of Bill S-8 on other sources of information, such as the popular media or views expressed by various interest and advocacy groups. Unfortunately, some of these sources present false or misleading information.

In my remarks today, I will identify and disprove many common myths about Bill S-8. The first myth is that the Government of Canada did not consult first nations prior to introducing Bill S-8. This could not be further from the truth. When we examine the facts, we will see that an extensive engagement and consultation process has been under way for more than seven years. Furthermore, this effort would only continue once Bill S-8 has passed, as government and first nations officials would work together to design and implement regulations.

Here are the relevant facts. In 2006, our government, working with the Assembly of First Nations, established an expert panel to hold public hearings to examine potential regulatory options. More than 110 individuals presented to the panel. Another two dozen submitted written reports. Almost all of the submissions and presentations came from first nations groups.

In April 2007, we held a joint workshop together with the Assembly of First Nations and its technical water expert group to engage in the proposed options for regulations and identify any challenges or issues.

In early 2009, we conducted a series of 13 engagement sessions with first nations communities and organizations and with provincial and territorial groups. Of the approximately 700 participants, more than 540 were members of first nations.

In September 2009, government officials met with first nations chiefs and organizations to discuss some of the specific issues raised during the engagement sessions. Starting in October 2010, a series of without prejudice discussions continued for another full year with first nations organizations, and that collaboration continues today. Clearly, consultation has taken place.

A second pervasive myth about Bill S-8 is that it would negatively impact aboriginal and treaty rights. The truth is, however, that this is not the case. Bill S-8 includes a carefully crafted non-derogation clause. In essence, the non-derogation clause included in Bill S-8 would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal treaty rights if it is necessary to ensure safety of first nations drinking water.

We believe this clause effectively balances the need to respect aboriginal treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the need to protect human health.

A third myth is that the Government of Canada would not provide first nations with the money needed to abide by new regulations governing water. Once again, this is absolutely false. Between 2006 and 2014, our government will have invested approximately $3 billion in water and waste water infrastructure in first nations communities.

Last year's economic action plan alone committed $330.8 million over two years to build and renovate on-reserve water infrastructure, and our government has reiterated on multiple occasions in this House, before committee and in writing to every chief in Canada our commitment to provide ongoing financial support for drinking water.

Instead of focusing on what Bill S-8 would not do, members should focus more on what it would do. The bill proposes to finally create a mechanism to develop regulations in collaboration with first nations. Until regulations are drafted, it is impossible to know exactly how much money first nations would need to be able to comply with them. This is precisely why strong collaboration is central to this government's strategy to ensure safe drinking water for first nations.

Our government would continue to provide funding for first nations for their need to participate in a process to design, implement and comply with regulations.

Another myth put forward is that Bill S-8 would incorporate provincial and territorial regulations without adaptations and would give authority to the provincial or territorial governments.

Once again, this is false. Building on and adapting to provincial and territorial regulatory frameworks would not give provinces or territories control over drinking water and waste water systems on first nations lands. Rather it would produce federal regulations that are comparable to provincial-territorial regulations and provide first nations communities and municipalities with opportunities to work together in areas such as training and new technologies.

Adapting provincial and territorial regulations would ensure comparability with existing, well-understood regulations, thus increasing certainty about regulatory standards for users and operators of drinking water and waste water systems. This would allow the government and first nations to use existing provincial and territorial water regulations as a starting point to identify areas that could be used as federal regulations and to adapt them according to the needs of first nations.

Bill S-8 would lead to the establishment of a series of regional regulatory regimes. Each of these regimes would be based on relevant provincial or territorial regulations, but the regulations would be adapted to meet the particular needs and circumstances of first nations communities and would be developed and finalized with first nations.

Closely tied to this myth is another misconception that Bill S-8 would impose provincial or territorial jurisdiction on first nations. In reality, there is nothing in Bill S-8 that would give provinces or territories control over drinking water and waste water systems on first nations lands. The proposed legislation would create federal regimes that use provincial or territorial regulations as a template. That would inspire opportunities for collaboration among first nations and neighbouring communities and municipalities.

Some critics contend that first nations would have no input into what the regulations developed under Bill S-8 would contain. The truth is exactly the opposite. First nations would have a great deal of input into the development of regulations. Our government would work in partnership with first nations and other groups, such as provincial agencies, to develop federal regulations and standards. The regulations would be based on meeting the real-world challenges of providing safe drinking water in a particular region. This approach works. The Atlantic Policy Congress has already been working with government officials on regulatory development. These collaborations will be the foundation of regulations developed under Bill S-8.

The next myth is that Bill S-8 would somehow prevent first nations from initiating and enacting their own regulations, policies and laws on drinking water. There is nothing in Bill S-8 that would take away a first nation's authority to create bylaws under paragraph 81(1)(l) of the Indian Act. In fact, it is possible that a first nation's bylaw could supersede regulations created under Bill S-8. This would occur if the first nation's bylaw established a comparable or superior level of health and safety. Bill S-8 would also allow for the use of existing first nations bylaws, if appropriate.

Finally, there is the myth that Bill S-8 would somehow expose first nations to liability issues. However, regulations developed from this proposed act could add protections against liability by establishing what the limits on liability would be for all parties involved, including first nations. Regulations would define the roles and legal responsibilities of all parties, and in the process, clarify responsibilities related to drinking water. The best options would be developed to address the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders by region, because as was said previously by my friend from Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, there is no one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter approach. We have 631 first nations, and many of them have unique circumstances.

I call on opposition members to start listening to the facts on Bill S-8. I could say that they are hard of hearing, but that would not be true. I would say that they are probably hard of listening. We would like them to listen to the facts on Bill S-8 rather than to the many myths. If they do this, I am confident that they will not be able to vote against Bill S-8—hope springs eternal—and will finally agree that first nations deserve safe drinking water.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech.

He wants to talk about the facts, so we will. He is repeating over and over that the government consulted with first nations and that it is a myth that they were not consulted. I would like him to talk about that, since it is important to me. Existing constitutional law requires that the government consult and accommodate first nations. There is the matter of consultation, but there is also the obligation of accommodation. The government must address the concerns raised during these consultations.

I would like to hear the member speak to that. Major aboriginal organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations have expressed doubts about this consultation. I would like to know how he defines consultation.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, consultations take many forms. Consultations on a project like this are obviously ongoing. They are a work in progress. The simple fact is that we have consulted very extensively, on this and other issues, with first nations. We talked about some that I mentioned in my remarks. There were various consultations, where there were hundreds of participants, the majority of whom were first nations. There were various consultations in September 2009 with first nations chiefs and organizations.

We talked about the Atlantic group, which has seen some results from those kinds of consultations. That is the kind of thing we need to do, replicate and adapt to local circumstances in the rest of the country.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. I am responding to his wanting facts.

The United Nations has recognized water and sanitation as a human right. In July 2010, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly agreed to a resolution declaring it a human right to have safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. The resolution had 122 countries vote in its favour, while 41 countries, including Canada, abstained.

At the time of the resolution, more than 100 boil water advisories were in effect on reserves. For another 49 first nation communities, boiling water did not make the water safe enough for consumption. As of July 2011, there were 126 first nation communities across Canada under drinking water advisories, an increase from 106 communities in 2008.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I never doubt my colleague's sincerity, but I have to point to the record Canada has achieved since 2006. Over 700 projects have been put in place, and there are more to come. There is $3 billion being spent. We do not need the United Nations to tell us how to do that kind of business.

I will ask, with the greatest respect to my colleague, because she was not here at the time, if it is fair to say that we are doing less than the Liberals talked about. The difference is that we are actually doing something, and we are doing a lot. It is easy to talk. It is tougher to do. We are actually doing something.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I have heard in the debate today is that with over 600 different first nations, we have non-treaty, treaty, rural and urban areas. This is a wide, encompassing topic. One thing I have heard time and again from members is that the government is collaborating and the approach is on a case-by-case basis.

For example, the Penticton Indian Band has a tremendous opportunity in the Arrowleaf development it wants. It needs water to go ahead with that, among other things. The band may choose to work with the adjacent municipality or may choose to go on its own. It will not be clean water for just the members' own consumption. This will allow them to expand their economic development.

I would appreciate it if the member could highlight some of the other points in relation to better drinking water and more waste water sanitation opportunities, with a focus on economic development and helping on a case-by-case basis.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question, because it gives me an opportunity to talk about that. We talked about clean water, waste water and so on, and that is critically important. However, there is a longer-term aim here, and that is to help our first nations get educated and trained. They can develop some economic opportunities for themselves in whatever municipality they are in or nearby.

There is nothing to say that they could not take on providing waste water services and clean drinking water for a non-aboriginal, non-first nations community. We want that kind of economic development. We want that kind of participation from our first nations people throughout the country. It is going to be different in Nova Scotia, Alberta and wherever else. That is why it is so important that we collaborate locally, that we do it in good faith and that we do it flexibly and aggressively.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Manicouagan.

I rise today to speak to Bill S-8. I had the opportunity to speak to this bill last November. I sat on the committee and I must say that the testimony from witnesses only reinforced the NDP's opinion that this is a flawed piece of legislation.

At the heart of this debate is a basic human right: the right to safe, affordable and adequate drinking water. Unfortunately, this is a challenge in many Canadian communities, including several first nations and Inuit communities.

Canada has such an abundance of water that it is hard to imagine that such problems could exist in such a developed country.

While the appropriate course of action is to develop safe, reliable systems in partnership with the communities in need, the Conservative government has chosen to legislate regulations that would force these communities to go it alone. In fact, this legislation seems more about pursuing a Conservative view of how first nations should be run than about dealing with the actual problem. It would create demands and conditions for first nations, yet it is predictably short on the resources that would allow these communities to comply.

Bill S-8 excuses the government from its primary obligations to first nations while subjecting them to substantial risk, significant financial burdens and a patchwork of provincial standards for the delivery of safe drinking water.

This bill fails miserably when it comes to the real challenge, which is helping first nations build the capacity that would allow them to do the work of administering water and waste water systems on their lands. It is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. In the case of communities that have been consistently asking for assistance for specific problems, they are getting rules and regulations instead of help with bricks and mortar.

The problems we have seen with flooding this spring in Kashechewan help illustrate this point. That community has been asking for help with waste water, which has been identified as problematic, since flooding in 2008. It has asked for assistance in developing storm sewers and with placing back-flow limiters on each house. Guess what? The government has consistently refused to step up, and this spring, homes in that community were inundated with backed-up raw sewage, which then forced the community to be evacuated. The minister tried to blame this on the lack of training, yet it was a company that was actually monitoring this.

On a larger scale, we can consider the testimony the committee heard from a municipal group that included the mayor of Maple Ridge and metro Vancouver's general manager of corporate services, both of whom sit on metro Vancouver's aboriginal relations committee. They reminded the committee that the report of the 2009 national assessment of first nations water and waste water estimated the cost to bring 618 individual first nations up to standard would be $4.7 billion, and it would take a decade. In addition to that, the cost to operate these improved systems would be $419 million a year.

The metro Vancouver delegation told us that local governments were concerned about this legislation's broad powers to delegate to any person or body any aspect of drinking water provision, monitoring and enforcement, which could have significant implications for local governments, as providers of utility services. It also highlighted areas of concern identified by local governments.

On that note, I want to tell the House that what we were hearing was that it may be very difficult to have municipal governments even wanting to assist first nations in hooking up to their systems because of the onerous aspects of this legislation.

Among their concerns were the following: there has been a lack of consultation and local government input; the transfer of responsibilities is unknown; the level of services is unclear; there are challenges with bylaw regulations and enforcement; there are legislative and jurisdictional uncertainties, which appear to be similar to the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act; regulatory authority over reserves is unclear; there is a need to clarify financial liabilities; there are unknown funding capacities; and there is a lack of an adequate implementation plan. Does that sound like legislation that is ready to roll out? I do not think so.

As I mentioned, the committee heard from many witnesses who spoke to the deficiencies in Bill S-8. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has made three submissions on this bill and its predecessor, Bill S-11. It echoed many of the criticisms of other witnesses and stated:

We remain alarmed and concerned with the federal government’s continued approach and insistence that legislation is the answer for First Nations. We question why the current Canadian Government must be compelled to legislate as opposed to doing what is humane and just by providing adequate resources to ensure comparable water systems as the rest of Canada.

It went on to state:

Trust is earned through respectful, reciprocal and honourable actions and good faith negotiations.

It added:

The creation of legislation and policy without seeking and meeting the realistic needs of First Nations will not create success or the accountability that government is seeking for its investments.

It is not for a lack of desire that first nations do not have appropriate systems to deliver safe drinking water or manage waste water. If there is a deficiency in the process, it is certainly related to being able to deliver on those desires.

I have heard from Whitefish River First Nation on this subject as well. In a letter to the minister, Chief Shining Turtle provided the government with some basic math that showed how flimsy the government's community infrastructure investment was, and also illustrated the incredible costs related to doing the kind of work that Bill S-8 would make mandatory for these communities.

Here is the math that I believe needs to be considered by all members. The government has committed $155 million over 10 years, so let us do the math. This comes out to about $15 million a year, divide that over 8 regions that INAC uses and it becomes $1.94 million a year per region. We are going down. Divide the $1.94 million over the Ontario region's 133 first nations and the total is $14,567.67 a year. How far will that go?

One more crucial number that has been provided is the cost per metre to construct water mains on the Whitefish River First Nation. It is $300 per metre.

While the government brags about the size of their investment in community infrastructure for first nations, in reality that money is only enough to build 48.5 metres of water main a year.

In addition to these problems, Bill S-8 regulations may incorporate, by reference, provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water in first nations communities, but 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.

In addition to that, the regulations in this bill would overrule any laws or bylaws made by first nations. Bill S-8 would also 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. The connection to health and economic well-being that flows from safe, dependable and affordable water cannot be dismissed, but this legislation is missing the mark entirely.

In addition to that, the bill would leave communities on the hook for existing problems they may not have created themselves. In those instances, if what these places really want is to start over in an attempt to get things right, the reality is they will be saddled with problem systems they have inherited.

It will make first nations liable for water systems that have already proven inadequate, but offers no funding to help them improve those deficient systems. Even if a first nation wants to build a replacement to better suit its needs, it will have to maintain its old, often costly systems at the same time.

Here is an example of how that will work. Constance Lake First Nation's water supply has been through a state of emergency. Its traditional water source was contaminated by blue-green alga, which resulted in a shutdown of its water treatment plant. It has drilled two new wells and has been off boil-water advisories for the first time in years, but also requires a new system to ensure quality and to meet its growing demand. Under the provisions of this legislation, it will be liable for the old system, while it tries to build a new one. It will be forced to waste money instead of being allowed to invest it smartly.

I see my time is up, and I will finish up the rest during the question and answer period.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will focus on one point to give my colleague time to make her other points.

The concern that many of us have is that instead of fixing a problem, the Conservatives are actually going to complicate the problem more, based on the point the member just made, and that is to make matters worse through administration and not providing the capacity. Most of those problems could have been avoided if they had listened to the people who came to committee and had consulted in real terms the very people we are trying to help.

Could the member comment on that and elaborate a bit more on the other points she wanted to make?

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is exactly what we are talking about. We need to build capacity and we need to have the resources, but we cannot do that through this type of legislation.

What the Conservatives are trying to do is really download onto municipalities, the first nations and, in some respects, onto provinces. This is exactly what I was talking about. This is a recipe for failure, not a fix for the basic problem that plagues too many first nations communities. Again, had the Conservatives listened to these communities, they would have known as much.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her speech.

I would like to hear her opinion on the lack of access to drinking water on reserve. How does it affect people's health and education? When I say education, I am not talking about how parents raise their children, but about the education these children are getting in school. If they do not have enough drinking water, it cannot be very pleasant to go to school.

I would like to know what is happening to aboriginal people across the country who are in a similar situation, meaning, who are dealing with a lack of water or who have undrinkable water.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. I really appreciate that the NDP is so engaged in this issue.

I can talk about the problems related to a lack of drinking water. Tuberculosis is more common among first nations who do not have a reliable source of drinking water. There are a variety of health problems related to this issue. It also creates a significant problem in the community's ability to diversify and build a strong economy. It is difficult to encourage industry to come to the community if there is no infrastructure. Drinking water is a necessity.

We also heard about municipalities that have first nations reserves connected to their water supply. That is very problematic because, in the context of this bill, the government did not take the time to consult either first nations or the municipalities that have to provide this service.

I think that we will find there are municipalities that are not interested in providing that service to first nations. Good relations could have developed in those instances.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent presentation on a fundamental and crucial issue.

I wanted to ask a more legal and specific question. I know that the member for Manicouagan will talk to us about this shortly.

In December 2011, the Assembly of First Nations adopted a resolution that called on the government to guarantee that appropriate funding be available for any regulations governing implementation, to support first nations in the process of developing their own water supply systems, and to work together with the AFN to develop an immediate plan to address the lack of clean and safe water.

I do not know if I am the only one, but does my colleague also have the impression that we are just scratching the surface of the problem, and that the bill is a half measure?

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief.

The first nations that appeared before the committee said that they could put in place a good system to help their communities if they had the necessary means and resources. We can help communities access clean drinking water by giving them the means and the resources they need, not by introducing bills such as this.

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June 6th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had a very quick look at my recent speeches in the House, and I noticed a common underlying thread in a large number of bills introduced in the House. I have already made at least three speeches this week that touched on the same subjects, the same common thread and the same trains of thought.

At the risk of being redundant, I want to point out that the government is gradually and stealthily trying to distance itself and step back from its obligations. This is evident with the introduction of both private members' and government bills that allow the government to gradually transfer its obligations to provide services to Canadians across the country. For example, it is delegating its obligation to deliver services to charities, which are not accountable. Bill S-8 is no different.

When I consider my brief experience here in the House and the many hours I have spent in committee, I come to the same conclusion. In reality, many initiatives that focus on “Indianness” and aboriginal issues seek to allow the government to opt out of its obligations and shift the burden it has because of the fiduciary relationship, among other things, onto the backs of third parties or band councils.

This relates to Bill S-8, which pertains to safe drinking water. I am thinking, in particular, of the First Nations Land Management Act. This initiative was brought forward to, ultimately, technically and officially, give first nations communities back a certain amount of control over land management and authorizations related to partial occupancy.

In reality, if a legal expert truly focused on the enactment and the letter of this law, he would clearly see that the burden shifts the moment an agreement is signed under the First Nations Land Management Act. The environmental liabilities—past, present and future—are then assumed by the band.

As a result, all the profiteering and negligence of successive governments over the years in relation to environmental monitoring, management and assessments just add to the negligence we are seeing in 2013. The results could be catastrophic. That is why the government is trying to opt out of these obligations. It is important to remember that the reclamation of a single parcel of land on a given reserve can easily cost $100,000. It depends on whether we are dealing with oil or other pollutants and contaminants.

The same reasoning applies in the case of Bill S-8. The government is simply shifting its obligations with regard to access to safe drinking water, infrastructure upgrades and water management and filtration onto the backs of first nations and band councils, which do not have enough funding to take on these sometimes costly responsibilities. I am just thinking about my community, which recently had to deal with contaminated water. There are huge costs associated with these types of problems.

An informed review of the proposed legislative initiative indicates that there are non-derogation clauses whose interpretation and application would open the door to the abrogation of ancestral and treaty rights.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue my speech.

We were talking about the Canadian government's desire to distance itself from highly contentious issues, such as the provision of services to Canadians, and also matters pertaining to drinking water and the upgrading of drinking water infrastructure.

That is why these clauses have been added and why a trend is emerging from this initiative and many others as well. We see that it is fragmented. The Canadian government is trying to gradually distance itself from highly contentious issues on which the national and international media have shone a rather unfavourable spotlight.

However, first and foremost, with respect to the provision of services to Canadians, we have seen that the government's priorities are clearly focused on natural resource extraction. In keeping with what my hon. colleague said, the government is pandering to its political base. That is why there will be cherry-picking and certain issues will be given priority in the Conservatives' hidden agenda.

Now, with regard to Bill S-8, the government is adding phrases such as “to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands”. This type of phrase opens the door to the unilateral violation of aboriginal rights. That is extremely shameful and questionable. We know that aboriginal, treaty and other rights exercised by aboriginal peoples in Canada are enshrined in the Constitution. The fiduciary relationship also comes into play. Simply put, a fiduciary relationship necessarily implies that the first nations' interests will be the Canadian government's primary concern when it introduces legislation or plans to impose unilateral measures, such as those before the House.

This is enshrined in the Constitution and has been reiterated by the courts, including the Supreme Court. Once the Supreme Court has taken a position on a specific case, it becomes immutable. In this case, the Supreme Court indicated that these obligations were associated with every initiative that could potentially interfere with the traditional and modern way of life of first nations peoples.

As a result, the moment the government considers or makes a decision, whether it is based on policy or what is actually happening on the ground, before doing anything to implement that decision, it must ensure that the decision does not in any way interfere with the traditional activities and way of life of Canada's aboriginal peoples. Therein lies the problem in most cases. The government is generally reluctant to hold consultations and seek public approval because it is a lot of work. What is more, we know that when public consultations are held, there is a good chance that people will not agree and that they will be fairly vocal about it. People will openly express their opinions. That is the concept behind direct democracy: the public is called upon to take a stand.

As the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou mentioned, when people are consulted, there is the possibility that they will not agree with what is being proposed. That is always one of the options that a person has. That person can simply say no and reject the measure that is being proposed, and that is a valid response.

Social acceptability often appears to be the desired outcome, because it confers prestige. This is not nearly as meaningful in 2013. It has been tarnished and taken over by industry. I would say that social acceptability is rather abstract and not something that ought to be pursued. It may well be that there is simply no acceptability and that people take a position against certain projects.

The Supreme Court clearly established that any infringement of aboriginal prerogatives must be seen in light of the methods preferred by aboriginal peoples to exercise their rights. It must also take into consideration the need to avoid any infringement of aboriginal rights to the greatest extent possible. There is nothing exhaustive about this list. I am just briefly listing a number of criteria. It also needs to include fair compensation in the event of expropriation and, lastly, it necessarily implies that there be consultations.

As I just mentioned, the issue of consultations is the sticking point in 2013. In the case of most, if not all of the statutes and legislative tools brought to my attention over the past two years I have sat in the House, the government has shown little desire to consult the aboriginal population in general.

The government seems content to have asked nine community leaders for their opinion. Turning to the 3,000 members of a community and being prepared to brave the storm is not exactly at the top of the Conservatives’ agenda in 2013. This is understandable, because public support is not necessarily in the cards. Some Conservative members have even been stopped from going into a Tim Hortons for a coffee in their own riding because the locals want to tear off their heads.

In short, the social and political conditions are not right for their policies, their approach and the directives coming from their backbench MPs.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 6:35 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Manicouagan for his speech.

People always feel threatened by his razor-sharp mind. I found his perspective very interesting and would like to make a daring comparison. I hope he will forgive me.

As a result of my experience to date as a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, I have detected a general trend, which is not exclusive to the Conservative government, towards offloading more and more responsibilities on putative grounds of economic realism and the need for budget cuts. This means that such responsibilities are transferred to other levels of government that could be described as lower.

As I was listening to my colleague’s speech, I was thinking that this was clearly one of the consequences, and that it was probably based on similar considerations. I would like to know what he thinks of it.

Is the federal government generally attempting to shirk its responsibilities?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 6:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I would go even further and say that they are trying to unburden themselves by shifting responsibility to organizations that are not accountable.

Often, the common thread binding some of these issues is that they are more or less contentious or controversial. That is why the government is attempting to distance itself and to cut ties to avoid being accountable for the negative impacts of its sometimes unreasonable decisions.

The most recent trend—which I have observed of late—is to transfer everything to NPOs or charitable organizations because it is rather difficult to point fingers at a charitable organization and say that it has made a hash of managing a project. By definition, an NPO is a non-profit organization.

In short, public policy implementation is now being delegated blindly. We need to condemn this approach.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 6:40 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on something else that my colleague discussed.

I would like to suggest the following, because it would be the most promising and productive avenue for the future. I am talking about dialogue, the exercise of democracy, discussions and negotiations.

The federal government has frequently failed to broaden a number of debates. There are other examples as well of contentious issues across Canada. Some such issues are settled with some groups at the expense of others, without getting the latter involved.

Because my colleague raised this issue, I would like to ask whether he believes that the preliminary negotiations and dialogue in connection with this bill have at least been adequate?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 6:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. speaker, I thank my colleague once again for his question.

I am going to support my own views with facts. Once again this morning in committee, we were talking about signing a treaty that would exclude a nation in British Columbia, specifically the Sto:lo. There is a dispute over salmon and land.

I would say that Machiavellianism is still alive and well here in Canada's Parliament. This is unfortunate, but true. Aboriginal communities have an oral tradition, and have had for tens of thousands of years; everything is based on brotherly exchanges and on “emulatory” principles in accordance with which people tell the truth.

In 2013, the Conservatives and other governments before them—the blame must be placed on a single organization—successfully worked to divide and ensure that aboriginal bands, Indian bands, had disparities and claims that would ultimately bring them into conflict with one another. This mutual dislike was nurtured because it is much more profitable for some people to work with certain bands as individuals rather than as a part of a whole. When I give my own presentations and travel to reserves, I say that the solution and the future of aboriginal peoples reside in unity and a return to the values and oral cultures with which we grew up.

That is what I wanted to submit to the House.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton—Leduc.

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to explain to the opposition, and to Canadians, why I support Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, and why I urge my hon. colleagues to stop voting against a bill that would give first nations access to safe drinking water.

The solution at the heart of Bill S-8 is the product of more than seven years of engagement and discussion with a wide range of groups, including first nations, provinces, municipalities, parliamentary committees and organizations devoted to the science of drinking water.

Perhaps the best way to fully appreciate the considerable value of Bill S-8 is to trace its evolution.

In March 2006, our government, working with the Assembly of First Nations, announced the joint plan of action for drinking water in first nation communities. Among the five points in the plan of action was the development of an appropriate regulatory framework.

To help identify what the framework should consist of, the plan called for a panel of experts to be chosen by government and first nations officials. The expert panel held a series of hearings across Canada, in 9 locations in all, to hear from a total of 110 representatives from first nation communities, as well as other stakeholder groups. The panel also received and considered more than two dozen written submissions, most of them prepared by first nation communities and organizations. In its final report, the panel examined three regulatory options and provided valuable advice on the advantages and the disadvantages of each one.

The next step in Bill S-8's evolution occurred in 2009, when the Government of Canada held a series of engagement sessions with first nation groups. The sessions began in Whitehorse, Yukon, and continued in 12 other cities. The 13 engagement sessions attracted more than 500 participants representing first nations.

It is important to note that while work on a regulatory framework continued, our government continued to live up to the commitments it had made through the plan of action. Progress reports were tabled in Parliament, for instance, and budget 2008 invested approximately $330 million, over two years, in projects to improve drinking water in first nation communities. Budget 2009 included an additional $165 million per year, over two years, for first nation water and waste water infrastructure projects.

Our government is also committed to expanding the circuit rider training program and funding a national assessment of first nation water and waste water systems.

In 2010, the government introduced Bill S-11. A standing committee in the Senate held a series of hearings to review the proposed legislation and heard from 40 individual witnesses. Now, although this version of the bill died on the order paper in the initial review, it identified a number of challenges that have since been addressed.

In the interim, government officials continued to discuss regulatory options with first nation groups. Of particular note were the without prejudice discussions with regional first nation organizations across the country. It was during these without prejudice discussions that the first nations proposed a non-derogation clause that would resolve what was perceived to be a major problem with the previous version of Bill S-8. The problem involves the relationship between federal legislation and the constitutional rights of first nations.

The proposed clause would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal or treaty rights if it were necessary to ensure the safety of first nations' drinking water.

A second significant development came in the summer of 2011 when our government published the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems. I am proud to say that this was the most comprehensive examination of first nation water and waste water infrastructure in history.

This report shed a new light on the larger issues at play. The report found that many water systems in first nations communities had a high risk of failure to produce safe water if a problem were to arise. The report identified a need for clear guidelines and recommended the establishment of a regulatory framework for water and waste waster systems. This provided additional momentum to move ahead with the practical solutions.

Last year we introduced Bill S-8, a stronger version of its predecessor. There are several improvements worth noting, such as that the preamble in the proposed legislation explicitly states the government's intention to improve the health and safety of first nations and to work with first nations to develop drinking water regulations.

The new version includes a non-derogation clause that clearly addresses the relationship between the legislation and aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Clause 4.(1)(b) of the new version clarifies that any regulation on source water protection on first nation lands would be restricted so as to protect it from contamination.

The new version also clarifies that regulations could not include the power to allocate water supplies or to license users of water for any purpose other than for accessing drinking water.

There is new language to clarify that the regulations could confer to any person or body only the powers necessary to effectively regulate drinking water and waste water systems. Wording that was perceived to negate first nations authority over water on their lands has been deleted.

Another part of the previous version that has been removed is language that could be interpreted as powers to compel first nations into an agreement with third parties to manage water and the waste water on first nations lands.

Finally, Bill S-8 also features language to clarify that first nations would not be held liable for systems owned by third parties that are on first nations lands.

There have been many changes to this legislation since its last iteration in order to address the concerns raised by first nations, parliamentarians and other stakeholders. In fact, these changes respond directly to the concerns raised by first nations groups.

Moreover, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommended an amendment to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development that further addresses concerns raised by first nations to remove the opt-in provision from the bill, demonstrating that our government is listening to first nations concerns and working to address them. I am pleased to see that the hard-working members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development agreed by removing this from the bill.

The proposed legislation now before the House has been informed by a comprehensive process of consultation, review and improvement.

Bill S-8 proposes an effective solution to a problem that continues to threaten the health and safety of residents of first nations communities. I hope that the opposition can recognize the urgent health and safety issues at stake here and support Bill S-8.

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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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, that question shows the complete misunderstanding of this legislation. It is the same thing we faced at committee. People came to the committe“ and said this legislation would do that. It actually says they ”may” incorporate by reference provincial regulations. It does not say “we will”. It says “we could”. It is one of the options that is on the table. That is why I say this is enabling legislation. It would put the whole host or suite of options before the government when it chooses to regulate. No, it would not download to provincial responsibility. It would not cost the provinces money. We are not there.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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

Joan Crockatt Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I support Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, because it stands to benefit all Canadians, regardless of where they live.

As other members of the House have explained, the legislation that is before us now would actually lead to the development of systems governing water quality in first nations communities. These systems are badly needed and would promote and protect the health and well-being of all Canadians, regardless of where they live. Surely, the urgent health and safety needs alone are enough reason that the opposition should be supporting Bill S-8.

For those who do not believe that the health and safety of first nations people are more important than the perceived challenges we have heard about tonight from the opposition, I want to outline even more valuable reasons why they need to be supporting this very important legislation. The simple fact is that the quality of the water that is accessed by all other Canadians who do not live on reserves is protected by law, by provincial, territorial and municipal regulations that dictate maximum levels of contamination and a lot of other standards. However, no such regulations exist to protect water quality in first nations communities, which I think a lot of people in Canada would find shocking, and this legislation is overdue.

It is simply unacceptable that these communities do not have the ability in 2013 to put enforceable water standards in place that are going to protect the health and safety of the people who live in their communities. I am sure that all reasonable people and all Canadians would agree. In fact, my own mother called me last night and asked me why the opposition would not be in favour of a bill that supports clean drinking water for first nations people. That is incomprehensible to most Canadians.

I want to take this opportunity to point out that Bill S-8 is the direct result of seven years of collaboration. We often hear that there has not been enough time and there is not enough money. There is never enough time and money to satisfy everyone, but that is no reason not to act.

This bill would enable co-operation to happen between first nations and other jurisdictions, such as provinces, territories and municipalities, when it passes. It was ably explained by my colleagues earlier today, but this legislation would authorize the creation of regulatory systems through a collaborative process so that representatives from first nations could work with their counterparts from nearby communities and the federal government to design, develop and implement regulations around drinking water.

Laws currently used to regulate drinking water of nearby communities could provide a template, a starting point for these discussions about what the new regime would look like and how it would apply. Existing regulations could then be adapted to suit the circumstances of every individual first nation community. It is not one size fits all. These communities are different, and they need to be treated that way. They will find different solutions. I am convinced that this really is a process that would lead to new partnerships between first nations and their nearby communities, which will, in turn, benefit all Canadians.

Fostering collaboration between first nations and non-first nations communities is very important and actually generates social, economic, cultural and recreational opportunities. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Strong partnerships already exist between many first nations and non-first nations communities across Canada. It is no coincidence that often the partnerships between first nations and non-first nations are among the most prosperous in the country. That is right; these partnerships could help first nations become among the most prosperous in the country.

Part of the wisdom behind the approach is that it strives to inspire a lot more of these partnerships to take place. The best partnerships are unique because they meet the specific needs and interests of both parties involved. When we consider the kinds of partnerships that Bill S-8 might inspire, it is important that we keep an open mind. That is why the legislation before us rejects the one-size-fits-all, top-down model. That is not what we would create here. We would create a bottom-up model, where the parties themselves would be encouraged to design a system that would meet their own individual circumstances and needs.

I will now turn the attention of my hon. colleagues to some of the kinds of partnerships that already exist between first nations and other jurisdictions. The most common is a formal arrangement with a municipality for services, and that might be treatment and distribution of drinking water, sewage treatment, fire protection, recreation and animal control. These are known as municipal-type agreements or MTAs.

The national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems lists 95 water and 91 waste water MTAs that already exist between municipalities and first nations communities. The vast majority of these are in B.C., my own home province of Alberta and Ontario. While the MTAs will differ from one to another, all of them strive for mutual benefits for all the parties.

To get a better sense of the potential benefits, look no further than a guide published last year by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The federation administers a program that helps municipalities partner with first nations on community infrastructure, and it really works. Here is a bit of an excerpt from the guide:

First nations and municipal governments across Canada often face similar challenges when working to build and maintain infrastructure, create economic opportunities, enhance social conditions, and improve quality of life in their communities. Economies of scale, and the increasing expense of providing, operating and maintaining community infrastructure, naturally lead to a consideration of partnerships when addressing infrastructure issues. By forming partnerships, sharing knowledge and expertise, and pooling assets, First Nations and municipal governments have the potential to improve existing community infrastructure and services.

That makes a lot of sense. The phrase “economies of scale” really helps describe the principal advantage of most municipal-type agreements. Another phrase for it is “many hands make light work”. When we work together, jobs are easier. When everyone pitches in, tasks are manageable. A small community partnering with a large community often helps that small community get access to higher quality services than it might be able to afford on its own. It can also free the smaller community from having to deal solely with the regulatory burden associated with some of these responsibilities.

It is very clear that this legislation now before the House must also be seen as a central component of a larger, multi-faceted strategy to improve the quality of drinking water that is available for our first nations communities. This strategy includes investments in first nations drinking water and waste water infrastructure, operator training and other elements of capacity development.

Should it become law, these investments would continue during the collaborative processes that would create the regulations for first nations drinking water. They would be phased in as first nations acquired the capacity and expertise to meet them. This incremental approach is a great one. It would help all parties understand their role in the process.

The development of regulatory standards represents a really major first step toward ensuring that what we all take for granted, quality drinking water, is accessible to residents of first nations communities and that it meets the high quality all Canadians expect and deserve.

We urge the opposition to support this legislation. It would allow the government to work with first nations and other stakeholders to develop these regulations and ultimately, through the proposed legislation, strengthen our first nations communities and make them better able to participate equally in, and contribute fully to, Canada's prosperity.

I urge all my hon. colleagues here today to seriously look at Bill S-8 and the opportunities it would provide for first nations, and join me in supporting it.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my friend on the other side really does believe what she is saying and believes what is there.

I was interested in her whole concept of partnering. I would like to ask the member a question. If the nearest municipality to the first nation is 1,000, 1,500 or 2,000 kilometres away, how does partnering work in that particular kind of situation?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Joan Crockatt Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my hon. colleague because he is thinking about how it might work, and that is the first step toward getting this legislation passed.

How the legislation would work is first nations would not be required to partner, and that is why we are not going for a one-size-fits-all program. There is a community nearby and there are many close to where I live, where I have seen this in progress and it works extremely well.

There are many communities where there are collaborative processes. They will be set up where the first nations community can take advantage of a nearby municipality and quickly get clean water onto first nations reserves. There are others where this will be more of a challenge.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my friend across the way very closely and to the other member who just questioned her with regard to partnerships. Having lived in northern Ontario, I know communities that are many thousands or at least many hundreds of miles apart cannot partner. I am thinking of the city of Timmins partnering with some of the first nations territories along the James and Hudson Bay coast, working with them on minor hockey and other enterprises.

To be specific, the member may want to expand on this notion. Many first nations territories do not have any experience with fresh water chlorination plants that are designed to do just what this legislation is designed to do. Those communities would benefit from people who do the work and come from communities where they have been doing this for decades, such as my hometown.

Could the member expand on that and could she further expand on the need for the proper training of people who run those plants? That is one of the most important parts of this whole enterprise. I have experienced that along the James and Hudson Bay coast with a first nations community where, because the chlorination plant was not properly run, the water ended up in a crisis. Could she expand—

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Joan Crockatt Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important aspect of this bill.

Part of the bill will very definitely include training. There would be a ramp-up period required, for which the bill provides. We can provide training and enable first nations to get the kind of expertise they will need to sustain a drinking water supply that actually is healthy and safe, the way all Canadians expect it should be.

When communities can partner with a municipality that may be nearby, those municipalities may have had decades of experience in how to provide clean and safe water. First nations can take advantage of that experience and technology.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel at every first nation. We can take advantage through these partnerships, through the MTAs and utilize that expertise on first nations. Again, this is for safe and clean drinking water on first nations. What Canadian could oppose that?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:35 p.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River.

Let me point out a few unfortunate facts. At this time, over 117 aboriginal communities have no access to running water and waste water treatment. I can guarantee that if this was happening in one of our municipalities, this Parliament would be up in arms. Imagine 117 members of parliament seeing one of their white communities deprived of water. They would not stand for that.

Unfortunately, these 117 communities have no water. They will continue having no water, and the only reason I can think of to explain this situation in a country like ours does not make me happy. I am proud of my country, but this is humiliating. If these were not aboriginal, first nations and Indian communities, they would have gotten their water long ago. This is called racism, and it does not do us credit.

The reasons for opposing Bill S-8 are self-evident. This bill affects thousands of homes with no running water and no sewage treatment and 117 communities lacking the basic necessities. Sadly, this has gone on for decades.

It is not rocket science. It will take 10 years and $4.5 billion. Yet, all this government offered was $330 million, and then it attached all kinds of conditions to it. That is the problem. That is the crux of the matter. We, as Canadians, need to understand that that is why people are rejecting this legislation.

Every member in the House wants first nations to have access to drinking water. The question is how to make that happen. Considering the proposed approach, we have to wonder how sincere they are about all Canadians—and they are Canadians—having the same rights. The right to water is essential, as is the right to air. We cannot just do without.

Not only do we need to invest in the technical aspects, but if we really want to address the issue of drinking water once and for all, we need to give them both the technical abilities and the resources to maintain the water system. We need to address expertise and technological culture along with the economics of it.

Obviously, there is no way they can bring in engineers from Montreal or Toronto, or plumbers from Thunder Bay, Fort Chimo, the Laurentians or the Gaspé every time there is a problem or every time something breaks.

These are nations, and a nation must have the proper technological abilities to address truly essential issues. Drinking water supply is certainly an essential issue. That is what it means to be a nation. Being a nation means having the ability to create, develop and manage appropriate laws so that citizens have access to water. If we want to give them nation status—without treating them like simple-minded children—we need to take action.

As a French Canadian, I have been called a white nigger by an MP. It was odd for 2012.

I am putting myself in their shoes. I have seen them in the Standing Committee on Finance. They said that the suicide rate where they live is staggering. It is not that more people commit suicide, it is that they do not have the social services to cope with people who are suicidal.

I saw the premier of a territory beg the committee. She said that people were dropping like flies. I saw committee members behave in a condescending manner. If I were that person, I might not have remained so polite. She did remain polite and I seriously wonder if she made a mistake. She might have been better off blowing a gasket. She might have been better off saying enough is enough.

Aboriginal demonstrations were held. People said they would like to be able to live and that that was not too much to ask. Not having enough water or the necessary means to obtain it is an economic consequence. Aboriginal communities are not rolling in money, despite what some might think. Aboriginal communities are not full of multi-millionaires. That is just an urban legend. It is odd that urban legends are often about an ethnic community, particularly when that community is a visible minority.

I see Canada as an extremely generous and great country. I think that is an accurate assessment for the most part. We have helped peoples in the past and we have been quite generous. When Europe was oppressed, we sacrificed tens of thousands of our own. We spared no expense. However, when it comes to aboriginals, that generosity disappears.

One of the problems with this bill is that it calls for a lot of sacrifices. Aboriginal peoples are being asked to give up some of their rights in exchange for access to water. It is hard to build the concept of nationhood when you are forced to give up your rights as a nation. It does not stop there, however. The bill would force aboriginal peoples to give up their rights in exchange for maybe one day getting drinking water. This is a prime example of the government not walking the talk. The government keeps talking about it, but the water is not there. That is a problem.

The government cannot say that this will be resolved in 10 years. I challenge any member here to say that they would wait 10 years before giving drinking water to a neighbourhood in their city or municipality. Any politician knows that that that is not the way to go if you want to be re-elected. Unfortunately, first nations members often do not vote. If they did, there would be far fewer MPs in this government. This kind of moral misconduct is unacceptable.

Bill S-8 should not be defeated just because it is a bad bill for first nations, even though that is true. Bill S-8 should not be defeated just because it is a bad bill technically. That is also true. The bill should also be defeated because if we want to remain Canadian and remain a generous nation and a great people, this bill must be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, key reports regarding this tragic water situation have been clear that the massive infrastructure and capacity gap must be addressed before a legislative option is adopted. The Assembly of First Nations and the government's own comprehensive survey have identified almost $5 billion of additional federal investment to address the crisis. The bill does not provide any additional resources or funding to address the gap.

In January 2013, we still had 113 first nation communities under a drinking water advisory. Does the hon. member think the government should immediately target sufficient financial resources to close the gap in infrastructure and training?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:45 p.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely believe that all members of the House voted in favour of giving first nations access to education and safe drinking water. I sincerely believe in good faith; however, the Conservatives need to wake up and realize that they are dragging their feet and they need to tell us why. We are talking about $4 billion over 10 years. Let us look at what has been going on with us and first nations. When the two peoples or traditions were pitted against each other, there was one winner and one real loser.

Could we not just simply extend a hand to them and assure them that we are going to work together?

That is all they are asking. Nothing more.

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June 6th, 2013 / 7:45 p.m.
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Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's comments. Actually, I think he needs to wake up.

Our government has put more than $3 billion into infrastructure already for first nations, and we continue to spend money. However, the member indicates that we are not doing anything for first nations.

In the proposed act, there is a clause of derogation so that members of first nations would be able to manage, under the Constitution, their own facilities. However, there is a position in there saying that for the health and safety of those individuals, there may be some other rationale for not allowing some form of development that could be hazardous for safe drinking water for first nations.

I wonder if the hon. member would actually acknowledge that this measure is already in the proposed act for first nations.

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June 6th, 2013 / 7:50 p.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting question. However, we are talking about nations, and the government is asking them to give up some of their ancestral rights.

The member said so himself. He said that derogations are necessary. The Conservatives are therefore giving themselves the power to override the jurisdiction and ancestral rights of first nations, but what are the first nations getting in return? A promise? The government will have to follow through on that promise.

I am not making up the fact that 117 communities do not have running water. I did not pull that number out of thin air. The member said that his government made many investments. Clearly, those investments are not enough. They are not enough to set up and maintain the necessary infrastructure.

That leads me to a second problem. Since these nations do not have the necessary training or resources, the government needs to invest and ensure that the investment does not deteriorate. Yet, nothing is planned in that regard, and that is the problem.

If the Conservatives want to demonstrate their good faith, they must go one small step further.

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June 6th, 2013 / 7:50 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

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.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 8 p.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for asking for questions, particularly on the subject.

First of all, does the member acknowledge that first nations, particularly Indian band reserves, are federally regulated, not provincially regulated? That is the first part.

The second part is that Dr. Gagnon, an expert in this area, gave testimony at committee specifically pointing out that this would not transfer risk to councils. It would actually transfer risk to the engineers and technicians who would then run those water systems, because they would come under their expertise. This would allow first nations to develop infrastructure.

Rather than 600 plus different standards across the country, we would end up with a standard that is chosen and selected, whether it be harmonizing with the provincial rules or taking other measures into consideration. Approximately $3 billion has gone to investments in waste water treatment and water treatment. We need to have standards so that those investments are utilized and keep people safe over a period of years.

I would like to hear the member's comments regarding the provincial regulations, as well as the liability issue.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 8 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think my friend across the way will acknowledge that first nations right across the country are all in different situations.

I am travelling this Saturday to a first nation in my riding. I have ten first nations in my riding, and I am travelling to one that actually has good water. It has a good water system, it has trained individuals and it has good waste water systems. That particular first nation governs according to provincial regulations and they meet those regulations.

Not all of my first nations have that same kind of capacity. Certainly, north, in the Kenora riding, many of those first nations, particularly the fly-in nations, really have no capacity at all. They certainly have no capacity to deal with events such as flooding and so on. This is not a difficult problem to solve. It just requires political will and, I want to emphasize again, adequate investments.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 8 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague knows, there was an expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations. According to its November 2006 report:

...regulation alone would not ensure safe drinking water. The report indicated that regulations governing the provision of on-reserve drinking water must be accompanied by adequate investment in human resources and physical assets. It suggested that it is not “credible to go forward with any regulatory regime without adequate capacity to satisfy the regulatory requirements.”

Again, the bill does not provide any additional resources, and many witnesses at committee expressed frustration with the government's failure to consult first nations regarding the development of this bill.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 8:05 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the one thing that has not been talked about, and I agree with the quote the member used, is the question of crucial investments. I think she said crucial investments in human resources and physical infrastructure. That needs to be done.

However, there are some corollary items that need to be dealt with. I am just thinking of one, which is housing. Part of the problem with a lot of first nations in northern Ontario is that they do not have adequate housing or the housing infrastructure to ensure that these water systems work and to make sure that they are there.

We can talk about regulations, saying that people have to be trained and this is what happens with water coming in and out. The fact of the matter is that housing is very inadequate on many first nations. Many of them are without running water. It is not just a question of a water system here and a water system there, it is also a question of making sure the total infrastructure has the funding to make it all work.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 8:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to rise today to speak in support of Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act.

I would like to begin by describing, perhaps for those who have not yet heard, the framework of this and how we arrived at this place tonight in debating this bill. In Canada, water and waste water operations and systems are generally the responsibility of the provincial and territorial governments. Over the years, different jurisdictions have developed comprehensive regulatory regimes for the protection of source water, water quality standards, and the oversight of water treatment plants and water delivery services.

Over the time that Canada has been growing as a nation, we have, in our various communities, learned from our mistakes. For example, most tragically, Walkerton, which is in my own province. Therefore, the provinces and territories have developed a highly regarded set of regulations across the country which serves the majority of Canadians very well. Of course, it guides the infrastructure that is necessary to provide for safe drinking water and water services.

However, because section 91, paragraph 24 of the Constitution Act of 1867 grants to the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for Indians”, provincial regulatory water standards do not apply to on-reserve first nations communities. To date, there has been no federal legislative framework governing drinking water and waste water in first nations communities beyond what is set out in a welter of public federal policies, administrative guidelines and funding arrangements.

We have to ask ourselves here tonight, and Canadians across the country have to ask: Why is it that after almost 150 years, since Confederation, first nations are the only Canadians who do not have proper and healthy regulations for drinking water and waste water?

I must say that when I speak to my constituents about first nations issues, I always begin by explaining to them how complex it is, the lengthy history we have of relationships with our first nations, and what a diversity of views there are. Chief among them has been the constant question of first nations sovereignty, to what degree the Government of Canada can deal with first nations on a local, regional or national basis, and who is responsible for what.

Determining roles and responsibilities is a problem. There are three federal departments involved, and I am just going to mention one of them when it comes to drinking water and waste water, and that is Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. It provides funding, including funds for capital construction, upgrading and a portion of operating and maintenance costs.

How much funding? Well, 80% of first nations' operating and capital costs is paid by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to first nations for the provision of water services to their communities. It also oversees the design, construction and maintenance of water facilities. However, first nation communities, through their chiefs and councils, are responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of water systems, and they assume 20% of the costs.

Where has that taken us?

Well, reports have been done over the years, but I think at this point it is fairly notorious that waste water and drinking water conditions on reserves have been in very poor shape.

In fact, there was an inspection done in 2011 of 587 first nations communities across the country, 97% of all first nations communities. It was found that of the assessed water systems, 39% were at high overall risk, 34% were medium and 27% were low overall risk.

At that time, it was estimated that the cost to upgrade existing water and waste water systems to meet federal protocols and guidelines, as well as provincial standards and regulations, would be $1.08 billion. Is it the case that the Government of Canada, after all these years has not been willing to spend the money necessary? No, that is not the case. That is not where the problem lies. In fact, between 2006 and 2014, the life of the present government, the government will have invested approximately $3 billion to support first nations communities in managing their water and waste water infrastructure and related public health activities.

Let me repeat that so that listeners at home do not think they misheard. Three billion dollars in eight years to really do what the report suggested would cost $1.08 billion. In spite of that, we hear continued calls from the opposition for more funding.

I will not pretend to know what the value of a billion dollars is. It reminds me, if memory serves me, of a Liberal minister who a few years ago was taken to task for saying “What's a million?” Today, the refrain from across the aisle is, “What's a billion?” In fact, what is $3 billion?

In light of the fact that we have been at this 150 years, and particularly acutely in the last 10 years, and particularly having spent $3 billion in the last seven or eight years alone, we still have these problems, we have to look elsewhere. We have to start elsewhere to solve this problem.

The government has gone at it with a willing heart. Bill S-8 was introduced in Parliament on February 29, 2012, to provide for the development of federal regulations governing the provision of drinking water, water quality standards and the disposal of waste water in first nations communities. The bill would also establish that federal regulations may incorporate by reference provincial regulations governing drinking water and waste water in first nations communities.

The reality is, water is water and health needs are health needs and all Canadians, all citizens of the country, including first nations, should enjoy the benefit of the same minimum standards. There is no reason why those standards cannot apply in first nations. It is true, first nations would be responsible for implementing them, but only responsible for 20% of the cost. The government is more than prepared to come up with the other 80% and to oversee and supervise the implementation of these standards.

However, this is not the first time. That is what really makes it frustrating. The member who spoke last talked about a lack of political will. Well indeed, that is what we are witnessing here tonight if we do not pass the bill because it has been tried before.

Bill S-11 in the previous Parliament was introduced in the Senate on May 26, 2010. It was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for examination in December of 2010. From February to March, the committee held nine meetings on the proposed legislation and heard witnesses and listened to ideas. However, unfortunately, thanks again to the opposition and the bringing down of the last Parliament and the provoking of an election, Bill S-11 died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved on March 26, 2011.

Bill S-8 does retain several of the features of the former Bill S-11, but there are key differences. It would be beyond the scope of my time to go into those.

I just have to say that the delivery of safe drinking water to on-reserve first nations is critical to the health and safety of the communities' residents. Access to safe, clean, potable water is also closely tied to the economic viability of individual communities.

It is up to this Parliament to just take this step. We would do more. This would not be the end of it. However, let us at least get off the ground with this step forward. I urge the members opposite to support this bill.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 4:45 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 am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the opposition and to Canadians about why I and the other members of the Conservative government will be supporting Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, and why I urge all hon. colleagues in the House to vote in favour of a bill that will finally give first nations the tools they need to access safe drinking water on reserve.

It has taken seven years for us to get to this point. For seven years, we have had continuous dialogue and consultations with first nations, including formal engagement sessions, informal discussions, and consultations with community members and leadership, technical experts and department officials. This legislative proposal evolved as we worked together, listening to and accommodating the concerns of first nations living on reserve.

The legislation before Parliament today is the result of hard work and collaboration from coast to coast to coast. It is time to move forward and create the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities.

Right now, there is no such protection for tens of thousands of first nations, so Bill S-8 addresses this urgent need. Until regulations and standards are in place, the safety and quality of water in first nations communities will continue to remain at risk and pose a significant health threat for thousands of individuals living on reserve. It is unfortunate, if not shameful, that the opposition continues to oppose this bill. It would rather stand by and allow for the current situation to continue to be a reality for first nations across the country.

Currently, laws are in place to protect the safety of drinking water accessed by all other Canadians, except in first nations communities. While it is true that a handful of self-governing first nations have enacted laws dealing with drinking water and waste water treatment, they are very much the exception. The truth is that when it comes to regulating drinking water, residents of most first nations communities are left unprotected. We cannot tolerate this any longer.

Access to safe drinking water is a hallmark of a progressive, modern society. It is a basic form of infrastructure that Canadian communities depend on. Without a dependable supply of water, it is much harder to maintain public health. This is precisely why so much effort and expense are devoted to acquiring and securing consistent access to safe drinking water.

A closer examination of this effort and expense sheds light on the needs that Bill S-8 would address. They are these. Safe drinking water results from a chain of events, such as actively protecting sources, filtering and treating water, and regularly conducting quality tests to ensure that all systems are functioning properly. Like all chains, the one that safeguards drinking water is only as strong as its weakest link.

Regulations represent a key link in the chain. While they vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another, all regulations specify science-based standards for quality testing, treatment protocols and other factors. Municipal utilities that supply water to the public must abide by these regulations. If not, the justice system holds them to account. The penalties can be severe, and rightly so, given that the health and safety of Canadians is at stake. After all, contaminated drinking water can lead to disaster.

That is precisely what happened 13 years ago in the town of Walkerton, Ontario. A combination of operator negligence and lax regulatory standards led to the death of seven people and more than 2,000 people falling ill. The tragedy inspired a series of improvements to Ontario's drinking water regulations. Today, the vast majority of Ontarians trust that the water that comes out of their tap is safe to drink. It is our government's objective that first nations communities can have that same trust in their water systems.

Our government strongly believes that the law should afford all Canadians similar protections when it comes to drinking water. Bill S-8 would provide the authorities needed to develop and establish regulatory regimes for safe drinking and the treatment of waste water in first nations communities. The absence of regulations makes it impossible to ensure the safety of drinking water in first nations communities over the long term.

In fact, several studies have made this point abundantly clear. For instance, seven years ago, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development published an in-depth study on the issue. The study concluded that, in most first nations communities, responsibility for the various steps involved in the treatment and delivery of drinking water is diffused among several groups. As a result, it is nearly impossible to hold any single group accountable if something goes wrong; for example, when a pump fails or a water quality test is not done properly.

Here is a quote from that study, “...until a regulatory regime comparable with that in provinces is in place, INAC and Health Canada cannot ensure that First Nations people living on reserves have continuing access to safe drinking water.”

It is clear that without regulations there can be no assurance of the safety of drinking water in first nations communities. Regulations lead to accountability. They assign responsibility for specific tasks and for meeting science-based standards. Regulations provide the overarching framework of a drinking water system and guide the efforts of everyone involved in that system synchronously.

Our government appreciates that regulations alone cannot produce consistently safe drinking water. The other links in the chain must also be in place, such as functional equipment, trained operators, reliable sources of drinking water, proper distribution networks, and appropriate standards, guidelines and protocols. That is why, since 2006, this government has made improving drinking water in first nations communities a top priority.

We have made significant investments in water and waste water infrastructure with approximately $3 billion between 2006 and 2014. As part of Canada's economic action plan version 2012 alone, $330.8 million is being invested over two years. This money has paid for new treatment facilities, upgrades to existing systems, operator training and distribution networks.

While significant progress has been made, regulations are still not in place. However, as a result of these important investments, the percentage of high-risk water systems has decreased by 8.1% and the percentage of high-risk waste water systems by 2.1%. We have doubled funding for the circuit rider training program, which has helped support and train hundreds of first nations water and waste water system operators.

I will take this opportunity to highlight the important work that Confederation College and Northern Waterworks are doing in the great Kenora riding in upgrading the certifications for first nations community members who go back to their isolated first nations communities with more appropriate, if not higher than required, standards to operate water and waste water treatment facilities in their communities.

These programs have seen significant results. For example, since 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%, and the percentage of certified waste water system operators has increased from 42% to almost 54%.

Going forward, as we have stated on numerous occasions, I can assure members that our government will continue to invest in water and waste water infrastructure on reserve. As members can see, Bill S-8 is an essential part of our government's larger comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of drinking water for residents of first nations communities.

There are three essential pillars born out of the extensive consultations and the important work done by a coast to coast to coast consultation process in co-operation with the Assembly of First Nations. These three essential pillars are: capacity, with the ability to report, monitor and maintain infrastructure; continued investment in infrastructure; and the development of a clear regulatory framework, which is the basis of today's debate and discussion on Bill S-8.

The legislation before us would help address the third pillar and establish regulatory regimes similar to those that make the drinking water systems in other communities reliable and safe.

Bill S-8 would inspire further progress, not only by establishing regulatory standards but also by extending the collaboration with first nations that continues to generate positive results. When Bill S-8 receives royal assent, our government will continue to work with first nations and other stakeholders to develop regulations on a region-by-region basis. This is important.

Developing regulations by region would enable the government and first nations to partner with municipalities and regional technical experts who deal with the most responsible and the most appropriate forms of water and waste water treatment, which prevail in those regions for a variety of different reasons. This collaborative region-by-region approach would also leverage the value of existing regulations rather than creating entirely new regulations. The most efficient approach is to build upon existing provincial and territorial regulatory frameworks and adapt, where needed, in order to reflect specific local conditions.

We are talking about a very flexible piece of legislation, but let me be clear. This approach would not take jurisdiction away from the first nations, nor would it give a province, territory or municipality jurisdiction over first nation lands. To the contrary, by developing regulations that are comparable to those that exist off reserve, first nations would be better positioned to partner with neighbouring municipalities in the delivery of water treatment services and to co-operate on other matters, such as operator training, business ventures and the adoption of new technologies.

I should add that we are already seeing this. The previous minister of aboriginal affairs and I had an opportunity to tour some water and waste water treatment facilities in Quebec. There we saw water and waste water treatment facilities operating on a reserve for the benefit of that community and the municipality. We also saw communities where water and waste water treatment systems were operating in a municipality or city for the benefit of the reserve. In both instances, there were trained certified operators from both respective communities for the collective benefit of everybody there, better economies and better safety.

There is no question that it will take time to develop and implement regulations across Canada. For this reason, the regulations would be phased in to ensure there is adequate time for the government and first nations to bring drinking water and waste water infrastructure and operating capacity to the levels required to be able to conform with the new regulations. As our government has stated many times in the past, we are not going to roll out regulations until first nations have the capacity to abide by them. Health and safety remain our ultimate goals.

We talked about those three pillars. They support the concept that the pillars not mutually exclusive of each other. They depend on each other to support the kind of framework we are moving forward with first nations on. Namely, if we are going to have legislation, we have to ensure that we have certified operators and that they have the capacity to report, monitor and maintain that infrastructure. Similarly, we have to ensure that they have the infrastructure in place in those communities to be able to meet those standards.

I fully recognize that some first nations do not have the resources needed to help develop these regulations, so back in April 2012 the former minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development sent a letter to all chiefs and band councils confirming that our government would provide the funds needed for eligible activities. We have already provided funding to the Atlantic policy congress to support its researching and analyzing the development of regulations for first nations in the Atlantic region.

In order to continue progress on drinking water in first nation communities, the establishment of an appropriate regulatory regime is required. In the absence of such a regime, investments in infrastructure and training can do little to safeguard water quality. The government has been engaging with first nation partners since coming to government in 2006 and we have continued to engage with first nations on the proposed legislation every step of the way. In fact, this engagement has never stopped.

After the last iteration of the legislation, Bill S-11, died on the order paper, we took action to address some of the concerns that had been raised by first nations and other important stakeholders by making a number of amendments to the current iteration or version of the bill we have before this place.

On the current bill, Bill S-8, we have also continued to consult and we have taken action to address some of those concerns that were raised in regard to the opt-in provision for self-governing first nations. As a result of extensive discussions between stakeholders on this matter, the government brought forward an amendment at committee recommending the removal of this provision from the bill. Removing the opt-in provision serves as yet another good example of the positive results produced by ongoing collaborative discussions with first nations and other stakeholders.

The legislation now before us offers a sensible, practical, balanced solution to an urgent problem that threatens the health of tens of thousands of Canadians. 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 drinking water.

In closing, this is a matter of health and safety. I appreciate my colleagues' debate. I appreciate the points they have raised in previous readings of the bill and the important work of all committee members as we worked through Bill S-8. However, the priority moving forward is to bring the kind of legislation into play that will support and reflect the need to continue making investments in training and to ensure there are certified operators for the infrastructure, which on an ongoing basis needs to be rehabilitated or replaced.

As a result of those two things, we will find over the course of time, hopefully sooner rather than later, that standards for drinking water and waste water treatment on reserve are at the same levels that other Canadians have come to expect from their respective governments. Therefore, I reach across the way and ask my colleagues to join us and support Bill S-8.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for outlining the reasons that the government continues to support the bill. It was interesting to hear the parliamentary secretary talk about this being a flexible approach, whereas what we heard from a number of witnesses was that the bill was too vague and raised a number of concerns around a number of issues including liability, consultation and levels of service.

I specifically want to ask the member about consultation because in the preamble of the bill it talks about working with first nations, but nowhere in the preamble does it talk about consultation. With regard to consultation, I wonder if the member would be prepared to commit to developing the terms of reference for developing the regulations in conjunction with first nations. Would the Conservatives actually assign adequate resources for first nations to be at the table to develop the terms of reference and the regulations, and could the member indicate a timeline by which they hope to have the regulations completed?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member not just for that question, but for the important work that she does on the standing committee and specifically in relation to the bill. I also need to say, if only the world were as simple as the NDP member makes it out to be. The consultation process that has taken place over the past seven years, in fact over the past 20 of my own professional career in different regards with first nation communities, I have never seen something done so extensively.

What we have arrived at is the kind of legislation that is flexible. I take exception to the notion of it being vague because the federal regulations will take time. They respect regulations in a given region, specifically in a province. They respect the kinds of treatments that are done in those communities and their corresponding standards. Therefore, a phased-in approach will provide time for government and first nations to bring drinking water and waste water infrastructure monitoring activities, the capacity required to do that to meet those future federal regulations, into place.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too have huge concerns as to how a bill like this can be put through when first nations have objected strenuously. As the parliamentary secretary knows, the first nations believe that all that happens with this bill is that the liability gets transferred to the first nations, while the resources for actually fixing the situation rest with the government.

I would like to know from the parliamentary secretary why and how, after the promise at the Crown-first nations gathering that things would be done differently, the government is pursuing and persisting with the bill against the objections of the Assembly of First Nations and the first nations that we heard from at committee.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a lob question. I began my professional career living in isolated and remote first nation communities in 1991. Over the course of some 15 or 16 years, while that party was in power, here is what I came to know. Yes, there were important pieces of infrastructure built on reserve. The problem was that there was not anybody certified to operate them appropriately, so their lifespan decreased immensely.

We know that some communities were on boil-water advisories for decades. We are working to correct that system, and we are doing it with the Assembly of First Nations, which, for the record, embarked on this coast to coast to coast consultation. It worked with technical experts, operators who certify other operators, community colleges and the like, to ensure that we would have that important capacity piece, that critical infrastructure would be developed on the basis that there were actually trained and certified operators to operate that infrastructure, and then finally dialectically that there would in fact be actual regulations to adhere to.

That is a process that is born out of extensive consultation. It was begun and supported by the Assembly of First Nations. There are numerous first nation communities that are actively putting members of their communities in training programs to ensure that, as we move forward, they will have certified operators to operate infrastructure, which will be rehabilitated and replaced based on those certifications, and legislation that provides regulations for them and the federal government to adhere to. I think that is pretty reasonable.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the parliamentary secretary, not only for a great speech but for actually putting his money where his mouth is.

For years, first nation communities in my riding have been waiting for a government to actually stand up and take action on some of these things. The parliamentary secretary and his committee have done a great job on moving legislation through their committee, both in this session and in the last session of Parliament.

In the last seven and a half years, the Government of Canada has invested billions of dollars into water and waste water systems, and other public-health-related activities. I am happy to see that the government has actually been prioritizing investments into high- and medium-risk systems to address factors. However, one of the concerns in communities such as mine, Saddle Lake and others is the fact that we need to ensure we have capacity, training, and operations and maintenance personnel who are able to look after these facilities and extend their lifespan.

Could the parliamentary secretary tell the House how the proposed legislation would help keep Canada's investments in first nations' water and waste water systems going, not only today but into the future?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have the questions in reverse. I get a lob from the Liberal Party, and I get a tough but fair question from a member of this caucus.

However, the member is spot on. He has come to me on a number of occasions and made representations on behalf of the first nation communities in his region. I appreciate his consideration of those, and he is right.

As I had alluded to in answer to the previous question, the lifespan of infrastructure for water and waste water treatment on reserve tends to be shorter than the lifespan of similar infrastructure outside of first nation lands. A big part of the reason for that is that it is often the case that reporting, monitoring and maintenance are missing. We want to be able to support the rehabilitation and replacement of infrastructure with the kinds of certified operators who can identify capacity thresholds, identify malfunctioning, and ensure that testing is done properly. That, for the benefit of taxpayers, is also protecting their investment, ensuring that the considerable amount of money that is being invested in this process is going not just to good use, but is being used effectively.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, as part of this debate, the Assembly of First Nations, the AFN, passed a resolution in December 2011, dealing with this fundamental issue for all aboriginal communities across the country.

In this resolution the AFN called on the government to guarantee that appropriate funding would be available for any regulations governing implementation; to support first nations in the process of developing their own water supply system; and to work together with the AFN to develop an immediate plan to address the lack of clean and safe water.

Can the minister confirm that this will indeed happen?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are working toward a three pillar concept in legislation that supports the penultimate goal of safe drinking water and effective, responsible waste water treatment on reserve. That comes from investment specific to this legislation.

As the minister before had done so in his communications, he had effectively said to first nations leadership that we wanted to engage in a process where investments would be made in this kind of infrastructure, but that it had to be done synchronistically with the other pillars that I spoke of at length in my speech and subsequently in questions.

To restate with emphasis, these all go toward the goal of ensuring safe drinking water and effective, responsible, waste water treatment on reserve that meets what other Canadians have come to expect.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, from the outset, the parliamentary secretary expressed the hope that the official opposition would support the bill.

The NDP will not support the bill, and I will lay out my reasons. Part of that reasoning has to do with the fact that at committee, we presented a number of amendments, none of which were accepted by the government. The problem is that we heard loudly and clearly from a number of witnesses about some very serious concerns about the legislation.

I will start with the report of the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations. It laid out, even before we got to the stage of debating Bill S-8 in the House and at committee, some conditions it saw as being important for the legislation to move forward. It started out by saying, “Preconditions: provide resources, discuss and deal with high risks”. In the report it indicated:

The federal government must close the resource gap. First and most critically, it is not credible to go forward with any regulatory regime without adequate capacity to establish by the regulatory requirements. While attempting to assume that putting a regulatory regime in place would reduce the dangers associated with water systems, exactly the opposite might happen. This is because creating and enforcing a regulatory regime would take time, attention and money that might be better invested in systems, operators, management and governance.

But the problem is more fundamental than the resources that would be lost to creating a regulatory regime. The underlying issue is that the federal government has never provided adequate funding to meet the 1977 policy commitment as comparable facilities on reserves...

Apart from any legal duty, however, we believe that meaningful discussion between the federal government and first nations is necessary if any action to improve the safety of water on reserves is to be effective and responsive.

It goes on to say:

Deal with high risk communities immediately... Any of the options would take time--probably several years--to reach the ultimate goal of safer drinking water for all First Nations. In the meantime, however, many reserve residents face serious risks from the drinking water available to them, sometimes from collective systems, but very often from individual wells or other water sources.

When government members talk about Bill S-8, they talk about it providing safe drinking water for first nations. When I posed the question for the parliamentary secretary with regard to how long this would take to develop the regulations, there was no answer.

Literally, we can see years before those regulations are developed and implemented. In the meantime, it does not deal with the very immediate risks that a number of first nations have identified. A number of first nations communities have been under boil water advisories for years, not months, not weeks, not days.

When Chief Rose Laboucan, came before the committee, she talked about the fact that they had a $6 million water plant in their communities and they were consistently off and on boil water advisories. Therefore, it is not just having a water plant in place; it is ensuring it is a water plant that is appropriate for first nations communities. This bill, in and of itself, will not guarantee safe drinking water.

I will run through parts of the bill because there are places where we have some serious objections. The first one is right in the preamble, so even before we get into the clauses of the bill. The preamble states that the two departments, Health and Indian Affairs, have committed to working with first nations to develop proposals for regulations to be made under this act. “Working with first nations”, that is not language around consultation.

To refer to the report of the expert panel on safe drinking water, it said:

The second precondition is the need for the federal government to assess whether it has a legal duty to consult with First Nations affected by any of the three options. This duty, according to the Supreme Court, “arises” when the Crown had knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it.

As my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou reminds me, it is not only the duty to consult, it is the duty to accommodate. That element around consultation is not outlined in the bill. Nor have we had any satisfactory answers.

The parliamentary secretary rightly pointed out that the bill had been before the House in a number of different iterations. With regard to any kind of comfort about the level of consultation that took place in order to come to this final bill, when the first nations technical services advisory group, an Alberta organization, came before the committee, it talked about what the consultation process looked like.

I will quote from its document. It says:

Disappointingly, the Government of Canada has never responded to any of the concerns and issues identified in the Impact Analysis, which has left Alberta First Nations wondering why Canada asked for and funded the Impact Analysis if it never intended to review it, respond to the concerns it raises, or meet with First Nations to discuss it. Sure, there is a legal obligation to consult, but the TSAG is more concerned about the practical implications of Canada's failure to consider the Impact Analysis because it means that Bill S-8 has been developed without any meaningful input from First Nation leaders, communities or water systems operators in Alberta.

In the earlier days, the government talked about the fact that Alberta was in support of the bill. However, when it provided input, as was outlined by the speaking notes from the technical services advisory group, it was disregarded. It did not even hear back as to why its input was disregarded and not considered in this latest version of the bill.

The issue around consultation needs to be clearly spelled out for people to have any kind of confidence that meaningful consultation will take place. In too many pieces of legislation that have come before the House in the last two years, there has not been meaningful consultation. It has been probably the one criticism that has been a thread throughout every bill that has come before the House dealing with first nations.

When it comes to clause 3 of the bill, clause 3 is the section that has what the government likes to call a “non-derogation” clause, but what like first nations like to call a “derogation” clause because it starts out sounding like a non-derogation clause but then it throws in the zinger. At the end of clause 3, it states, “except to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands”. Essentially, what we have is a non-derogation clause that now becomes a derogation clause.

When the Blood Tribe came before the House, it actually provided a briefing note that said:

In the current version, the abrogation and derogation clause, section 3, is now broader in scope proposing to allow the Act and the regulations to potentially abrogate or derogate from our constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty Rights to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands. Rather than protecting such rights, the provision suggests that it can directly violate those rights and disregard Canada’s legal obligation to protect Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

That position is reconfirmed by the Canadian Bar Association.

The Canadian Bar Association is also very critical of this derogation clause instead of a non-derogation clause. It said:

We believe that the qualification “except to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of the drinking water on First Nation lands” is in itself an explicit abrogation or derogation of existing Aboriginal or treaty rights pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The qualification in section 3 of Bill S-8 does not, in our view, ameliorate the constitutional problems identified in our earlier submissions on Bill S-11.

We have been unable to find any precedent or explanation for this proposal which would still, in our view, abrogate or derogate from section 35 rights under the Constitution Act, 1982 in order to provide safe drinking water to First Nations. This provision raises two key issues:

is it necessary to implement the objectives of the bill?

if so, is it constitutionally valid? Can Parliament use its legislative power under section 91(24) to abrogate or derogate unilaterally from the rights protected by section 35?

The attempt to abrogate and derogate aboriginal and treaty rights by statute or regulation would set a dangerous precedent and should not slip by without full explanation and discussion.

In the testimony we heard before our committee from anybody who was a proponent of the bill, nobody could explain why it would be a legitimate use in clause 3 to actually derogate from inherent rights. We proposed an amendment that would have removed the derogation part on clause 3 and it was voted down.

I want to turn to testimony we heard from Akwesasne. When Akwesasne came before the committee, they indicated they were in the middle of negotiating an agreement that would give them jurisdiction over some of these areas. They asked that a provision be in the bill that would delay it coming into force for self-governing first nations that were developing their own water codes, or for other nations that were in a similar kind of an agreement.

The case presented for this was say, for example, these regulations were being developed and coming into force just before a first nations would be signing an agreement that would allow them to implement their own drinking water regulations. The first nations could then be covered by Bill S-8, and then there would be a delay before they could actually implement their own drinking water provisions.

We suggested an amendment that was similar to one under the matrimonial real property legislation. In fact, we lifted it right out of that bill. It talked about the fact that for a first nations in the process of becoming self-governing, or with one of these other treaty agreements, that the bill would not come into force for three days after the day.

That would respect and allow the time to complete those negotiations so that a first nations would not be forced to deal with two different pieces of legislation. That, too, was denied, even though it was in the matrimonial real property bill which allowed self-governing first nations to develop their own matrimonial real property codes. It would have been a reasonable thing to insert in this bill.

When the next amendment we put in, we heard consistently from first nation after first nation, and from the expert panel, that resources were absolutely critical. In this case, we asked the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the Minister of Health to take into account the capacity of each first nation to comply with the prescribed standards to install their drinking water and waste water systems, and to train the operators of these systems.

Now the reason we inserted that particular amendment was because first nations who testified raised a number of concerns about their capacity to comply with the regulations and what the liability would be for the community if they were unable to comply. It seemed to be a reasonable request to ask that the government assess capacity to comply.

If there is not capacity to comply, then it would seem incumbent upon the government to ensure there are resources available, whether it be for infrastructure or training of operators, to ensure first nations could actually meet the regulations being set out before them. Again, that was denied.

We also proposed an amendment that requires capital infrastructure life cycle planning, so that future capital needs are known and expected and can be appropriately budgeted for at the local, regional and national level.

The parliamentary secretary, in his speech, did point out that there are some challenges with infrastructure in first nations communities with regard to the life cycle, the way the infrastructure was originally put together, and certainly with ongoing operations and maintenance.

The government likes to refer to itself as being fiscally responsible. Any of us who have been in control of large budgets know that what has to be done is not only the fiscal year planning but also the longer term planning, the 5-year, 10-year, 25-year cycles. When dealing with large infrastructure projects, it is essential that this kind of life cycle planning is done.

Asking to establish a system of capital infrastructure life cycle planning, again, seems like a reasonable thing to do, particularly when first nations are going to be told they have to abide by the regulations or else there are penalties and a possibility that property could be seized, as laid out in Bill S-8. However, that amendment was voted down as well.

I see that I only have two minutes left, and I have another 25 minutes worth of notes, so I will try to whip through this.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to touch on another witness we heard, who was from Metro Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver is a provider of drinking water to a number of first nations communities. They outlined a whole series of problems and indicated very clearly that some of the service providers of water systems, municipalities in particular, were also not consulted on this.

They raised a number of issues around lack of consultation; transfer of responsibilities, which is unknown; changes with bylaw regulation and enforcement; legislative and jurisdictional uncertainties; regulatory authority over Indian reserves, which is unclear; and financial liabilities requiring clarification. They also went on to say that the adequate implementation plan is lacking. I referred to that earlier, that there are simply not enough details in this bill to actually assess a number of factors.

Based on that, New Democrats do not feel this bill should go forward until some of these very serious questions are answered. Liability is certainly one issue, whether it is for Metro Vancouver, or the first nations communities that are going to have absorb this liability.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

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.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, here we are again. I would like to highlight for the government and for Canadians that the Conservatives have suddenly invoked time allocation and closure on this bill, breaking the record even further still, as though they are somehow in a panic. Having just introduced the bill, they want to shut down the debate on it.

This bill was first called before Parliament on November 26. If it were so important, we wonder what they were doing all that time, from November until now, that suddenly they are in such a panic. They have said that it is about safe drinking water. However, we know this is legislation that imposes safe drinking water responsibilities on first nations without any of the resources to ensure that the water is safe.

It is not us alone who are concerned with this. The Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations stated in its report, “Regulation”, which is what this is, “without the investment needed to build capacity may even put drinking water...at risk by diverting badly needed resources into regulatory frameworks and compliance costs”.

In the three years that this legislation has existed in one form or another, the Conservative government has never once identified where those resources would be for first nations. All it has done is brought in legislation. It has now brought in a hammer to shut down debate because it knows debate reveals the truth, which is that this legislation is flawed without the resources to help keep drinking water safe on first nations reserves.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4 p.m.
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Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt ConservativeMinister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, this is more of the same. Again we hear the New Democrats opposing a measure that would fill a gap that exists only on first nation lands in this country. They oppose a bill that would ensure we finally have the legislative framework that allows for the adoption of regulations that would be developed in co-operation and partnership with first nations in order to ensure they have access to safe water and a safe waste water system.

This bill is crucial to ensuring that first nations have the same health and safety protections concerning drinking water and waste water treatment that are currently enjoyed by other Canadians.

It has taken seven years for us to get to this point. Again, we cannot get the co-operation of the opposition parties to pass this important legislation and its closure.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is important for us to recognize that never before in the history of Canada have we seen a government use time allocation as frequently as the current government has. This is a Reform-Conservative majority government that thinks nothing of abusing the rules in order to ram through legislation.

A minister can stand up and defend why it is that ultimately the Conservative government would like to see the bill pass, but it is wrong for it to continue to bring in legislation time and time again using time allocation. It disrespects the institution. The government needs to rethink its approach in terms of democracy and how things should work inside the chamber.

My question to the government House leader is this. Why does the government continue to want to use time allocation on so many pieces of its legislation? It has almost made it a natural part of processing legislation through the House of Commons.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, if it were only up to the members of the opposition to support any bills in this House, I think Canadians would be disappointed because not much would happen. There is not a single bill that these parties are ready to support. They must believe that somehow it is political capital-building to oppose that things get done in this country.

Even in November of 2011, the Liberal Party submitted a resolution to this House calling for the government to take action to address drinking water safety for first nations communities. This motion was unanimously adopted by the House and yet the member stands there and opposes the legislation.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question to the minister is: Why does the government not want to hear stories like I would want to talk about during a full debate of the bill?

In my riding, the Pacheedaht First Nation went forward with a proposal to create a safe water system. However, the bureaucracy of Indian Affairs said that it had to get outside consultants to study it. The department spent more on the consultants than the project would have cost. In the meantime, the government also spent more on buying bottled water for the first nation than the project would cost. This is the problem with the bill coming before us. In the end, the first nation had all kinds of bureaucratic regulations and studies, but it still did not have safe drinking water.

Is that what the minister is afraid of hearing about in this debate?

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House are very used to hearing the doom and gloom from the other side of the House. Those members never talk about the successes.

I would never hear that member tell the House and Canadians that since 2006 this Conservative government has invested over $3 billion for waste water systems and water systems on reserve in Canada. I would challenge any of them to point to any previous government that has invested so much for water for first nations in this country. It just has not happened. They should follow the leadership of this government and get first nations the treatment they need.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, for seven consecutive years we have been working closely with first nations to address the current legislative gap for safe drinking water on reserve. Our government has been engaging with first nation partners since coming to government in 2006, and we continue to engage with first nations on the proposed legislation every step of the way. In fact, engagement has never stopped.

After the last iteration of Bill S-11 died on the order paper, we took action to address some of the concerns that have been raised by first nations and other important stakeholders, by making a number of amendments to the current iteration of the bill that members have before them.

Can the minister please explain how he has continued to elicit the first nations to address the concerns throughout this process, in particular the opt-in provision?

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for his question. It is an important one.

As a matter of fact, from the former iteration of the bill to this one, we have incorporated some 10 amendments that had been requested by stakeholders and first nations across the country.

Over the last several months, as members may know, concerns have been raised by various stakeholders regarding the opt-in provision in Bill S-8 for self-governing first nations and those who have already concluded land claim agreements. Specifically, it was suggested that this provision could create jurisdictional challenges and impacts for ongoing and future land claim agreements, among other issues.

As a result, I will be recommending to the committee that will be studying this bill clause by clause that there be removal of this provision from the bill, which will be good news for the land claims coalition and for those self-governing nations.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:10 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, rising as we are now to debate time allocation, I want to preempt the usual response from government members who say, “What a shame, the member has raised a process question rather than on the substance of the bill”.

This is a moment to debate process on a time allocation motion, and I am on topic.

At the time allocation motion on Bill C-60, I made the point that members of the House who are not members of large political parties in this place never get an opportunity to speak to a bill when time allocation is applied. I have never been given a speaking opportunity on any bill once time allocation is applied. Last time, on the Bill C-60 debate, the minister said, “Why don't you just go to committee?”

I will make the point. I have never been allowed to speak at committee due to objections from other parties.

This is an anti-democratic process of constantly imposing time allocation. It is unfair to members in this place and I regard it as a violation of the basis of democracy.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Another time allocation motion, Mr. Speaker. First nations are not in favour of time allocation and they are not in favour of Bill S-8.

I have a resolution here from the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising in which they talk about the fact that first nations have the inherent right to self-government as recognized by section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, which includes independent jurisdiction.

The resolution also says that the Conservative government has not consulted with them in order to pass these bills. The resolution says:

Therefore be it resolved that; the UCCMM First Nations categorically reject the following assimilation and termination Bills, Acts, policies and procedures used against our citizens;...Bill S-8 Safe Drinking Water...

Could the minister tell us why he is trying to pass this legislation as quickly as possible without consulting first nations and without the proper input of first nations and their members?

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, It is obvious that the hon. member is not really aware of what has taken place for the bill to come before the House.

Engagement with first nations and stakeholders across Canada started back in 2006. Knowledgeable people, those who cared to inquire about the facts, would realize that this engagement includes an expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations. The panel held hearings in nine locations across Canada with first nations and other stakeholders from June to August 2006.

A joint workshop was held between federal officials and the Assembly of First Nations technical water expert group in 2007. Meetings with first nations organizations and provincial and territorial officials were held in 2008 to share information on the proposed legislative framework. From February to March 2009, the government launched a series of 13 engagement sessions across the country at which 544 first nations individuals were present. From early 2009 to early 2010, the government met with regional first nations chiefs and first nations organizations to discuss specific regional issues. Between October 2010 and October 2011 the government engaged--

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:15 p.m.
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Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, for most Canadians access to safe drinking water is taken for granted. This is not the case for many first nations communities. Bill S-8 is crucial to ensuring first nations have the same health and safety regulations and protections concerning drinking water and waste water treatment that are currently enjoyed by other Canadians.

It has taken seven years to get to this point, seven years of continuous dialogue with first nations, including formal engagement sessions and implementing measures to accommodate the concerns of first nations. The legislation before Parliament today is the result of hard work and collaboration. Now is the time for action.

Could the minister explain how time allocating Bill S-8 would help fulfill this long-standing legislative gap and enhance access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water for first nations communities?

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the previous question on the issue of consultation was important, and I could have gone on and on.

Members may remember Bill S-11 in the previous Parliament. That legislation was also the subject of debate in the House and in the Senate. The legislation has been debated a lot since 2006.

In answer to the question from my learned friend, the Government of Canada and first nations have shared the goal of ensuring that first nations communities have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water. Progress and improvements have been made to address the provision of drinking water, especially with the investment of close to $3 billion since 2006.

This legislation would enable the development of regulations, in partnership with first nations and stakeholders, that would increase the level of capacity of first nations to provide their membership with the kind of water that all other Canadians enjoy.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise because I have been listening to the debate going back and forth. The minister is making two different points here, and they are contradictory.

On the one hand, he is saying that the government has been consulting for six years and has been trying to work this problem through. On the other hand, he is saying the Conservatives are now going to ram this legislation through, that they are going to use closure and not allow proper debate. Those are two contradictory points.

One that I also want to add is that I think Canadians all want safe drinking water. First nations want safe drinking water.

I held town hall meetings in my riding. When I consulted with the mayor and council of the City of Coquitlam, they were very concerned about this bill and the impact it would have on their city, working with the local first nations. Of course, we all want to them have safe drinking water, but they were concerned about the standards, the funding and the implications on the city. Where is the funding that would accompany what this bill is talking about? That is of grave concern, not just to us in terms of the opposition members who want to talk about this, but also to cities across this country.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, had the hon. member taken the time to read the bill, he could have explained to the mayor in question that the proposed legislation itself would have no impact whatsoever on non-first nations governments. As such, Bill S-8 and subsequent regulations would not force municipalities to provide drinking water services to first nations, nor delegate powers or costs to municipalities. Furthermore, Bill S-8 would not affect municipalities' abilities to choose to pursue or not municipal service agreements with first nations.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about the minister's responses regarding the consultations he held.

He brags that he consulted a number of first nations. However, the Assembly of First Nations strongly opposes this bill.

Had the Conservatives consulted the Assembly of First Nations, the assembly would have told them what amendments should have been made to this bill. I can think of a lot of them. I will not rattle them off for you the way the minister does for the groups he supposedly consulted.

Consulting groups is not enough; we must listen to them as well. When groups ask us to make amendments, we need to do it. That is why we want to continue debate on Bill S-8. The government has obviously not done its job. It has not made the necessary amendments.

Introducing legislation on safe drinking water is not enough. That needs to be done, but funding must be provided too. That is what the Assembly of First Nations is asking for, but that is not in Bill S-8. That is why we want to continue the debate, to explain all the good amendments and changes to be made to the bill.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, once again, the government has had a number of meaningful discussions with the first nations regarding the proposed legislation, and we will continue to do so.

Just like the Liberals, the NDP member is always talking about throwing money at problems. We are trying to establish a legislative framework so we can adopt regulations regarding the quality of drinking water and waste water services on first nations land.

All other Canadians and all other municipalities have this right. This initiative cannot be completed overnight. This is not smoke and mirrors. By working with the first nations, the regions and stakeholders from the communities, we can develop regulations to bring first nations drinking water and waster water services to a level and quality equal to or comparable to those enjoyed by other Canadians.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:20 p.m.
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Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, many of the reserves across Canada are remote and most of the reserves in northern Ontario are remote. This is not only an important issue to them. Many of them have dysfunctional water systems now, but building water systems in those remote areas is complex and way more expensive than in urban areas of Canada.

I would just like to add my voice on their behalf in asking for a more full and complete discussion of this bill before we go ahead with it because it has such huge implications for cost, complexity and a number of first nations.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I agree, indeed, that in remote communities it is a particular challenge. As a matter of fact, I visited the Kashechewan community not long ago and saw firsthand a water system in which this government had invested and from which the community benefits. I also visited with Chief Naveau and his community in northern Ontario and he showed me with pride the water system that the serious investment of this government allowed his community to get. The chief was telling me the problem is that they needed trained people to protect the system. This is what these regulations would achieve.

I do not understand why opposition members are arguing that instead of improving the system, we should sit and talk about it. That is all they do: talk about it.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have introduced this bill so first nations have the same access to drinking water as all Canadians. To me, it is incredible how anybody could even consider not supporting that because many of the communities, as we all know, have waited too long for safe, clean, reliable drinking water and yet, shockingly, opposition members have continually tried to draw out and prolong debate and continue to vote against this initiative.

As the preamble states, the government will work with the first nations to develop federal regulations. Passing this bill is just the beginning. Much work remains to be done.

Could the minister please tell the House how long it will take for regulations to be put in place and why we need to take action now, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month but now, in moving this legislation forward?

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, developing federal regulations will take time and will be implemented over a number of years. Regulations will be developed on a region-by-region basis and phased in over time. As I said earlier, this phased-in approach will help to ensure that first nations and system operators are prepared for the coming into force of the regulations.

During this time, the government and first nations will continue to work together to bring in drinking water and waste water infrastructure, monitoring activities and capacity to the level required to meet future federal regulations. That is how we will do it.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am dismayed because I am thinking about many of the first nations communities I represent and how they would find that the shutting down of a conversation would be fundamentally disrespectful, even with those who happen to disagree.

However, let me read a quote by the Minister of Public Safety when he was in opposition. He stated:

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister of Canada swung an axe across the throat of parliament. While committee members had an opportunity to speak to Bill C-36, members of all parties in parliament lost the ability to express the concerns of Canadians.

If the bill was the right thing to do, why did the Prime Minister do the wrong thing by invoking closure?

If the minister will not listen to the words of the opposition or first nations, maybe he will listen to the words of his own colleagues, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister, who have all said that using these draconian tactics in Parliament is fundamentally undemocratic and also leads to bad legislation, which his government has done time and again on something so important as drinking water on first nations reserves. Would it not be right to get it right?

The minister recently said something wrong. Many of these water integration systems are integrated with the non-aboriginal, non-reserve communities. The fact that he does not know that or does not seem to care raises so many fundamental concerns with his ability to do the job that he is meant to do. Shutting down debate is wrong and he knows it.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, as I have said before, and Canadians must know this, this motion does not shut down debate. It controls the debate.

From here, the bill will go to committee where every section of the bill can be debated and questioned. If members have ideas as to how to improve a bill, they can make their case at committee. Then the bill will come back to Parliament where the people who were elected will vote on it.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I heard the minister say that it does not close debate.

I do not think he understands what time allocation is. What the government has proposed is that all members of the House of Commons will be unable to participate in the debate on this very important issue. This is an allocation. It does close debate. It prevents members from being able to contribute their thoughts, ideas and reflections from their constituents to the debate.

Maybe the minister might want to reconsider his statement and reflect on what the government has proposed to do this afternoon.

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, what ignorance from that side of the House.

The fact is that for more than seven years, the governments, both the Liberals and the Conservatives, have not respected their treaty obligations.

Again, here is a quote from April 29, a resolution of the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising First Nations. It says:

UCCMM First Nations has the right to free and prior and informed consent on anything that affects us. We have not given out free, prior or informed consent on any of the legislation passed by this sitting of the legislature.

Again, one of the bills is Bill S-8. There is no first nation that does not want fresh, clean water.

The minister spoke about the places he had seen where the government had invested in clean water, where there was water that people could actually drink. He is not talking about the ones where they cannot drink it. The minister is forcing first nations to have legislation that they cannot even afford to put a system in place.

First, will the minister put money with that? Second, will he agree that all first nations should be heard, especially the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising First Nations?

Bill S-8—Time allocation motionSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, if the NDP is arguing that first nations have veto rights on every piece of legislation or regulation that can be made, I respect its position, but then the NDP members can explain that to all Canadians.

The fact is that this is an enabling legislation that will allow the government to develop, in partnership with first nations, a regulatory system that will ensure the provision of safe water for first nations members.

This is what the bill is intended to do. This is not a finance bill. This is a bill to provide a regulatory system that will allow first nations to get the same level of clean water as other Canadians enjoy.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, before I start today, I would like to say that I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

I fully support Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, and I encourage my hon. colleagues to endorse the proposed legislation.

Bill S-8 is an important piece of a larger initiative that will have a tangible, practical and positive impact on a long-standing problem: unsafe drinking water in first nations communities.

More than seven years ago, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development conducted an in-depth study of first nations drinking water. The report concluded that a large part of the problem is that responsibility for the various tasks involved in the treatment and delivery of drinking water on first nation lands is shared among many groups.

Here is a definitive statement from the report:

Until a regulatory regime is established that is comparable with the one that is in place in the provinces, INAC and Health Canada cannot ensure that First Nations people living on reserves will have continuing access to safe drinking water.

The same conclusion was reached in every other authoritative report on the matter, including most recently in the National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems, published in July 2011.

The national assessment was the most rigorous, comprehensive and independent evaluation of on-reserve water and waste water systems ever undertaken by a federal government. The report is full of valuable information that can help point the way toward further progress. It highlights the variations in the quality of drinking water in first nations communities and the diverse reasons for successes and challenges. The report also recommends the “establishment of a regulatory framework for water and waste water systems”.

Bill S-8 alone, of course, will not ensure access to safe drinking water in first nations communities, but it would create a legislative framework to enable the government, together with first nations and other stakeholders, to develop enforceable standards, the chains of accountability that are absolutely necessary to support progress.

Let me remind the House of the tragic examples of water contamination in communities across the country.

In North Battleford, Saskatchewan, in 2001, over 7,000 people became sick because there had been a failure to properly treat the drinking water. I too drank the water and was also sick at that time.

In Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000, seven citizens died and more than 2,500 became sick. In the aftermath of the Walkerton tragedy, the Ontario government developed one of the most stringent drinking water regulatory regimes in Canada.

In order to avoid a tragedy like Walkerton happening in first nations communities, we need regulations. This is what Bill S-8 would enable the government and first nations to do.

To address the other factors that contribute to unsafe drinking water, this government, in partnership with first nations and first nation organizations, has taken a long list of actions. From 2006 to 2014, the Government of Canada will have invested approximately $3 billion, including $330.8 million in economic action plan 2012, in water and waste water infrastructure in first nations.

These investments supported more than 400 projects, such as the construction and upgrade of treatment systems, the protection of water sources and the installation of piping networks and holding tanks. More than 40 projects were completed last year alone. Actions were also taken to train and certify hundreds of operators and to publish and distribute treatment protocols and operational guidelines.

The combined effect of these actions has been significant, but much more remains to be done.

The establishment of regulatory regimes would support further progress in a number of ways. Practically speaking, Bill S-8 would enable the development of regulations to protect sources of drinking water located on first nations lands from contamination. The regulations stemming from Bill S-8 would help strengthen oversight and clearly lay out the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved, including private companies operating drinking water and waste water systems on first nations lands.

During the discussions that took place over the last six years to develop this legislation, numerous first nation public works specialists expressed the need to have tools to do their work properly and to have access to appropriate safeguards to provide clean, safe and reliable drinking water to fellow community members. While protocols and guidelines exist to help operators in first nations communities, these documents lay out no enforceable standards. Regulations will offer a mechanism by which standards will be clearly stated, realistic and tailored to the circumstances of first nations. They will also provide a mechanism through which an enforcement body can support the work of these operators and guide them in their important work.

This government recognizes that partnership can be a powerful force, and the process to develop regulations will be key in bringing this commitment to reality.

Incorporation by reference of provincial and territorial drinking water legislation, with the adaptations to reflect the needs and circumstances of first nations communities, will foster collaboration in many ways.

First, regulatory development will enable the government and first nations to work together to develop the regulations that are essential to the health and safety of first nations children, women and men.

Second, incorporation by reference with adaptations will allow for comparable standards to be established between on- and off-reserve communities. Future regulations would extend the possibility of first nations, provinces, territories and municipalities working together to deliver safe drinking water and waste water services on first nations lands, exchange best practices and possibly strengthen partnerships that are already in place.

For instance, first nations and neighbouring municipalities sometimes share drinking water services through municipal-type service agreements, as in British Columbia, where the community of Kwakiutl receives drinking water from the neighbouring town of Port Hardy. We hope that having comparable standards on and off reserve would facilitate these partnerships.

Bill S-8 and future regulations would help support first nations communities by bringing their drinking water and waste water services to a level and quality of service comparable to those enjoyed by other Canadians living in communities of similar size and location.

The bill is a crucial component of this government's numerous actions over the years to improve the safety of drinking water on reserve. It would have a significant and tangible impact on first nations communities.

Ultimately, Bill S-8 would enable first nations to work with federal and regional officials to develop regimes tailored to their circumstances while respecting science-based standards for health and safety.

I urge my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill S-8.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of what we have heard from first nations across the country, and in view of the devastating report on the state of potable drinking water and waste water systems across the country from July, 2011, I would like to ask the hon. member whether he is prepared to do what I said in the letter I wrote to the minister in the fall of 2011.

In the letter, I said that as the Liberal Party, we would not be able to support any legislation unless there were resources to go with it to actually fix this appalling situation with three-quarters of the water systems within the country. This piece of legislation will do absolutely nothing unless there are resources for first nations to fix these problems.

Will the member tell us where the money is coming from to fix this situation in the first nations across the country?

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is quite hypocritical to hear that from the Liberal member over there.

For 13 years they were in government, and for 13 years they did not get anything done. They keep talking about it, but they never put in any legislation. In the past, all they wanted to do was put motions forward.

What we are seeing here right now is legislation to help first nations individuals in first nations communities. Being first nations myself, I hear the rigmarole of what is being said across the floor, and it is atrocious knowing what she is saying. That is what I find appalling.

I look back at November 2011. The Liberal member for Toronto Centre put forward a motion calling on the government to urgently address first nations' access to safe drinking water. Here is another motion. It is not legislation. All she does is talk about it.

Now, more than a year and a half later, we are hearing debate on Bill S-8, now in second reading for the fourth time. This is the second iteration of the bill. We believe that now is the time to move forward.

I hope that my hon. colleagues opposite will put aside their partisanship and support the bill.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am always interested in hearing the member give us some indication of what he thinks and how he feels about an issue that is so important to all of us.

I do not think there is anyone here who does not recognize the fact that there needs to be some action to deal with the desperate need for fresh, clean, safe drinking water in first nations communities. The problem is that bringing in legislation that would make first nations responsible for it, without properly ensuring that there would be funding in place, just compounds an already difficult situation.

Could the member please comment?

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will just point out what the federal government has done since the Conservatives became the government in 2006.

There was $333.8 million in 2006-2007. In 2007-2008, we had $333.2 million for first nations water and waste management. In 2008-2009, the federal government put in $340.8 million and in 2009-2010 an additional $412.7 million. In 2010-2011, it was $427.4 million and in 2011-2012, it was an additional $343.4 million. In 2012-2013, it was $374.8 million. Now, in 2013-2014, under Canada's economic action plan, there would be an additional $374.7 million.

That is a grand total of over $3 billion assigned to address first nations water and waste water.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on the important issue of the health and safety of all Canadian citizens, and, in particular, on Canada's first nations and their right to have access to the same safe, clean, reliable drinking water that other Canadian citizens enjoy.

Bill S-8, safe drinking water for first nations act, will enable the government to develop regulations with first nations to provide access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water to men, women and children living on first nations lands.

My support for Bill S-8 is further founded on two facts: the proposed legislation has been developed in collaboration with first nations; and, upon royal assent, regulations will be developed on a region-by-region basis in collaboration with first nations, provinces, territories and other stakeholders.

Bill S-8 proposes a mechanism to resolve another complex problem: the lack of a regulatory foundation to protect the quality of drinking water available in first nations communities.

This proposed legislation is the product of years of engagement, consultation and collaboration with first nations. There have been formal and informal meetings, town hall sessions, without prejudice discussions and workshops. Hundreds of people, including representatives of the Assembly of First Nations and associations of first nations chiefs, along with residents of first nations communities, have participated in these sessions. Their input has shaped the contents of the legislation now before us in several significant ways.

Bill S-8 calls for this collaboration to continue. Governmental officials would work alongside their first nations counterparts on a region-by-region basis to establish a series of regulatory regimes. Under this process, the parties would craft regimes that could draw on existing provincial, territorial or first nations regimes and adapt them to the particular circumstances of first nations. This is entirely appropriate, as a one-size-fits-all approach could never hope to accommodate the social, economic and geographic diversity of first nations communities. A regulatory approach that works for a remote community in northern Manitoba, for instance, might not work for a first nation in urban British Columbia.

Of course, every regime would have to satisfy minimum standards for safety, the same standards required by the provincial and territorial laws that protect drinking water quality off reserve. Under the regimes established through Bill S-8, drinking water would have to be sampled and tested in accordance with established methods and standards, and contamination thresholds would have to be based on scientific evidence.

This co-operative approach would ensure that those who would be subject to the regulations would have a role in creating them. This would help promote a greater understanding of the new regimes as well as ensure that these regimes are reflective of the diverse needs of each region.

We can expect that the federal regulations governing drinking water in a given first nation would be similar to the regulations governing the drinking water of nearby communities. Complementary regimes would open the door to further collaboration, such as joint training and certification programs or shared treatment and distribution facilities. This would, in turn, inspire co-operation on other common issues and opportunities.

Ultimately, of course, the goal is to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, can access safe drinking water. Access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water is an important determinant of health and a driver of socio-economic development. Yet the truth is that most first nation communities do not have regulations in place that safeguard water quality.

The current regime comprises a tangled web of protocols and funding agreements that are not legally enforceable. As a result, standards are not clear and it is impossible to hold anyone accountable for substandard and unsafe drinking water.

As I mentioned a moment ago, Bill S-8 is the product of a lengthy and collaborative process. Seven years ago, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development called on the Government of Canada to address the regulatory gap related to drinking water in first nations communities. Since then, two other authoritative bodies—an expert panel and a standing committee of the other place—studied the matter and made similar recommendations.

Even the Liberals, back in November 2011, put forward a motion calling on the government to improve first nations' access to safe drinking water. The House fully endorsed that motion. I hope that now my hon. colleagues opposite will put aside their partisanship, honour their noble commitment to improving access to safe drinking water and back this important legislation, which goes far beyond the words of that motion.

The collaboration that inspired Bill S-8 began in 2006, when the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations announced a plan of action on first nations' drinking water. This joint undertaking, the plan of action, called for a number of measures, including the development of appropriate regulations. From the outset, the government has directly involved various first nations organizations in the development of legislative options.

In 2007, the expert panel created under the plan of action met with first nations representatives and technical experts from all over the country and subsequently recommended the development of safe drinking water legislation. Departmental officials met with the Assembly of First Nations technical water experts group to discuss options for this legislation. Then, in 2008, the government began to meet with representatives of first nations groups.

The following year, the government released a discussion paper based on the option of incorporation by reference of provincial and territorial standards and held a series of 13 engagement sessions. It heard from more than 500 members of first nations. Although a consensus emerged about the need to address health and environmental concerns, there remained concerns about the proposed approach to legislation.

After the engagement sessions, the government held a series of meetings with regional and national organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations. These discussions involved a range of concerns about the proposed legislation.

The Government of Canada then introduced into the Senate an earlier version of the legislation, Bill S-11. The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples began to review the proposed legislation and heard from more than 40 witnesses before the previous Parliament was dissolved.

Rather than simply reintroduce the same legislation, our government chose to collaborate further to identify and incorporate improvements. In particular, officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada held without prejudice discussions with first nations groups. Invites were sent to first nations organizations from all over Canada, and some first nations organizations were willing to work with the government to improve the legislation, in particular those from Alberta and the Atlantic.

During these discussions, new ideas emerged to address specific concerns with the previous version of the bill. Several changes were made, and as such, I am proud to say that first nations organizations directly influenced the contents of Bill S-8. As a result of this collaboration, the legislation now before us is stronger.

Thousands of people residing in first nations communities lack regulations that safeguard the quality of their drinking water. Bill S-8 would provide authority for the government to draft and implement appropriate regulations, working with first nations. These regulations would help protect the health and safety of first nations men, women and children.

This important legislation fully deserves the support of the House. I urge my hon. colleagues to vote in favour of Bill S-8.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, the issue of funding remains paramount. In fact, the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, which was an initiative of the federal government, I believe, concluded that it is not credible to go forward with any regulatory regime without adequate capacity to satisfy the regulatory requirements.

My second question has to do with the kind of regulations and standards that could be imposed on first nations. My understanding is that it would be possible to impose provincial regulations, provincial standards, but in some cases, provincial standards are lower than federal standards.

Does the member not agree that our first nations people deserve the highest federal standards?

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my remarks, most first nations communities do not have regulations in place that safeguard water quality at all. As we have heard, access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water is an important determinant of health and a driver of socio-economic development.

Bill S-8, safe drinking water for first nations act, will enable the government with first nations to develop the regulations that the member is referring to, to provide that access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water to men, women and children living on first nations lands. As I stated in my remarks earlier, the goal of this legislation is to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, can access safe drinking water.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, this legislation puts responsibility on the government for providing safe, clean drinking water to first nations communities, but it does not ensure that the funding will be available. When I asked the hon. member's colleague this same question, I got in response a list of all of the funding that has gone in this direction in the past seven years. The problem is, it has not done the job, and the question still remains.

I ask the member, is she not as concerned as I am that with the legislation there needs to be the adequate resources directed?

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I believe my colleague answered the question that since forming government, we have invested almost $3 billion in water and waste water infrastructure.

If that member was as concerned as he says he is, he would have supported the $192.7 million that was included in last year's budget.

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with the member. It is simple. First nations should have access to safe drinking water and those types of measures, the same things that every other Canadian enjoys in Canada, including every member in this House. My understanding is that this legislation before us today has been seven years in the making. There has been continuous dialogue between the Government of Canada and first nations. Some of the concerns first nations brought to the table have been incorporated into Bill S-8.

The member mentioned consultations with first nations. Could she elaborate and provide this House with more information regarding those consultations between first nations and the government, and also, after seven years, why it is so important to move this legislation forward?

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member makes an important point: engagement has been ongoing for seven years. The Government of Canada has been involved in extensive engagement since 2006, and we continue to engage with first nations on this proposed legislation and regulatory development.

I would like to highlight the following. In the summer of 2006, an expert panel held public hearings across Canada, at which time they heard from over 110 presenters, and received more than two dozen submissions.

In February and March of 2009, a series of engagement sessions were held with first nations communities, regional first nations organizations, and provincial and territorial officials. There were 700 participants, of whom 544 were first nations.

In the fall and winter of 2009 to 2010, government officials met with first nations chiefs and organizations to discuss specific regional issues raised during the engagement session, and from October 2010 to October 2011, without prejudice discussions with first nations—

Second ReadingSafe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2013 / 5:40 p.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is very important for me to speak to Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands.

We too often disregard the importance of water in Canada. We have more than two million lakes and the largest supply of fresh water in the world, so we often take water for granted. Even though this resource is essential to life, the environment and our economy, water is not immune to contamination.

Protecting the quality of our water is extremely important to everyone, whether we live in an urban or rural area, or on a reserve.

Unfortunately, it is clear to me that the Conservatives do not care much about protecting our water.

My Motion No. 400 was designed to restore balance between urban and rural areas. This motion, which received unanimous support on the opposition side, aimed to develop a reasoned and comprehensive solution to a problem that affects water quality and public safety.

However, the government has decided not to take action. It claimed that the provinces were responsible for regulating septic tanks, thus shirking any responsibility. If the government had had the political will to take action, we could have worked with the provinces, as stated in the motion, and respected their jurisdictions.

Today, we can see that the government's reaction to my motion was ill-advised and narrow-minded. The same could be said for Bill S-8.

I do not think that the solution offered in Bill S-8 is reasoned or comprehensive. There are many problems with this bill: it does not respect first nations' ancestral rights, it does not include the necessary investment, there was no consultation, and the bill is not compatible with provincial laws.

I will talk about these issues more another time, since they are recurrent problems with this government's aboriginal affairs legislation, especially when it comes to violating rights and failing to consult.

Mr. Speaker, before concluding today I want to say that I have heard the comments made today by members in the House that we do not have to consult when we put forward legislation. However, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People states that we do need free, prior and informed consent when we are talking about first nations legislation. This is something that the government has failed to do again and again. It is not a choice that we have. It is about rights and something that the international community is begging us to do.

I am looking forward to speaking more about this next time.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to sum up the address I provided on the bill. As I mentioned in my comments last week, there is a lot of support for moving forward on an expedited and complete action to provide safe drinking water to first nation communities, as other Canadians have taken for granted for many decades. We are fully in support of the government finally moving forward and expediting action on this.

The problem is that the bill is in fact hollow. There is no substance whatsoever to Bill S-8. All of the substance will come in the regulatory agenda that is provided for in the bill. All of that action will proceed presumably in consultation with the first nations but there is no provision in that bill requiring that the government consult directly when developing and implementing those regulations with the more than 600 first nations that will be impacted.

Second and more important, the Auditor General, the expert panel that previous governments appointed to address this outstanding problem, the first nations and the organizations that represent them have been very clear over the past decades that we cannot enact legislation that will transfer liability and responsibility to first nation communities to deliver their own safe drinking water programs, if the appropriate and necessary resources are not transferred at the same time.

I am sad to say that we do not see anything in the current budget or the supplemental dollars that will enable either the necessary consultation with the first nations on developing and implementing the regulations, or the installation, operation and maintenance of the necessary mechanisms to provide the safe drinking water.

As I mentioned, there are a number of additional problems with the legislation, which hopefully can be addressed in committee. Some of those include the fact that there is a failure to establish the regulatory and operational advisory bodies recommended by the expert panel and by the first nation interveners before the Senate. Those include the first nation water tribunal and the first nation water commissions, which would genuinely provide a voice to first nations to work alongside the federal government in actually implementing this legislation, or in implementing their own regime.

That is another error in the legislation pointed out by the head of the Assembly of First Nations. There is no recognition in this legislation that the first nations themselves may already have a regime for safe drinking water or may choose to go down the path, with assistance from the federal government, of implementing their own regime.

There are also problems with the non-derogation clause, which one could shoot a cannon through, a huge exemption. Clause 7 also provides a potential conflict with section 35 of the Constitution, where it would allow federal regulations under Bill S-8 to prevail over first nation laws.

In closing, I would like to share a very strong comment by National Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations in his submission to the Senate in their review of Bill S-8. After going through a number of these additional concerns, where he welcomes some action finally by the government, he remonstrated with them for these kinds of concerns and also for the failure to consult. He said:

Bill S-8, as part of ongoing process started with Bill S-11 prior to the [Crown-first nations gathering], continues a pattern of unilaterally imposed legislation and does not meet the standards of joint development and clear recognition of First Nation jurisdiction. The engagement of some First Nations and the modest changes made to the Bill do not respond to the commitment to mutual respect and partnership envisioned by the [Crown-first nations gathering].

As I shared at the outset of my speech last week, even the first nations in Alberta, in Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and Treaty 8, while they expressed gratitude to the minister for finally coming back and consulting them in greater detail, said very clearly that they did not think it was appropriate to move forward until there was the adequate funding and an undertaking to directly engage them in the development of the regulations.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for raising key points here in the House as to why we oppose Bill S-8.

I wonder if she could elaborate on a very disturbing trend we are seeing from the government with regard to first nation legislation and the lack of consultation, not just in the context of Bill S-8 but also when it comes to matrimonial property rights and first nations' accountability. I would like to hear the member's comments on how she views this approach.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her continued advocacy on behalf of the first nations not only within her constituency but across the country.

Indeed, it is a concern that not just the official opposition is raising. New Democrats are raising this concern on behalf of the first nations who have been trying to get the federal government to live up to its commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by which the government has committed to respect and honour the right of first nations to self-determination and self-governance.

At the Crown-first nations gathering this past January, there again was strong language by the Prime Minister of this country on behalf of the government to strengthen and reset the relationship with the Crown and first nations and to move away from the unilateral imposition of policies and laws. Yet in Bill S-8 we see the same old same old.

Frankly, I am stunned given the constitutional obligation upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada on the federal government's duty for advanced consultation, consideration and accommodation of first nations' rights and interests to the peoples and their lands. It is rather stunning that even the government's own environmental legislation requires that the public be consulted when it is developing an array of environmental laws, yet it did not see fit to impose at least that precondition in the promulgation of regulations under the bill.

Overall, there was some movement, grudgingly, toward consultation on Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and Treaty 8 in Alberta, but that was because first nations remonstrated so strongly that they needed to be consulted.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that my hon. colleague is well known for her work in environmental activism and being a leader in calling for states and obviously Canada to take a lead role in that area.

The question of ensuring safe water systems has an environmental aspect to it. I am wondering if she could comment on how Bill S-8 fails to ensure environmental sustainability.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not necessarily convinced that this particular act should be the one to protect source water, but she raises a very important point. It is something that I and many others have researched and spoken out about as the dialogue has proceeded over several decades on how to ensure safe drinking water for first nation communities. The problem is at the federal level. There has been almost no exercise of the mandate to protect source water, which provides the sources for safe drinking water for first nation communities. Why is that a problem? When source water is not protected, the cost of cleaning and making drinking water available is all the more expensive.

The government is, instead, going in the opposite direction. It is going backward and making it more difficult for first nations to intervene in hearings, without providing them the expenses and expertise to intervene when other major energy and resource projects may impact the sources of their safe drinking water.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House to speak to such an important piece of legislation that will have a direct impact on my constituency of Churchill in northern Manitoba.

I have the honour of representing 33 first nations in northern Manitoba. Many of these first nations have tremendous opportunity. They have the youngest population in Canada. The young people on these first nations are looking toward training and education, opportunities in the job market, the ability to have families and the opportunity to contribute to their communities in all sorts of ways. However, along with these opportunities are some significant barriers and none perhaps is more entrenched than the lack of access to safe drinking water, which a number of the first nations that I represent face. It is obviously a barrier that affects their day-to-day lives in a very real way. It is not a question of comfort; it is a question of basic health.

Aboriginal people as a whole in Canada share a lower life expectancy than non-aboriginal people. I think we would all agree that the fact that first nations people live less than everyone else is shameful in a country as wealthy as Canada. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why that is the case. One of the indicators is the lack of access to basic rights, including the right to safe drinking water and the use of safe water systems. That is very much the case with respect to some of the first nations that I represent. I have seen it first-hand.

I want to share the experience of the Island Lake first nations. It is a group of four first nations located on the east side of Lake Winnipeg close to the Ontario border. The Oji-Cree people live there in the communities of Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack and Red Sucker Lake. These first nations are isolated in that they do not have a road that they can use year round to access their communities. People must depend on the ice roads to get in and out at an affordable cost. The only other option is flying in and out, which is completely out of the reach of the average resident of these communities. It is often only used at the eleventh hour when people either need to see a doctor or need medevac because of an unfortunate urgent incident.

These communities face some of the highest levels of water insecurity. I had the opportunity to visit these communities on many occasions. I even drove on winter roads. The lack of access to safe drinking water is one issue that has come up time and time again.

I also had the opportunity to visit St. Theresa Point during the H1N1 outbreak, which impacted the Island Lake first nations disproportionately. Many medical professionals indicated that the number one reason why more people on Island Lake were impacted by H1N1, and by impacted I mean sent to emergency wards in Winnipeg and other communities, is that they did not have access to safe drinking water. What was so disturbing and disgusting at the time was the federal government's slow reaction to the demands for hand sanitizer and a long-term investment in water infrastructure, when it was so clearly linked to the serious health implications that we were seeing.

Shortly after that the federal government made some basic commitments to the Island Lake first nations. I remember being in Garden Hill when one of those commitments came to fruition in the form of large bins to be used as toilets. Everyone in the House and probably everyone across Canada would agree that is not only an inadequate response but an offensive response, when the day-to-day reality on first nations is one that is so far off the average Canadian's. It is quite clear that inadequate sewage and water systems have held people back on these first nations and continue to hold people back.

It is an issue that has been raised by local and regional leadership. We have seen the federal government respond to these demands in a very inadequate way through the continuous use of short-term and, in some cases, even offensive measures through the sending of bins to be used as toilets.

The fact of the matter remains that these are not issues mired in silence. There are international campaigns that have focused on the plight of the Island Lake first nations and other first nations in Canada, pointing to the lack of water security and the need for immediate action by the federal government.

I want to reference a study that was commissioned by the government itself that found that an investment of $5 billion over 10 years was needed to truly ensure safe water systems for first nations. This also included the need for an immediate investment of $1.2 billion. That study was commissioned by the government itself, so the numbers are clear, stark and significant. This would be an answer to what is perhaps the clearest indication yet that there are still first peoples of Canada living in third world conditions, which is unacceptable.

Instead, however, the Conservatives have only committed $330 million over two years. We saw that in 2010 and no commitments were made in 2011. Now we are in 2012. As we know, as these first nations communities grow, the need to access safe drinking water only grows along with them.

What we have here today is again an inadequate and very problematic response to a very serious issue facing first nations.

We as New Democrats are proud to be able to work with first nations' national leadership, but also regional, local leaders and community band members to say that Bill S-8 is absolutely the wrong way to go.

I want to make another point as well. One wonders how a government could go so far back in time. One only has to look at the kind of legislation the government is bringing forward when it comes to first nations to understand that trend, because Bill S-8 also involves no consultation with first nations. This is not an optional piece. We certainly have learned from our political and societal evolution and the mistakes of the past that if we do not consult with first nations and use a top-down approach, it is the wrong way to go. It simply revives the colonial relationship that Canada for so long imposed on first nations, a relationship that has caused nothing but grief.

We have an opportunity here to break free from that trend and sit down with first nations to not just hear from them or media reports about how bad things are, but also to work to find an adequate solution that works for them. This lack of consultation is extremely disturbing.

The Conservatives have a track record of broken promises. In March 2006 they announced a plan to implement the protocol for safe drinking water for first nations communities. Their piecemeal strategy was not fully implemented and failed to solve the problem. In 2010, the Conservatives introduced Bill S-11 to improve standards for first nations' drinking water quality, focusing on existing provincial regimes, contrary to the preference of its own expert panel and the wishes of the Assembly of First Nations.

Aboriginal groups were also unhappy with the legislation because the government failed to adequately consult them, ignoring first nations' right to self-government and to water and environmental protection. Now the Conservatives are introducing Bill S-8, with only minor changes from previous legislation. Again, I want to reiterate the important point about lack of consultation.

I noted earlier in response to the speech by my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona that we are seeing this disturbing trend in a host of pieces of legislation when it comes to first nations. The same applies to the matrimonial property rights bill and the first nations transparency bill. First nations have caught onto this and so have Canadians. For us to move forward, however, consultation with first nations is absolutely key.

The Prime Minister himself indicated that he was interested in a new relationship and a new chapter when it came to first nations. It was something he spoke of very clearly in his apology to residential school survivors and those who have suffered the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. Evidently, they are just words because when it comes to action, we are seeing bill after bill seeking to impose a framework on first nations without consultation. However, the government goes even further by imposing some real challenges when it comes to respect for aboriginal rights.

The regulations in Bill S-8 would overrule any laws or bylaws made by a first nation. However, interestingly, the bill would limit the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of its duties under the regulations.

Therefore, we see a system with two standards. One is for first nations in taking on a liability without, of course, the necessary support for building infrastructure and human resource capacity to deliver safe water systems. On the other hand, the government is able to run away from its own potential liability. If that is not a clear indication of how unfair Bill S-8 is, then I do not know what is. I believe this to be an indication that the government would pull away from its own commitments. I would also note that this is an option that the government is increasingly interested in as it moves forward in reaching out to first nations.

Another key trend that we are seeing, not just in terms of first nations but also in terms of the provinces, is the Conservative government's zeal in downloading services and responsibilities on other jurisdictions.

Let us look at the example of first nations, the most impoverished jurisdiction in the country bar none. They are not like municipalities or provinces that face challenges. We know that the situation first nations face in terms of lack of resources and capacity is the most extreme. However, the government, through Bill S-8, would like to download a critical service, which it ought to be responsible for, onto first nations without giving them the support they need to ensure they have the right infrastructure and capacity.

That is setting them up to fail. It is the federal government absconding on its responsibility and it really speaks to its lack understanding of its fiduciary obligation to first nations. Perhaps, more broadly, it is a complete lack of vision when it comes to building a better Canada. I believe this is the saddest part of what we are debating here and what we often debate in the House.

The Conservative government, with its omnibus budget bills, and with health transfers and support for post-secondary education and the need for stronger infrastructure programs, is like no other in its desire to pull away from what is fundamentally its responsibility.

We saw a similar kind of zeal under the Liberal government in the 1990s. One would have expected the Conservative government to take note of that kind of approach to governing. The government has taken it to the next level at hyper speed, saying that it has nothing to do with fundamental services that ought to be offered to Canadians. That is something that I and many other Canadians we are increasingly opposed to. The federal government has less and less to do with health transfers, with supporting affordable education and with making sure that our roads are of good quality and that there is adequate infrastructure in communities, and with playing a role when it comes to protecting the environment and with supporting people at the margins of society in achieving a better quality of life and, most specifically, in the context of Bill S-8, with making sure that first nations have access to safe drinking water like any other Canadians. It is a sad state of affairs when the leadership of the federal government pulls away from its responsibility and the concept that a better Canada involves a federal government working with other partners, including in consultation with first nations in addressing the real gap that exists with the lack of safe drinking water in first nation communities.

I know well the experience of first nations communities in my part of the country in northern Manitoba. However, I also know there are many members across the aisle who also represent first nation communities where similar challenges exist, where they see people getting sick because of the lack of safe drinking water and living in abject poverty without the kinds of services other Canadians take for granted. I would ask them what they are doing for those people and why they are letting go of the responsibility they have to ensure that first nations, Métis, Inuit and all Canadians have access to the kinds of infrastructure we all expect in a country as wealthy as Canada.

I am proud to be part of the New Democratic Party that stands with first nations and opposes legislation that re-enacts the colonial relationship and fails to consult with first nations. I am proud to be part of a party that calls for immediate action so that first nations can live in dignity, the way we all deserve to.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, in her speech, my hon. colleague mentioned that, in a country like Canada, we should not have communities living in abject poverty, in third-world living conditions, and we should be taking care of these communities. She also talked about the fact that this has not gone unnoticed by the international community and that our reputation regarding how we treat aboriginal communities is being disparaged around the world.

Several UN reports—particularly concerning the rights of the child, respect for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—have been critical of Canada, saying that Canada is not meeting international standards and that aboriginal communities, and especially children, are living in extremely vulnerable situations.

NDP members are not the only ones who recognize the seriousness of the situation facing our aboriginal communities, for the international community does too. I wonder if my colleague could comment on that.

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November 26th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised a crucial point.

The truth is that, more and more, the international community is watching how Canada treats its aboriginal people, Canada's first nations peoples. And it is truly shameful.

Whether a question of access to clean drinking water, violence against aboriginal women or a lack of support for first nations education, the Canadian government's attitude represents a step backwards in terms of the promises made to first nations people. Furthermore, statistics on aboriginal peoples' living conditions in Canada also confirm this. The fact that the international community is talking about this proves how much Canada's reputation has suffered.

It is crucial that the Conservative government improve Canada's reputation by taking action to ensure that aboriginal people in Canada live in dignity, like all other Canadians.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Churchill. My goodness, one would think we never invested a dollar in first nations. We have invested over $3 billion in infrastructure for fresh water and waste water for first nations since 2006. That includes $330 million over the next two years.

The minister has already indicated that first nations certainly will require additional support to participate in regulatory development and funding will be available. The government will continue to provide funding for improvement of infrastructure and capacity development.

I cannot believe the member across the way has actually said that we have not done anything for first nations. Could that member actually recognize that we in fact have put billions of dollars into first nations fresh water and waste water infrastructure?

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November 26th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would hope the member across would listen to my speeches perhaps a little more carefully. He might not want to, but certainly the statements he attributed to me are not the case. I would ask him perhaps to read Hansard just to clarify that point.

It deserves clarification and it is something that I referenced in my speech. A study commissioned by the government found that an investment of $5 billion over 10 years was needed, with was immediate investment of $1.2 billion. Instead, the Conservative government committed only $330 million over two years in 2010 and nothing in 2011.

Investing $330 million, and we do not know how much of that money actually went on reserve to fix the systems there, does not mean that everybody gets a bit of good water. It means some people might get it, but there is a whole lot of people who still do not have access to safe drinking water, like the people I represent. I invite him to come to the Island Lake to see first-hand the precarity in which people live in Canada in 2012.

I also note that this legislation does not have any funding attached to it, so I would expect the same vigour that the member used to ask his question might be applied to asking his own colleagues to ensure that legislation to deal with something as serious as unsafe drinking water actually has money attached to it to make a difference, not just words.

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November 26th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague was very clear in her excellent speech that on any legislation that needs to be brought forward in the House, the people who will be affected should be consulted. Clearly, that has not been the case with Bill S-8.

In legislation that has come from the government in the last number of weeks in regard to our first nations, about transparency, about land rights, we have seen a downloading of responsibilities to the first nations, but yet there is no investment, there are no resources attached to it.

We have seen the government downloading issues to the provinces, whether it is health care or other responsibilities on which traditionally the federal government has taken a leadership role.

Conservatives talk about investing in our young people. My colleague talked about investing in our aboriginal young people who are the largest young population in our country. Yet we see no investment in housing or in education. Could the member talk about those?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's raising such important points, in terms of Bill S-8, but more generally the extremely problematic trend the Conservatives have been applying when it comes to downloading critical services onto other jurisdictions without the kinds of supports necessary. It is interesting to hear the government take that approach in various different areas.

We have seen from before that downloading often leads to serious problems, a lack of equality of service and in many cases a phasing out of the service entirely. I can speak to the fact that airports and even the Port of Churchill in my riding have been downloaded onto other jurisdictions and also private entities and we have seen the quality of service suffer as a result of that.

When we are talking, though, about something as critical as safe drinking water, there is no room to gamble with this. It is clear that proper consultation needs to take place. The figures have been made clear as to what kind of investments are needed in order for first nations to have basic safe drinking water. How can we expect first nations young people to excel in school or go on to employment opportunities when they do not have clean water to drink, when they do not have water to wash their hands, when there are not adequate sewage systems available? That is the kind of fundamental piece we are talking about here, not some pie-in-the-sky luxury but basic safe drinking water.

The fact that we are talking about this in 2012, almost 2013, is absolutely shameful. We on this side demand that the federal government step up to its fiduciary obligations, consult with first nations and make the investments that are needed to ensure that all first nations have access to safe drinking water.

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November 26th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today on safe drinking water for first nations.

As someone who in a previous career had some sense of responsibility for drinking water facilities in a municipality, I find it incredulous that in this day and age we have communities of people across our nation who do not have clean, safe drinking water, running water or waste water facilities that nearly everyone else in the country takes for granted. These are not people who are living in a cabin for two weeks and draw a pail of water from the closest river or lake because they are looking for the great outdoor experience, if one could put it that way. Rather these are folks who live their daily lives without clean, safe drinking water.

My friend across the way from Medicine Hat, who I like immensely, talked about the fact that the government deserves some credit with respect to spending $3 billion since 2005-06 on safe drinking water for first nations. It did. The difficulty is that there are still 124 first nations communities across this vast nation that still do not have any safe drinking water, not 124 individual homes or individuals. It is not a question of people living in homes inside these communities who in a pinch can go to their neighbours to get some water. They do not have any. That cries out for action.

If it was the case that 124 non-first nations communities across this great land did not have safe drinking water, there would be a heck of a lot of folks not sitting in municipal office for very long since it is the purview of municipalities across the nation, outside of first nations, to govern the safety of the water systems, whether it be for drinking water or waste water.

Clearly this requires some investment. As my colleagues have pointed out, it was reported back to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which commissioned the report that was done in 2011, that there was a financial commitment needed in infrastructure beyond what had already been done. Therefore, it is all well and good for the Conservatives to say that they have done that, which is fair, because some work has already been done, but it is not finished. Clearly, the report said that an additional $4.7 billion over the next 10 years was needed to ensure that first nations communities had water and waste water systems that were up to date.

Clearly, the needs with respect to safe drinking water for first nations are not being met, unlike our needs here. Whenever we simply hold up our hand or glass, the page delivers a glass of clean drinking water, and I am grateful to the page for bringing that. We have no issue getting clean drinking water. In fact, it is almost instantaneous. Yet when first nations look for clean drinking water, it perhaps another one, five or ten years, or perhaps not in their lifetime, depending how old they are, before they can go to the kitchen, turn on the tap and drink the water.

That is somewhat incomprehensible for most of us because of where we live. The federal government must know how wrong that is since it has a treaty obligation to ensure that first nations actually get safe drinking water and a waste water system that adequately takes care of all of that grey water that needs to be disposed of and handled correctly so it does not end up polluting a river that people draw water from.

It would seem that we need to start thinking about how to correct this injustice, because it truly is an injustice of a magnitude that I think a lot of us have not turned our minds to. Perhaps that is the problem with this legislation. Perhaps what happened is one did not turn one's mind, when the legislation was drawn, to not just the complexity of it but the magnitude of it, and recognizing that, because of the complexity and the magnitude, it will require funding that is greater than what is offered by the government today.

Ultimately, all of us deserve to have clean potable drinking water and a waste water system that is effective to ensure that our kids are not sick and that our grandparents do not drink bad water because they did not boil it sufficiently. The number of boil water advisories across first nations is another unfathomable statistic.

In my community many years ago, when I was deputy mayor and acting mayor, I received a phone call, which is every mayor's worst nightmare, other than Rob Ford being tossed out by the courts, I suppose. The worst nightmare, other than the death of an employee, clearly, is from the chief engineer of the water system saying that he had just run some tests and it might be necessary to issue a boil water advisory, and that, by the way, as the acting mayor, I would need to go on the radio and make the announcement. If that does not set fear in the heart of an acting mayor, I do not know what else would. Forgetting one's anniversary might be an issue but I leave that to those who have been married for a longer time and who had forgotten an anniversary.

When that happened to me as the acting mayor, I was told that a couple more tests would be run and then I would be called back. I crossed every finger and toe I had, my arms and legs to boot, hoping that the call back from the chief engineer from the water system would be that it was okay, that it was just a bad test, that the testing procedure had failed, that it was a contaminated bottle, that they had retested three times, that everything was good and that we were in the clear.

Fortunately for me, that was the case and I did not have to go on the radio and tell the town to boil water and to boil it for the next couple of weeks until we had cleaned and flushed the entire system. That is what would have had to be done.

We do not have systems here. This is not a question of saying, “Oh, by the way, we will just flush the system out, clean it out and we will go again”. It does not exist in these communities. That is why the extent of the infrastructure money required is as high as it is. I am sure the government side is saying that it is a lot of money. The $4.7 billion investment over the next 10 years is a substantial investment but it is the correct investment. It is a just investment. It is an investment we expect in our communities to the point where we actually have it. We live in communities that expect to have good, safe drinking water.

Here in Ottawa, which provides the drinking water for most of us here, it is safe drinking water, as it is across many of the communities. This is a right we expect and, in fact, take for granted. We turn on the tap, fill up the glass or the kettle to make some tea or coffee and we drink the glass of water or give it to the grandson, son or daughter, mom or whomever, knowing it is perfectly safe, and it is.

Now we must think about the first nations people. In the summer, when it is warm and their children are asking for a glass of water, the parents need to think about whether they have boiled any water lately and, if not, will need to boil some now. The children are thinking about whether they really need to do that because they are at an age where they are precocious little things. Instead, they get their own water and now they are ill because we did not do what we needed to do, which was provide a system that provided safe drinking water in the first place.

It is our responsibility for clean water because it is still under the act for us to have those negotiations. That leads me to the second piece of the legislation when first nations are saying to us that we have an obligation to talk to them about how we would implement these systems under treaty rights. It behooves us if that is the case.

I watched intently earlier this year when the first nations came to the Hill. The Prime Minister met with them, as did the minister and the parliamentary secretary. They talked about going forward with a new spirit of co-operation, dialogue, respect and understanding of our two nations. That is admirable but it is only words if that is all it becomes because here is the test. It is a fundamental test of people, not just first nations people but people in general, to expect to have safe drinking water and a waste water system that is effective and keeps them from getting ill.

When we happen to have that jurisdiction, we then have the responsibility to talk to them under treaty rights, ask them how they want to do this and tell then that we will be a funder of it. That is our obligation and responsibility. We should do that. However, we have an obligation to talk to them about it.

One of the things I found as I researched this piece, not being an expert on first nation treaties, is that it says that any abrogation or derogation from those aboriginal and treaty rights, any infringement of those rights, must be justified in accordance with the test for justifiable infringement enunciated by the Supreme Court of Canada. What do they include? They include whether a measure interferes with a preferred means of exercising a right, whether there has been as little infringement as possible in order to effect the desired results, whether in a situation of expropriation fair compensation is available and whether the aboriginal group in question has been consulted with respect to the measures being implemented.

When we look at the regulation part of Bill S-8, rather than being discussed with first nations and coming to agreement with first nations, it defers to provincial regulation. No one is saying those regulations are bad, albeit in Ontario we had to change our regulations after the Mike Harris debacle of Walkerton. I have seen the regulations but they actually have not been implemented in the province yet. For those who have not read them, I could provide members with a link to the website because it will probably take members about a month and a half to read them all. Even those regulations, if implemented, will put about 40% of the water systems in the province of Ontario out of business because there are not enough qualified people to meet the standards under the regulations, let alone if we imposed that on first nations across the country.

What first nations were telling to us was that we came to them with that spirit in the early part of the year but they wanted to know what happened to the consultation process when it came to the bill. What we know is that there was none.

I am surely not a legal expert, never having been a lawyer. I am not sure being a jury foreperson makes me be a legal expert but I will make a stab at it. In one of the Supreme Court's justifications, it says that whether the aboriginal group in question has been consulted with respect to the measures being implemented would be an allowable piece to let them out from underneath that. We know from the first nations and chiefs across the country that they were not consulted. That being the case, then it would seem that this is not a justifiable exemption in the sense of putting it aside and not talking to them.

It may have been well-intentioned from the minister's side when the legislation was put together to say that since the provinces have good regulations for water we should just use those. The minister should have sat down with the first nations and bargained under the treaty rights. He should have asked them what they thought about the provinces' regulations, which are pretty good and stringent, and that if the federal government provided the essential resources, the money, would they like to use the provincial standards. They may have agreed but we will never know because they were not asked. One should never assume that the answer to a question is yes if one has not asked the question. More important, one needs to discuss the issue because that is an obligation. Unfortunately, we did not do that in this case and that is what the first nations are telling us.

Here we are, at the end of 2012, albeit only a year since the last report was done, where we have 1,880 first nation homes with no water service. There is no such thing as opening the tap, filling a glass and drinking, safe or otherwise, because there is no water in the house. We know there are 1,777 homes that have no waste water. Not to try to be overly colourful, but that really means they have to bucket, because when it is -30° outside one uses the bucket. No one goes outside to the outhouse even if one has an outhouse.

The bill needs some real work. It needs to address the issues that first nations have identified. More so, it needs to address the report that the department commissioned. It received the report which outlined for the department where it needed to go and what it needed to do. Therefore, it was not a question of not being sure what to put in it. The department did its homework and found out was needed but it did not provide a solution. The solution was outlined in the report but it chose to ignore its own report that showed the path to fix the issue that has been here for a long time. If we go back to the nineties we see that 25% of the homes in first nations the drinking water issue was quite reprehensible. By 2001-02, it was 75% homes. It had actually become worse.

The present government was not in power then. It has made a stab at making it better but it could have fixed it if it had followed the report. The report outlined how to do that but the government chose not to. That is what this side takes great umbrage with. It is not the official opposition saying that the government should spend the money. We are simply saying that this is what the report said is the fix. However, first and foremost, it said to speak to the first nation leaders and ask them if this is the fix that they require and want so that in the end they will say how we can fix this issue together.

Would that not be a wonderful result if, at the end of the day, the government could say a few years from now that it fixed this issue? Finally, a Canadian government that said it would fix it and you could stand up and take the congratulations along with first nation leaders for accomplishing it together. That would have been a great feather in your cap but, unfortunately, you let it slide away.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
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London North Centre Ontario

Conservative

Susan Truppe ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite spoke of the results of the national assessment and the need for action. Following the release of the national assessment results, the Government of Canada committed to taking concrete action to support first nation communities in improving access to safe, clean, reliable drinking water. On-reserve water and wastewater issues have been identified as a priority.

The work being done in response to the national assessment has focused on three pillars in order to reduce the overall risks to first nations: enhanced capacity building and operator training, enforceable standards and protocols, and infrastructure investment. Over the last 12 months the federal government delivered in each of these areas. We agree that much more work needs to be done, which is why we are moving forward with this bill.

Why is the member opposite standing in the way?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, New Democrats would never stand in the way if the government actually proposed how it intended to fix the system. It has found a leaky pipe and is trying to put a band-aid over the leak hoping that will fix it instead of cutting that section of pipe out and putting a new piece in place. One of the things I learned at the municipal level is that if we keep patching an old road, eventually someone will go down a sinkhole.

Yes, the government is going to spend $330 million over the next couple of years. The report asked it to spend $470 million per year over the next 10 years. I will do the arithmetic: $330 million over two years is $165 million a year. The report asked for $470 million per year. The government is off by $305 million a year and has a ways to go to make it up. We should ask the other side if someone else wants to find the additional money to actually fix the system as we go forward in the 21st century, when we still have people who do not have safe drinking water, running water or wastewater systems in their homes. That is reprehensible and what needs to be fixed.

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November 26th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Welland for outlining some of the serious flaws in this bill and the serious inaction on the part of the government. We are talking about a very serious issue, drinking water in first nation communities. It is an extremely serious issue. Everyone should be entitled to good potable water.

Like him, I also maintain that the government has a Walkerton mentality. It does not listen and does not notice the warning signs. There are four ministers sitting on the front bench who were involved in the Walkerton tragedy: the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Finance, the President of the Treasury Board and the House leader. One would think that after these many years, they would recognize the warning signs, listen and take action.

I ask the member for Welland if he sees this as a concern, that it is the same old crew that is not recognizing the warning signs and that what the government is really all about is sending a message to the rest of the country that it is doing something when it is really doing as little as possible just to get by and not dealing with the real problem.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing I have learned in life is that if one does not learn from past mistakes, one is bound is to repeat them in the future.

Indeed, there are members of the Conservative government who were in the Ontario government during the 1990s when we had that great tragedy in Walkerton, Ontario, which many of us remember so well. Lessons were learned in the province of Ontario about that tragedy and we went forward from that. One would have thought we would look at those particular solutions and decide to make them part of this. Walkerton's municipal water system failed, under folks who people thought knew what they were doing. One would hope we would look at this whole piece and say let us not let it happen again, and this is how we should remediate it.

There was a review that went on for a number of years and we finally came up with more regulations. At the end of the day, many of them have been implemented, but some have not yet been.

Clearly, not only does that history lesson have to be learned by the government side that has some experience around it, but the government should have a road map in place. It asked for it be drawn, it was drawn, and now it simply has to put itself on the road map and follow it. It is no more difficult than that.

The government then has another party it has to talk to, which can sometimes be more difficult than the implementation. Unfortunately, in this case, not only did the government not meet its obligation to talk to the other party, the first nations, but it did not actually follow the road map when it came to resources. The government cheaped out on this aspect.

The government needed to follow the road map and then bargain a relationship with first nations, because that is what it said it would do. The government said it would do that in the spring. It said it would turn its mind to a different way of talking to first nations. The government said it would be inclusive, progressive, consultative and respectful of treaty rights with first nations. However, with its first opportunity, the government failed, which is unbelievable.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 2005 in my great riding of Sudbury, the Canadian Red Cross, the City of Greater Sudbury and the administration all rallied around to support the community of Kashechewan. Residents were evacuated from their community and taken throughout the north. Many of those individuals ended up in Sudbury.

At the time, I was the executive director of the United Way, and we were called upon to provide some support where we could. Other charitable organizations were doing the same.

When I got to meet some of the families who were staying at one of the hotels, it was very interesting to watch some of the teenagers and even the adults turning the water on and off, grabbing a glass of water and being able to drink that glass of water. This is something that we all take for granted. We can walk outside of this House to the water fountain and grab a quick sip of water. They cannot do that in Kashechewan.

To look at some of the facts and figures, in April 2011, the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs released the national assessment on first nations water and waste water systems; the national roll-up report. The results show that 1,880 first nation homes are reported to have no water service and 1,777 homes are reported to have no waste water service.

In this day and age in a country like Canada, which is so wealthy, it is shameful that we still have to say this statistic. Have we not learned anything from what happened years ago and what is happening on a daily basis?

I would like to hear the hon. member's comments.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Sudbury for highlighting what happened with the Kashechewan First Nation when it was split up across the entire province of Ontario. Not only was the community broken up but families were broken up.

The member for Sudbury gave an apt description of the amazement of young adults and youngsters alike turning a tap on and off for the first time. They were amazed that water came out of a tap. They had not experienced this in their own homes because they did not have any running water. They were amazed that they could fill up a tumbler with water from a tap and drink it safely, something we do every day of our lives without a second thought. This was something they did not get to do until a great tragedy beset their own community so that they had to go south to places such as Sudbury to find out that there is such a thing as safe drinking water inside a house.

That was a wake-up call for all of us. It needs to change, so let us change it. Let us amend the bill and fix it. Let us go forward and let no first nation ever again have unsafe drinking water, let alone no water at all.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the hon. member for Surrey North.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-8, an act respecting the safety of drinking water on first nation lands. Specifically, Bill S-8 would provide for federal regulations to govern drinking water, water quality standards and the disposal of waste water in first nation communities. These regulations would set out new criteria regarding provisions including: the training and certification of operators of drinking and waste water systems; source water protection; the location, design, construction, modification, maintenance, operation and decommissioning of drinking water systems 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 an elected representative from northern Ontario, I recognize the importance of ensuring that first nation communities have access to clean drinking water. I am certain that there is not a member of the House who would oppose the goal of ensuring this basic right.

I spoke about it earlier to my colleague from Welland. We all remember the crisis in Kashechewan First Nation in 2005, when the community was forced to evacuate due to a contaminated water crisis that left some community members extremely sick and stranded others in communities such as Sudbury for an extended period of time.

I talked about my previous role as the executive director of the United Way and there were many great organizations in Sudbury that provided support to the first nations people from Kashechewan. I had the opportunity to meet some of the families who were staying in a hotel in Lively. The amazement of teenagers, children and even the adults who were there, turning the water taps on and off, is something that has burned into my brain because they had never had that opportunity before. To see them sit there and drink a glass of water out of the taps, it made me think how we take our drinking water for granted. However, in a country like Canada, we need to ensure that our first nations have those same standards.

Unfortunately, although it is one of the most egregious examples of the contaminated drinking water, the case of Kashechewan First Nation is not an isolated incident. Rather, it is part of a systemic problem that affects first nation communities right across Canada. In fact, Health Canada has reported that as of October 31, 2011 there were 124 first nation communities across Canada under a drinking water advisory. These are often issued in remote or isolated northern communities. From my perspective, this is unacceptable in a country with as much wealth as Canada. This is reinforced by the fact that many of these communities are situated in close proximity to resource development projects that net huge gains to mining companies and the government through tax revenues, but often do not provide any assistance to communities living within arm's reach of these projects.

Although ensuring access to clean drinking water for first nation communities is a laudable objective, I am afraid that the legislation would leave much to be desired in terms of the process to achieve the desired outcome. For instance, the regulations put forward under Bill S-8 may incorporate provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water in first nation communities, thereby overriding the regulations set out in the bill. Here, the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations expressed concern about using provincial regulations since that would result in a patchwork of regulations that would lead to some first nations having more stringent standards than others. Obviously, this would be inherently problematic.

If the intent would be to ensure equitable access to clean drinking water, then implementing a patchwork system, which would have different thresholds for provinces, runs counter to what the legislation would try to achieve. Put simply, a provincial regime of regulation does not do enough to protect first nation communities and appears to be a derogation of the federal government's responsibility to provide basic services to first nation communities.

The derogation of responsibility is underscored by the component of Bill S-8 limiting the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of their duties under the regulations. As the federal government is meant to be the primary provider of services to first nation communities, it seems odd that the legislation is attempting to limit the liability of the federal government in situations where it has failed to properly address its constitutional mandate. If the government actually believed that the regulations provided for in the legislation alone would ensure equitable access to safe drinking water in first nation communities, then why is there a need to limit the government's liability when there is a failure in this regard?

This bring us to the most problematic aspect of the paternalistic approach that the Conservatives continue to take when providing services to first nation communities. The crux of the problem with the legislation is that the government thinks that regulation alone will solve the water crisis in first nation communities, yet we know this is not true. In addition to a regulatory overhaul, these communities require crucial investments in human resources and physical infrastructure, including drinking water and sewage systems, and adequate housing.

Supporting this call for increased funding is Dr. Harry Swain, chair of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations. Dr. Swain told the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, in 2007:

This is not, in other words, 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.

Further, in 2011, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada commissioned an independent assessment on first nation water and waste water systems. The report clearly states that a significant financial commitment to infrastructure development will be necessary, and that it will cost $4.7 billion over 10 years to ensure the needs of first nation communities regarding water and waste water systems are met. Yet, while the department has called for substantive investments to improve water and waste water systems in first nation communities, the Conservative government has only contributed to these improvements by committing $330 million over two years in 2010 and nothing in 2011.

I would challenge my Conservative colleagues on this shortfall, and although I do expect the inevitable finger-wagging and shouts, I would like to point out that a proactive approach with more substantive upfront investments in clean drinking water would likely be more cost effective than taking a reactive approach in which the government is forced to respond to an urgent public health crisis resulting from the failure to make these investments.

As is most often the case, the Conservative government continues to take a penny-wise and pound foolish approach, which fails to take the cost savings of pursuing a proactive approach into account when making the always difficult choices about what to prioritize in terms of government spending.

In summation, New Democrats agree that the poor standards of water systems in first nation communities are hampering people's health and well-being. It is also causing economic hardships for people living in these communities. This is not a difficult problem to solve. It just requires the political will and necessary investments to get us where we need to be.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, the commitment of $330.8 million over two years was through the economic action plan. This was to help sustain progress that was made to build and renovate water infrastructure on reserves. Between 2006 and 2014, the Government of Canada has invested approximately $3 billion to support the delivery of water and waste water services in first nations. This was all done after a comprehensive assessment was done. Independent engineers inspected 1,300 drinking water and waste water systems. This was more than 800 wells and 1,900 septic systems. A more rigorous and comprehensive independent assessment surveyed 97% of drinking water and waste water systems on first nation lands.

I do not see how the member can even suggest that the government has not made a priority of water and waste water on first nations and reserves. I do believe the government has been consistent, while the New Democrats have been very inconsistent in the way they vote. The NDP never demonstrated any will to help these people when it came to voting on the economic action plan investment.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister was spouting a lot of numbers, but here are two very important numbers that maybe the minister should listen to: 1,880 first nation homes have no water service, and 1,777 homes have reported having no wastewater service.

We have talked about the $4.7 billion needed over the next 10 years to ensure that we address that problem. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are not hearing that, announcing $330 million in 2010 but making no further announcement in 2011.

While the Conservatives are talking about numbers, first nation families are going without drinking water. That is shameful. The bill does not cut it. Let us send it back, let us fix it, let us do this correctly so that no first nation family has to go without drinking water.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, just to pick up on the member's point, it is critically important that families have access to clean running water.

The vast majority of Canadians, 95% plus, as was pointed out, can go to the kitchen and turn on the faucet or go to the washroom, and whether with the toilet or the bathtub, they can turn on the taps and the water will flow.

A good percentage of our population would be surprised that there are hundreds, and actually well into the thousands, of people residing here in Canada who do not have that access to clean running water. It is one of the reasons that politicians tend to want to talk about it. We passed the resolution.

The leader of the Liberal Party introduced a motion last November with all-party support, pointing out the specific situation on reserves and calling on the government to work with first nations leaders to resolve the issue, because a good percentage of those who do not have clean running water live on reserve. There was all-party support for that motion, with the government actually supporting it.

When we look at priorities in meeting the suggestions in that motion, does Bill S-8 really do the job that is necessary?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of things my colleague mentioned that really ring true.

I mentioned the Kashechewan First Nation crisis from 2005. My community of Sudbury really stepped up and supported many of the people who were evacuated from that community. In Sudbury we all learned a very valuable lesson that day, that not everyone has access to the drinking water and the wastewater systems we take for granted.

As I mentioned, those young kids and adults turning the tap on and off really burned an image into my mind that we had to stop just talking about this. We need to make the investments in infrastructure to ensure that we are supporting our first nation communities.

I do not believe Bill S-8 would address this in the way that we need to support our first nation communities. We need to fix this. We need to fix it now and I think we have the opportunity to do so, but it is not through Bill S-8.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North to speak to Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands.

Before I get into the bill, the title of it would have one believe that the Conservatives are actually going to do something about safe drinking water for first nations. It uses the word “respecting”. To me, respect is listening to the very people that this legislation is going to impact. Respect is to listen to their concerns and implement some resolutions to those concerns as part of the solution for creating a better environment for clean water and waste water systems for first nations. This bill would not do any of that.

We have heard debate in the House on this bill, we have heard testimony in committee and we have heard from experts that the government is not listening to first nations. It has, in fact, failed to consult the very people who are going to be impacted by this particular legislation. The word “respecting” is very misleading, because the government is not respecting the very people who would be impacted by this legislation.

We in the House all agree on the need for clean water and water systems accessible to first nations. A fundamental right of Canadians is to have access to free and clean drinking water. In fact, after Russia and Brazil, we have the third largest supply of clean water in the world. Yet first nations are having difficulty accessing clean and safe water for their drinking needs, and that is not acceptable to Canadians. In this day and age, we need to provide clean water for first nations. It is doable. We have heard in the House that we can provide safe, clean water, but it needs a commitment from the government to invest in first nations so they have access to clean water.

This issue of clean water has been boiling for the last 10 or 15 years, as far as I know. The Liberals tried to fix it and I know the Conservatives have tried a piecemeal strategy to address the needs of first nations, but over a period of time they have failed again and again because there was no substance in previous bills, or even this one, to help them get clean water. In fact, this particular bill does not provide the investment for first nations to build the infrastructure needed for access to clean water.

Having clean water is a fundamental right. Not only that, but it helps first nations build their economy and improves their health. If they do not have good health, it is going to impact the economy. If the Conservatives are truly worried about building an economy and providing jobs to first nations youth, it is important for government to step up to the plate. It has been saying for many years that there is going to be clean water for first nations, but their words are hollow.

All this legislation would do is provide for a regulations framework. That is all it would do. It would not provide the infrastructure or investment that is needed. All it would do is provide for additional regulations that will be put on first nations. The government did not even consult first nations, the very people who are going to be impacted by this legislation. In order to put a system in place that provides clean water for first nations, it is very important to consult those people. Yet the Conservatives failed to do that.

The Prime Minister talked about building a new relationship with the first nations. What I believe he meant was to consult with first nations. It is our duty to consult first nations when bringing in legislation that would impact them. I believe his words were hollow when he said that we would build a new nation by consulting first nations. Clearly, this legislation would not do that at all.

Not only do we need infrastructure and additional investments in our communities to provide them with clean water, but also for waste water that ends up in our lakes and streams. The government is focused on cutting the very regulations that help protect our lakes, rivers and oceans. Not only is it not providing the infrastructure needed to treat the waste water that would be released into our lakes and rivers, it is gutting the environmental regulations that we have in place to ensure that Canadians across the country have adequate access to clean safe water.

Over the years, we have seen the numbers. Hundreds of first nations communities across the country have been under boil water advisories. In Ottawa and back in Surrey, we take it for granted that we can turn on the tap and drink the water. However, hundreds of communities across the country do not have access to clean water and are under a Health Canada boil water advisory. This is happening in the 21st century. We are trying to build that new relationship that the Prime Minister so often talks about but the government is not delivering on its promises of trying to help the first nations.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen legislation brought in by the government, whether it is the transparency act or matrimonial land rights, without any consultation with the first nations people. The courts have told us that it is our fiduciary duty to consult with first nations on any legislation brought into the House that concerns them. We need to hear their views. Not only must we consult with first nations, we must also work with them toward addressing the concerns that they have brought forward.

This is a hollow bill that fails to address the very things that need to be addressed. Over and over again, the Conservatives are failing to address the very needs of the first nations. They never talk about housing or education for our young people. They never talk about investing in young people so that the cycle of poverty in our first nations can be broken.

The government talks about spending millions of dollars and investing in first nations but its own report called upon the government to implement a strategy over a period of time wherein additional investments into drinking water for first nations would take place over 10 years. The government has not only failed Canadians but also first nations by not investing and providing the infrastructure that is needed for clean water and waste water management. The bill would not address any of the concerns that the first nations have brought forward, and Canadians are aware of some of those issues as well.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite mentioned the investments that this government has made. I would like to remind him that the member for Medicine Hat spoke earlier of our government's commitment of $3 billion so far on the issue of water and wastewater standards on first nations land across this great country.

However, investments themselves do not suffice. That is why our government is moving forward with a three-pronged plan focused on investments, enhanced capacity and legislation to ensure that drinking water and wastewater standards on first nation land are comparable to standards enjoyed by all Canadians.

Could the member opposite speak to that, recognizing that money itself is not the only thing this government is focused on? We are focused on trying to fix the entire problem.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, all the Conservatives have been doing over the last number of years in government is talk. Talk is not going to resolve the very issues that are affecting our first nation communities. Talk is not going to resolve the housing issues in first nation communities. Talk is not going to resolve education issues in first nation communities. Talk is not going to resolve the problem of creating jobs for young first nations people.

The government's own study pointed to investing in first nation communities so they can have access to clean water and water systems in place to clean waste water. The Conservatives have clearly failed on that. They have a piecemeal strategy in place that has not worked for our first nations. It is shameful that they keep saying that they have invested money and do not need to invest more money.

As Canadians, we can do this. Let us work together in the opposition, the NDP and Liberals, and all parties together and solve this issue of having clean drinking water in first nations.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the member's last comment on working together. There are significant issues facing our first nation communities and clean drinking water is ranked high up. Many leaders within our first nation communities are very keen in wanting to deal with this issue. In fact, they are open to working with the Government of Canada and provinces and even municipalities to try to fast-forward the work that needs to get done. The government has not recognized how important it is that stakeholders support the strong leadership within our first nations today, which wants to deal with this issue.

Could my colleague comment on how we can assist the first nation leadership in pushing forward with this important issue in a timely fashion?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, we need to start by consulting first nations. We need to bring them to the table and talk to them. We need to look at their needs and address those needs in a collaborative way, with the government and the opposition sitting at the table.

However, this bill would basically unload federal responsibility onto first nations. We have seen this with other legislation in the House, which has off-loaded federal responsibilities onto provinces and then further onto municipalities.

I had a chance to talk to officials of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities last week. They commissioned a study in 2007 showing that municipalities back then had a deficit of $31 billion in infrastructure for clean water systems.

The Conservative government has not lived up to its responsibilities. If it is going to create regulations via this bill, then it needs to provide resources, whether for first nations or municipalities and cities across this country. We need to provide those resources.

Let us not set up first nations for failure. If there is no funding and no investment to go along with this legislation, then we are setting up first nations for failure. Clearly, the Conservatives do not have a long-term strategy to address the fundamental need for clean water and wastewater systems for first nations.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / noon
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Kenora Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in support of Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act. The proposed legislation is an essential part of a larger collaborative strategy that would ensure that residents of first nations communities have reliable access to clean, safe drinking water, like all Canadians.

At a recent Crown-first nations gathering, first nations and the government committed to working together to support strong, healthy first nation communities. The safe drinking water for first nations act is a key milestone in making this a reality and a vital step toward ensuring that first nations have the same health and safety protections for drinking water in their communities as other Canadians.

While provinces and territories have their own legally binding safe drinking water standards, there are currently no legal enforceable protections for first nations governing drinking water and waste water on first nations lands. Following passage of Bill S-8, the Government of Canada would work in close partnership with first nations and other stakeholders to develop federal regulations for access to safe drinking water and to ensure the effective treatment of waste water and the protection of sources of drinking water on first nations' lands.

The proposed legislation would provide incentives to maintain the infrastructure involved, as well as clarify the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the operation and maintenance of water and wastewater treatment facilities on first nations' lands. First and foremost, however, and as our top priority, it would help protect the health and safety of first nations.

With that said, I move:

That the question be now put.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / noon
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NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I note with interest that the parliamentary secretary is not engaging in debate with members of this chamber who, in some cases, have taken time to raise concerns and ask questions of he and his colleagues as to why the Conservatives are moving in this direction. Why do they expect this level of accountability on this one group of citizens, on the first nations people, in complete contravention of the spirit of the meetings that have been held over the past year? We have not received sufficient answers.

Why does the parliamentary secretary feel the answers to those questions is to shut down debate?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, over the course of my entire professional life, invested in living and working in first nations communities, I cannot recall a time when any government, provincial or federal, has engaged in such an extensive exercise of consultation. This government in 2006, in lockstep with the Assembly of First Nations, did a coast to coast to coast consultation to set the table for the kinds of principles that we are moving forward with respect to Bill S-8.

As somebody who worked with first nations communities on the input for this extensive consultation, I am pleased to report for the minister that we are moving forward on this legislation because it and two other essential components, namely capacity and infrastructure, are what first nations communities, their leadership, the AFN and technical experts have decided and have said that this is the way to move forward.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it was only a matter of minutes ago that we had time allocation put on Bill C-27. That, in essence, said that the members of the House would have limits on our abilities to contribute to the debate on a very important issue with regard to our first nations.

Now we are talking about the importance of water on our reserves and other areas and we have a government member moving a motion that would again prevent debate on a critically important issue. The Conservatives will not allow members, whether it is members of the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party or even the Green Party, the opportunity to address important issues.

When the member talks about consultation, why will he not be very specific and tell us what first nations leaders the Conservatives consulted prior to the drafting of either Bill S-8 or Bill C-27?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

I swear to God, Mr. Speaker, these questions just get easier and easier.

What was not allowed under the previous Liberal government up until 2006 was for communities to proceed with a legitimate strategy to address what at the time was an absolutely deplorable state of water and waste water treatment plants in first nations communities across the country. I happened to live in a couple of those regions at the time during the nineties, so I can speak to it.

This legislation is derived from one of the most extensive consultative exercises any government in my memory has every undertaken with respect to legislation that would apply with, to and for first nations communities. It deals with capacity, the ability to report, monitor and maintain facilities that have been rehabilitated or have been replaced and that are state of the art. It deals with infrastructure, objectivising the process, not in the discretionary, arbitrary way of governments past, and focuses on priorities. It deals with substantive issues like why one community would be at high risk in one province and not in another.

The legislation would deal with that legal vacuum. It would provide standards for both the government and the first nation to adhere to and it would facilitate the important role that provinces could play in establishing standards to which those parties could adhere.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the debate quite closely. I do not have the length of experience that the parliamentary secretary has on first nations, but I have in my previous career worked in several first nations territories in a different capacity. I know this government is anxious to get the job done. We have to address this problem because it is urgent.

The hon. parliamentary secretary talked somewhat about the capacity and the ability of the infrastructure to do the things we want it to do. Could the parliamentary secretary expand on the capacity?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to expound more on one of the three pillars of the strategy moving forward.

Capacity has three essential components: reporting, monitoring and maintenance. Some chiefs have said that they cannot move ahead with this project because they do not have the certified operators to work the water treatment plant or the waste water treatment plant. That is why if the member comes to my great Kenora riding or Thunder Bay, he will see an emphasis on resources to good colleges like Confederation College and Northern Waterworks now on a downtown street in Kenora, up in Red Lake and out in Dryden. They have recognized and understand that if we are to move forward with legislation or infrastructure, we have to have the capacity to operate these state-of-the-art facilities. Chiefs and councils came to us with that during our consultations from coast to coast. We are moving forward on that.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, chiefs and councils went before the Senate over and over again because the Conservative government chose to table that bill not before the elected representatives in the House but in the Senate. After many years of dragging out this process under this so-called urgency to finally provide first nations with the same level of services the rest of us have the privilege of appreciating, the government now wants to cut us off, the elected representatives, from honouring the input that first nations peoples have asked for both before the Senate and the House.

What I find extraordinary is the actual purpose and intent of the bill. The bill is only an umbrella enabling bill. It would provide absolutely no guarantee of safe drinking water to a single first nation in Canada. It requires decades of work, drafting regulations, training people. The bill would essentially in one fell blow transfer liability for providing safe drinking water from the federal government to first nations. First nations have all 100% said that the government might have fixed the bill up a bit but have asked where the money is. They have said that they do not want the legislation. The Auditor General said not to pass the law until the money was committed.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's input, particularly with respect to some of the writing she has done on this subject matter. It is rather unfortunate that she does not understand the trajectory on which the legislation takes us.

Nobody disputes the fact that this will be a work in progress. She herself has written on the regulatory issues that have to deal with this. We want to move forward with standards for first nations communities that the governments can adhere to and embrace, just as much as the first nations communities.

However, we all agree that the capacity to do the reporting, monitoring and maintenance of these facilities and a commitment to the infrastructure on these communities, which has already been going on, I might add, these two critical components, this legislation completes that and we feel confident we will move forward, lockstep with first nations leadership and communities across the country, toward a meaningful standard that puts a priority on the safety of water and waste water treatment in first nations communities.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House to speak to the bill. I want to give my hon. colleagues the actual history of what went down around safe drinking water and why we are here today.

The bill before us is supposed to reflect the consultation that happened as a result of the horrific E. coli contamination in Kashechewan in 2005. I was in Kashechewan in 2004 and 2005 when we were trying to deal with the federal Liberal government at the time and warn it about the water crisis and the fact that there were no water standards on reserve. However, the fact that there were no water standards on reserve was a perfect get-out-of-jail card for the then Liberal government.

With my dear friend, Jack Layton, who was leader of the party at the time, we visited the Kashechewan water treatment plant because the community was concerned. There was no real training in any of those communities for the maintenance of water safety and the equipment was completely breaking down. Jack and I saw pumps that were being held together with duct tape and they were using boards to hold up supports.

Of course, when E. coli broke out in November 2005, the then Department of Indian Affairs completely ignored the situation because it did not want to spend the money. Within the capital budgets of the Department of Indian Affairs, then and now, money is used to put out fires here, there and everywhere, but the department ignores actual health and safety issues.

The other department that had a key role to play was Health Canada, which has, over the years, continually left people at risk if it means spending any money. Therefore, when E. coli was found in the water system in Kashechewan, Health Canada's response was the rubber stamp that it responds with every single time first nations are put at risk: “boil your water”.

We have had communities that have had a boil water advisory for five, six, seven or ten years running. In the case of Kashechewan, Health Canada actually had the nerve to tell people that the solution for E. coli was to just boil the water. It was like telling the families to bathe their children in the toilet. That would be the same thing.

To put this in context, it happened in Ontario, which was ground zero of the biggest E. coli scandal in Canadian history and basically a direct result of the front line of the current Conservative government bench, who were then under the Harris Conservatives in the “common sense revolution”. The Walkerton E. coli scandal shocked people and changed water standards in every community in Ontario, except on reserve. For the people on reserve, they were left completely on their own.

We were in Ontario with a major E. coli outbreak and the federal and provincial governments fought back and forth for about two to three weeks about what they were going to do. As unfortunately happens, whenever we have a crisis in one of our communities, they just hope that people stop complaining and it will go away. Well, it did not. The James Bay medical authority came up and, under Dr. Murray Trusler, took pictures of children. It was the pictures of children in Kashechewan in 2005 that shocked not just this nation but others around the world. We were faced with a forced full evacuation of the community of Kashechewan because the entire infrastructure had collapsed.

At the time, I was working with the then opposition critic, Jim Prentice. I have always had a great deal of respect for Jim Prentice, not just because he is from Timmins and comes from the famous Prentice brothers hockey family, but because Jim was deeply concerned. When the present Conservative government came in we had an Indian affairs minister who took his file seriously and had a level of competence. One could disagree with him and still know that he was a man who took it seriously. Jim Prentice had said that he needed to deal with the water situation on reserves because it was appalling. Jim knew that one of the problems was that there were absolutely no standards. Without any standards, anything could happen.

As the Conservatives are claiming now, there was a consultation process that was put in place. However, fast forward to today, the bill that was brought through the unelected, unaccountable Senate is not the result of the consultations that took place with first nation communities across Canada. The bill is something completely different. It really speaks to how far down the Conservative government has gone in terms of its willingness to be accountable to Canada's most vulnerable population, which is within our first nation communities.

The bill has a lot of window dressing on language about water quality, but is about the transferring of liability to communities that do not have the resources to maintain adequate water safety standards. There is always this underlying dog whistle to the Conservative base that says the government has to bring in these standards to make people actually bother to look after their own communities, as if the communities have not been calling out for years for what they need, which are the dollars and the infrastructure to maintain proper water treatment plants. I do not know of a single community in my riding or any community in this country where safe water drinking standards can be maintained if there are no adequate systems.

According to the April 2011 release of the National Assessment of First Nation Water and Wastewater Systems, we have a situation under the current government, despite all the consultations, where 39% of the first nation communities in Canada are high risk, which means that people can die. Of those communities, 34% are at medium risk. We are looking at a bill that is going to transfer liability to the Bantustans and shanty shack towns of the far north and tell them to fix it without doing anything to ensure that those Canadian citizens have the resources that any other Canadian would take for granted. That is what the bill is about.

Think about the kind of money the government was going to blow on the F-35 in 2011. Yet it told 39% of first nation communities that they could remain at high risk, and if they did not have the training or the money to fix it, the government would go after them. That is the systemic negligence that has gone on and continues to go on in this country. Whether we are talking about health services, policing or education, it is a system of apartheid that has been set up and maintained. There are two levels of people in this country. When 39% of first nation communities are at high risk because their water is dirty and the government tells them that it is their responsibility, that is absolutely intolerable.

The government's sleight of hand is to set the standards but to not put the money in place. What has been identified to deal with the shortfall right now is $146 million. That is what is needed. Dollars and cents are needed to get these water treatment centres up to standard. It is going to cost $4.7 billion over the next 10 years to maintain them, with an annual maintenance cost of $419 million. That is what the government needs to do. There needs to be a throne speech from the Government of Canada saying that the days of maintaining the fourth world communities in northern Canada are going to end and that it is going to put the funding and training in place. I have been in communities where people said they wanted the training.

Let us look at Bill S-8 in terms of a practical example. The Marten Falls First Nation is right beside the Ring of Fire. The federal and provincial governments are licking their chops to get their hands on the Ring of Fire. They are saying the Ring of Fire is going to be the greatest thing. Dalton McGuinty thinks it is going to restart his economic credibility once he gets his hands on it. The federal government is saying the Ring of Fire is going to be the oil sands of Ontario. Marten Falls is a little community that is right beside the Ring of Fire. It has been on a boil water advisory since 2005, for seven years. It is considered normal that the community has to boil its water year after year.

Health Canada has decided it spent a little too much looking after Marten Falls, so it is suspending the bottled water that has been going to the community. It has decided not to do it any more. This little community sits beside what will probably be one of the richest mineral developments in this coming century and its bottled water is being cut off.

How does that relate to Bill S-8? It actually relates in a very clear way, which I can explain to people back home. The community has been concerned. I remember people in the community were asking for help when the sewage lift was hit by lightning. They told Indian Affairs that they did not have, within their little community, the resources to fix it. They asked Indian Affairs to come in to work with them to fix it. However, Indian Affairs did not want to spend the money, so the sewage overflowed and the water system was contaminated. Now the government is saying it is tired of the situation in Marten Falls and that it will just put in a reverse osmosis water system and walk away.

At the same time, the government has commissioned a study to find out how to fix the problem in Marten Falls, how to fix the sewage and the water, but the department does not want to wait for the study. The band wants clean drinking water for its community. The band wants to work with the department, but it asks whether it would not be prudent to actually get the report, find out what works and then put the money in to ensure that it works in the long term. In first nation communities, again and again, the federal government always does what is cheapest and quickest. It puts whatever Band-Aid it can on the septic wound and walks away. When the Band-Aid fails, the federal government blames the community.

The community has raised legitimate, serious questions about whether a reverse osmosis system would work in their community. Because of the heavy level of turbidity in the water, the amount of bacteria that sits in the tank, it is not a system that would work. People in the community are asking the department to work with them. It does not necessarily have to be adversarial. However, the department has decided, thanks to some fonctionnaire at some level, that this is how it will go and the community can take it or leave it. Bill S-8 will then allow the government to hold the community accountable if something goes wrong, because it would be the community's responsibility, even though the community was not able to participate in the decision making.

I think I have had probably 12 or 13 states of emergency in four communities that I represent since 2005. A state of emergency is not something easy to declare. It just does not happen. A state of emergency happens when an entire community is put at risk.

The response in Ontario is interesting. If a municipality declares a state of emergency, Emergency Management Ontario is sent in at the provincial level and it will do an assessment immediately. Once that is done, plans are set up. What happens in first nation communities when a state of emergency is declared? People in the community call Indian Affairs, and Indian Affairs says, “Hell, no, we're not paying”, and the province will say that it is sorry but that the community is on its own. That has happened again and again.

I will give a few examples. We had two evacuations in one year in Kashechewan in 2008. The entire sewage system in Fort Albany collapsed and thousands of gallons of raw sewage, actual human waste, was piling up in people's basements. The department's response was to tell the people to stay there. People were actually staying in homes where the methane gas was coming up to such a toxic level that people were lighting candles in their basements to try to put the methane gas down.

The Indian affairs minister knew this. The department knew this. They had footage of it. They knew those houses were in danger of blowing up from methane gas. Families had little babies in those houses. The department thought that was okay because it did not want to spend the money. It did one Band-Aid solution after another because it did not want to do it right. A private company ended up flying in bottled water. A private company flew in pumps. The deadbeat government did not want to pay any bills. At the same time we had the ongoing rebuilding in Kashechewan from the floods there.

In 2009, we had a state of emergency declared in Attawapiskat from the sewage lift collapsing there. Once again, think of the communities on a stretch from Windsor to London and imagine three or four communities where the entire sewage system, in community after community, just collapses to the point that thousands of gallons of human waste is pumped into people's basements. That was happening on the James Bay coast between 2008 and 2011, and the government's response was to blame the community.

The Prime Minister got up and did his famous, “We gave those Indians $50,000 each, every man, woman and child. What did they do with our money?” That was the Prime Minister's response on the day when the International Red Cross came in to help people in Attawapiskat.

Of course, the Prime Minister did not bother to say that the price on the head of every first nation child and parent in Attawapiskat was based on overall spending over a six-, seven- and eight-year period. The Conservatives never put that number on non-native people, but thought it was perfectly okay in Attawapiskat because they were trying to divert attention from the fact that they had allowed not one, two, three nor four states of emergency in Attawapiskat to create a situation that we saw this past year in which the entire community was put at risk.

Let us talk about the Attawapiskat state of emergency in 2009 when the sewage systems failed and we had numerous homes damaged to the point where people were getting sick and needing to be medevaced. The Department of Indian Affairs and Health Canada said to keep the families in the houses with the raw sewage. Former minister Chuck Strahl was a great guy for never knowing there was a problem. He would just cover his ears and say he was just going to ignore these people until they shut up. That was the attitude, for a community that was calling for help.

Our new minister over there was shocked. He did not know there was a problem in Attawapiskat. Nobody told him. They had been told since 2009 that people were living in tents. Why were they living in tents? They were living in tents because their homes had been destroyed because the sewage had backed up.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation is opposing Bill S-8 because it expected the government would work with the communities to put in the necessary resources so that when we have water standards on reserves, we would actually have the resources to ensure the communities can have standards. We have been pushing from the beginning to establish the same standards at the provincial and federal levels, so if they have water standards in a municipality in Ontario, first nations should have the same standards at the federal level.

We have been asking that for fire protection, and that does not happen. In 2007, Ricardo Wesley and Jamie Goodwin burned to death in a fire in a makeshift cell in Kashechewan. The federal and provincial governments fund the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service. They knew that those police officers were working in a situation where there were no fire sprinklers. They could not put in fire sprinklers because it was a shack. No police officer would be expected to work under those conditions in a provincial jurisdiction, but it was okay to do it at the federal level because it did not cost as much, so two young men burned to death. The 80-some recommendations from the jury, which came out of that horrific Kashechewan fire inquest, said that if there had been a basic sprinkler system those young men might not have died and the police officers who were seriously injured trying to save them would not have been put at risk.

It is about this system we have now, where there is one set of standards for all the municipalities and the provinces and all the non-native people across Canada. They live at one level, and then the first nations communities are left down at another level. The only time they changed that standard was on the so-called “session of accountability”, where we would hold those communities to account and blame those communities.

My good friend from Fort McMurray asked me about the chiefs who are taking the money down and spending it on gambling. I was scratching my head and wondering. Was he talking about Fort Chip or about Fort McKay, or about the communities that are living downstream from the oil sands investments, communities that are trying to get by? Are we to believe that they are taking their money and gambling in casinos? However, this is the kind of talk the current government members use. They are going to put a level of accountability on these impoverished first nations communities, without the money.

Are my hon. colleagues on the other side serious about following through on what Jim Prentice started? He was working with us at that time because Jim Prentice was a collaborative kind of guy. Where is the money? Where is the money to ensure we have these standards, because until we see the money, this is just another Conservative bill that would punish communities and leave them on their own.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for my colleague, but I do not necessarily have respect for some of the rhetoric he brings to the House. In fact, he missed an entire time in history, the last six or seven years, when the government has consistently, budget after budget, put billions of dollars into first nations infrastructure and water systems throughout the country. We recognized, having taken office from the previous government, that there was a need to build up infrastructure. In every single budget since, there has been money budgeted toward this type of infrastructure.

In the case of my own community, we have seen world-class water treatment plants being built. They are very expensive; they cost hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases, in some communities.

I recognize that the member does not acknowledge the money that has been spent. He voted against every dollar that has been invested in those communities. However, now that the money has been spent and since first nations now have been consulted with regard to the legislation and are supportive of the legislation, will he now not let the legislation be put into place to ensure that, with the investments that have been made, those water treatment facilities are serviced and that there are precautions to ensure first nations people are protected?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope my hon. colleague was here for my whole speech because we would have talked about what happened in 2005-06 and how I worked with Jim Prentice. He recognized this. Unfortunately, the standard that was set for the department of Indian affairs under Jim Prentice has dropped drastically, I am sorry to say.

We are in a situation now where, under the first nations water systems assessment, done in April 2011, 39% of communities are at high risk and 34% at medium risk. When a community is said to be at high risk, that means life and death. That means threats from E. coli, sickness and people going to the hospital.

The issue before us here is, if we are going to talk about bringing these communities up to a standard, we have to ask where the money is. Where is the long-term commitment? We know that Minister Prentice, at the time, made water a priority issue in 2006, in the first Conservative budget, and started a process of consultation. However, we talk to the chiefs across the country who were part of that process—for example, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, for which I have such great respect. It said that what is coming out of Bill S-8 is not part of the consultation process.

We have a long way to go, and we need to keep that front and centre on this issue.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, everyone in the House recognizes that this is indeed a very serious issue. Clean, running water is one of those things we look at as an essential necessity of life here in Canada, and a vast majority just take it for granted.

Back in November, the leader of the Liberal Party introduced a motion, which ultimately received all-party support from the House. It was great to see the support that seems to be here to try to address the issue.

The member made reference to the importance of resources. We can talk a lot inside the Chamber, but at the end of the day, if we are not prepared to pony up some resources, it would be very challenging for us to ever be able to achieve clean, running water. Would the member not agree?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the House indeed did vote on this. The House also voted on the Shannen's Dream motion, to close the funding gap on education. We have to follow through on those commitments, because water and education have been determined by the United Nations as universal human rights. Those are rights that are routinely denied first nations communities through the systemic negligence that happens. We will set a standard in the House and then not put the resources aside. The communities suffer and the people are at risk.

The Conservatives talk about my rhetoric. I have met the families of the children who are sick. I have met the kids in Attawapiskat who are dying from bone cancers, liver cancers, kidney failures and skin cancers. I know those children. I know where they have been educated, on top of a toxic brownfield with benzene contamination. If we look up in a medical textbook the effects of benzene, we would see that those children have all the markings of it. I have seen it in the water. They cannot drink the water in Attawapiskat. I have seen it when I have walked through the streets and smelled diesel contamination.

The Conservatives should not ever talk to us about rhetoric in the House when children, under their government's watch, are being put at risk time and time again. We have already wasted the lives of thousands of young people in first nations communities who were taken off to residential schools. It is being done again, under their watch. They have to start being serious and putting some money into this.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on his speech. It was not a speech so much as it was his sharing stories of events that have taken place. He meets these people and knows them by name.

He also spoke about our commitment to the United Nations and about what we are putting in jeopardy. Does the member not think that our international reputation with the UN is in jeopardy because of our incompetence?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not remember a time when Canada has been under so much scrutiny for failing to meet basic human rights requirements as it has been during the last four years. This is something that the media in Germany and England and all over the world is now watching.

I say to my honourable colleagues on the other side that our primary relationship in this country is our relationship with our first nations people. That relationship will continue. I always hear the Conservative types asking when this obligation will end—as though it is an obligation—and why we do not just cut it off and ignore the treaties. Our obligation does not end. It is a relationship and it has been one heck of a dysfunctional and abusive relationship for the last 300 years, but that relationship will continue. It will either continue in a positive manner or under the Conservative government in a negative manner. It is a relationship that defines our country and it is a relationship that defines us internationally.

The UN has in the past year denounced the Conservative government for its treatment of the people in Attawapiskat, for its failure to have a plan for food in the far north and for its abuse of children in its bogus educational system. Three times in the last year, the United Nations has challenged the Conservative government and said it has to start meeting basic human rights standards.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for his speech, which gave me goosebumps several times.

From what I know of aboriginal issues, I do not think there has been much progress since the 19th century. Unfortunately, I would say that there has probably been a regression.

Obviously, the fact that legislation is proposed but the means do not follow is a very troubling aspect of the government's stubbornness in wanting to speed up the process and circumvent a thorough examination of Bill S-8, without taking into account the effects this could have.

I get the impression that the government wants to put a lid on this affair, that it wants to shut this whole thing down and abandon the first nations. What does the member for Timmins—James Bay think about that?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member asked an excellent question. The issue in terms of addressing this problem is not about shifting blame; it is about taking responsibility. That has not been happening under the government's watch. The government seems to be playing a game of bringing in a bill and blaming the bad chiefs and holding them to account.

The issue that has been identified in terms of safe drinking water is the lack of proper resources. How could one region on the James Bay coast have a complete sewage infrastructure collapse in three communities in a four-year period? That is staggering. That is something we might expect in Haiti, but we should not expect it in James Bay, especially when one of the richest diamond mines in the world is nearby. We are moving into the Ring of Fire, which will affect the people along the Attawapiskat River. There is enormous potential in these communities, but we see the desire is to take the resources out and not build the infrastructure. If we are building the infrastructure to get these mines off the ground, then we can build the infrastructure to ensure sustainable communities.

What the government is giving up is the greatest resource we have in this country, which is the young people on those first nations communities who have so much potential. So rather than treating them as a burden, we need to see their potential, get the job training, get the resource development happening in conjunction with the communities, as the infrastructure is being built.

This could be a positive story. Unfortunately we just see bills. We do not see any forward thinking in terms of fixing this relationship with our communities.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand today to speak to this bill. I will be splitting my time with the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Clean running water is an important issue, which I posed in a question a few minutes ago to my colleague from the New Democratic Party. It is something for which I believe a vast majority of Canadians take for granted. After all, most Canadians live in metropolitan centres, such as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax and St. John's, from coast to coast. We assume that the water we drink is healthy and that all Canadians have access to clean running water sources. We need to recognize that there are deficiencies all over Canada with regard to clean drinking water or clean water for bathing.

At the end of the day, I believe all political parties will recognize the importance of having clean running water. In fact, the leader of the Liberal Party introduced a motion in November of last year calling upon the House to address the urgent need of first nations communities whose members have no clean running water in their homes. There was great support for that motion. We were quite proud of the fact that we were able to provide that debate in the House last November. At the end of the debate, the consensus was that we should pass the motion. The Liberal Party was quite happy with the unanimous support from all political parties.

We expected some action would be taken. That happened about a year ago in the House. We now have before us Bill S-8, which has a huge gap, the gap being that there are no real financial resources being tied to it. If we are not prepared to recognize the importance of capital infrastructure in order to provide clean running water, we can talk all we want but it will not change the fact. The fact is that there are far too many first nations people living on reserves who do not have access to clean running water. That is something the government needs to be more sensitive to. It is great that it says that it will support the Liberal Party motion that recognizes the importance of the issue and then introduced Bill S-8, but at the end of the day the area of greatest concern must be the financial resources.

I went on the Internet to see just how serious a problem it is. Every year we hear about boil water advisories. Manitoba has thousands of freshwater lakes, rivers, just name it, with high-quality water. In fact, many talk about how we will be able to export water into the future. It is a wonderful natural resource that Manitoba is blessed to have. How that water is managed is being watched very closely.

If we compare Manitoba to many countries in the world, it is amazing the degree to which we have so much good quality water.

I will talk about the list of boil water advisories in Manitoba. These lists are on the Internet and can be accessed by everyone. It is amazing the type of information people can find on the Internet. I think the list of communities would surprise a lot of people. The list includes Alexander, Anola, Balmoral, Birch River, Blue Lakes Resort, Brandon, Carey, Cartwright, the Churchill River Lodge, Duck Bay, East Selkirk, Elma, Fairford, the Garrison, Gem Lake, Glenboro Health Centre, Grand Marais, Granville Lake, Great Falls, Haywood, Île-des-Chênes, Inwood, Lac du Bonnet, Lee River, Lynn Lake, New Bothwell, and the list goes on. The list even includes Pelican Lake, a beautiful are in which we have our cottage. These are all communities where there has been a great deal of concern, and I did not even list half of them in Manitoba. On this particular list it shows 110 where they have boil water advisories or other concerns regarding blooms, but 95% of those are just boil water advisories.

People may ask themselves what it means when they see a boil water advisory. In many of these communities, much like on our reserves, people are astounded to hear that they need to boil their water in order to drink it. Quite often, that is what they need to do. Putting it into perspective, that is nothing new for many people on reserves or in first nations communities. They deal with this year in and year out, which is why we in the Liberal Party tried to raise the profile of the issue. We do not get very many opposition days. It would be nice if the government would allow us to have a few more. However, even with the few that we do have, we listed this issue as an opposition day motion because we felt it was something the House needed to address.

What do we mean when we say “boil water”? The Manitoba government has been somewhat weak in many areas but in certain areas it has made some progress. If we go to its website, we get all sorts of information in regard to what is meant by “boil water”. The Manitoba government website states:

Water Advisories are issued for a drinking water system or a drinking water source by a Medical Officer of Health (Manitoba Health) due to a confirmed or suspected water quality problem. Affected residents and businesses are notified in the event an advisory is issued and provided with instructions on precautionary measures.

There is so much there. At this point, I move:

That the debate be now adjourned.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my apologies.

When the vote finished and you asked for questions and comments, I looked up and my colleague did have a question for me. I would like the opportunity to be able to answer the question. If not, I know my colleague, who I agreed at the beginning to share my time with--

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, does my colleague believe that in preparing its legislation the government took seriously the letter I sent the minister a year ago explaining that we would not be able to support any bill unless the resources were there to fix the water and wastewater treatments in all communities in Canada? Will 100% of first nation families in 100% of first nation communities have access to safe drinking water and wastewater management?

Does my colleague also believe that the government honoured the commitment in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to free, prior and informed consent on any legislation dealing with first nations in this country?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raised a critically important issue for all of us to recognize, the issue of financial resources. To deal with the issue of clean running water, we are not talking about tens of millions of dollars but literally hundreds of millions of dollars. Bill S-8 does not allow for any sort of government commitment.

Last year the leader of the Liberal Party introduced a motion in the House that all members voted in favour of, a motion aimed at ensuring that the government of the day recognized the urgency of dealing with the issue of clean running water. We were happy that the Conservatives voted in favour of the motion, recognizing how important an issue it was. However, we are disappointed they did not follow through by providing the necessary financial resources to deal with this critically important issue. Unfortunately, until the government recognizes the importance of financial resources, first nations will not be able to have the clean running water they are demanding today. We appeal to the government to look at the resource issue so that we can deal with the issue at hand.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-8 would basically transfer responsibility, that is, it would transfer liability, to communities that have been calling out for years for resources to ensure that they will have safe and adequate drinking water. To New Democrats this bill seems to be aimed at cutting off a whole segment of Canadian society, a segment of Canadian society that is being denied basic water rights and safety in their communities. First nations will now told that they are responsible for anything that goes wrong, but will not have the resources to address that.

We see from the 2011 release of the national assessment of first nation water systems that over 39% of first nation communities in Canada are at high risk, meaning there is a threat to human health, and 34% are at medium risk. The shortfall is going to be $4.7 billion over the next 10 years.

Why does my colleague think the government did not bring this forward in a throne speech where it would have set out a clear commitment to clean drinking water and resources, and why is it proposing to basically leave--

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is that this report was brought forward before the last federal election. It is interesting that it was only after the election that we were able to see the report.

I would emphasize that the vast majority of Canadians expect to have clean running water, and in most parts of the country that is the case, but not necessarily in many of our first nation communities. This is most unfortunate. More importantly, we need to get the government of the day to not just talk about and support the Liberal motion, but also to put forward the financial resources necessary to making a real difference.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the members should calm down. They are cutting into my time. I know all the members, especially those on the other side, and especially the Minister of Foreign Affairs, are waiting with bated breath for my comments.

I thank my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for his heartfelt grounded intervention on behalf of his first nations constituents.

There are a number of members in the House who have first nations communities in their ridings. I know they stand with me, no matter what party they are in, in that it is time for us as a nation to stand up and look after their interests so they can be treated equably as all other Canadians. The member for Timmins—James Bay has been an incredible advocate for those constituents.

Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, has been a long time in coming. Regrettably, it continues to be the policy of the government not to bring important legislation, in a timely manner, before the elected House. Instead, for the second time in a row, it tabled the bill first in the Senate.

Now the Conservatives are trying to object to the fact that we might actually want to propose changes to the bill, changes that have come to our attention by the first nations themselves. It is absolutely reprehensible. It shows a great disdain for Canadians who have chosen to elect us and send us to this place.

First, it is important to consider that the provision of safe drinking water for first nations is a federal responsibility. This is not a responsibility that the federal government can slough off to the provincial and territorial governments.

Second, no federal laws exist to regulate safe drinking water or waste water in first nations communities, so we have a complete vacuum. This is unlike the provinces and territories, where they have seen cause to step up to the plate and put in place regimes to protect those for whom they are responsible so they can live in the modern world.

Another appropriate starting point is to clarify the state of drinking water in first nations communities. The current update posted on the Health Canada website reports that as of October 31, 122 first nations communities across the country remain under a drinking water advisory. That means 122 first nations communities cannot go to the tap for a glass of water. It is absolutely reprehensible in the 21st century. That is 122 communities and countless numbers of aboriginal children, elders, people who risk illness from contaminated drinking water in 2012. It is simply unforgiveable.

It is not just me or my colleagues on this side of the House who say it is unforgiveable. In her final audit report in 2011, former Auditor General Sheila Fraser called for even deeper reforms to ensure that first nations on reserve were accorded the services comparable to other Canadians, including access to safe drinking water.

Mrs. Fraser identified that structural impediments to improve access to these basic services, which most other Canadians take for granted, must be resolved if we were to see real results. These include not only a legislative base or program, which is what the government has presumably put forward, but also clarified service levels, commensurate statutory funding, an end to the reliance on policy or contribution agreements and support to organizations that support service delivery to first nations.

For example, the Alberta Technical Services Advisory Group has for many years supported the first nations in addressing problems with their drinking water systems. I might point out that those are the very kinds of organizations the government has chosen to cut back in the budget.

It is very important what Sheila Fraser had pointed out. To this point in time, in this day and age in the 21st century, first nations communities have to wait, with open hand, for the government to decide from year to year whether they will have sufficient funds to provide a glass of safe drinking water for their children. She said that it was beyond high time that this obligation to transfer the necessary money be imposed by statute and be obligatory. We do not find that in Bill S-8.

The government made a previous half-hearted effort at proposing legislation and then let it die on the order paper.

Bill S-11, also tabled in the Senate in 2010, was roundly criticized by first nations and legal experts. Bill S-8 was also first tabled in the Senate and now finally brought before the House.

Regrettably, there has been little parallel action on the other measures needed to address the critical need for safe drinking water supply in first nation communities.

It should be pointed out that the government is well aware of the core barriers experienced by the majority of first nations in providing safe drinking water supplies to their communities, including: the equipment, construction and maintenance facilities, especially in remote areas, is costly; much of the necessary infrastructure is either lacking, obsolete or of poor quality; there is a limited local capacity or limited ability to retain qualified operators and even when they are trained, they then move on to other communities where they can be paid better; and, limited resources to properly fund water system operation and maintenance.

The current federal budgeted amount of $330 million over two years offers only a small percentage of the $4.7 billion capital costs and estimated $419 million per year to upgrade and run drinking water systems in compliance with the intended law.

If this intended law is passed, there will almost immediately be an obligation by all the first nations to deliver safe drinking water. I say almost because the government fails to mention that the law absolutely has no substance, so it will take five to ten years to actually develop these regulations. Once that is in place, then we will have close to a $5 billion deficit, with no undertaking that it will provide that.

No new moneys have been committed for the promised direct negotiations with the first nations on the strategy to implement the proposed law or for the promised negotiation process on the myriad of complex and technical regulations necessary to give any real substance to Bill S-8. There is no indication that the government has begun to move away from the one-off contribution agreements to long-term financial commitments to finance drinking water systems, as recommended by the former auditor general.

Far from delivering the support for organizations that can support first nations in developing and managing effective drinking water, in this budget the government has cut back support to these entities, including treaty organizations that provide support on technical and policy matters to first nations, which brings us to the matter of consultation on the bill.

The duty to directly consult first nations on legislative or policy matters that affect them is not a mere nicety. Aboriginal Canadians are not mere stakeholders in this legislative process. The duty to consult and accommodate is a constitutional duty established in legal precedent echoed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada finally endorsed.

At the January Crown-First Nations Gathering, the government publicly committed to support first nations self-government to strengthen and reset the government-to-government relationship and to move away from the unilateral imposition of laws and policies.

Self-government was endorsed under the UNDRIP. However, at the last minute, we saw some move, despite calls by first nations over decades, of the minister to met with at least one treaty group in Alberta.

I will quote a comment made at the Crown-First Nations Gathering on the consultation process, which states:

At the recent Crown–First Nations Gathering, First Nations and our Government committed to working together to support strong, healthy First Nation communities...[The bill] is a key milestone in making this a reality...

That statement was made by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, who said that the process for the consultation on Bill S-8 was a milestone in making the government-to-government relationship a reality. Yet we have a statement from the Assembly of First Nations stating that the government has continued a pattern of unilaterally imposing legislation that does not meet the standards of joint development and a clear recognition of first nations jurisdiction.

This so-called exceptional process of sitting down and reviewing proposed legislation was in fact the common practice of most past governments. In many instances, white papers or even draft formats of bills were circulated and consulted to ensure that the interests of all 600 first nations, not just one first nation, were considered and accommodated. This made for sound, supported, workable legislation. Again, in the case of the first nations, this consultation is an obligation, not just an option.

Even when late in the day some discussions did occur with first nations, they expressed concerns that their issues had not been fully addressed. They were also clear that the process did not constitute “consultation”. This is made evident in testimony before the Senate on the bill.

By way of example, Treaty 6, 7 and 8 testified that while a limited number of their representatives had a chance to review the bill, incidentally, less than a week before it was tabled in the Senate, a number of significant outstanding concerns were yet to be addressed. I reference these three groups as they were among the few that the minister finally relented to discuss in more detail their concerns with the proposed law before it was tabled.

In his testimony, Charles Weaselhead, Grand Chief of the Treaty 8 First Nations Chiefs Association, echoed the views of many when he said that “support of the Alberta Chiefs is not unconditional” and that first an agreement must be reached “on an adequately funded joint process for the development of the regulations”.

We have members of the one group, which the minister actually took the time to hear what their issues, saying that it is not enough. What they need at the same time is the commitment of the money.

Further, Grand Chief Weaselhead said:

Second, the national engineering assessment identified that only three First Nation systems in Alberta are operating safely with certainty....About a dozen systems in Alberta pose significant risks to human health.

He advised that about $160 million was needed to update facilities just for Alberta.

He testified that while they were willing to be patient, their patience was not limitless. He said, “the Government of Canada must also make a firm commitment toward infrastructure, monitoring and capacity”.

They have yet to obtain any binding commitment to a regulatory development process that is well-funded and approved by the chiefs and no commitment of the $140 million funding gap identified by the National Engineering Assessment for just Alberta.

I now wish to share a number of the serious deficiencies identified in the bill itself as a safe drinking water regulatory framework.

Frankly, I am stunned that the government has stated at this stage that it will not allow amendments. This kind of questions the value of even having a committee and bringing in these first nation and legal experts again.

However, these are some of the issues that were raised before the non-elected house. Many of the issues were raised by expert panels and legal experts testifying in the Senate and in previous government reviews, treaty organizations and individual first nations.

The main purpose the bill appears to have is transferring liability from the federal government to first nations for delivery of the drinking water regime. Of equal concern is the fact that the full long-term costs and liability have yet to be calculated. The transfer of liability would be made with no binding commitment that the federal government would provide the necessary funds for technical training or equipment. However, Bill S-8 carefully imposes limits on the liability of federal ministers and officials.

Bill S-8 is essentially lacking in substance. It would merely be an enabling law. It would allow for, but does not require, any federal action to promulgate the myriad regulations necessary to establish drinking water standards, public hearings, appeal procedures, standards for training and certification of water systems and operators, waste water disposal, emergency response and so forth.

The law would impose no obligation on the federal government to deliver these rules in a timely manner. It would impose no obligation on the federal government to finance development or implementation of the first nations drinking water regime. Despite the non-derogation clause, Bill S-8 may have as its key purpose to transfer away treaty and constitutional obligations in this regard.

Incredibly, the law would impose no requirement for consultation with the first nations in the promulgation of these rules, regardless of the overriding constitutional duty to consult and despite the fact that most laws enacted these days, especially for environmental matters, specify that the government must in advance consult.

Finally, the bill ignores the advice of the very expert panel appointed by the federal government, which recommended the establishment of two independent entities to provide direction and oversight on the water regime.

A first nation water commission was recommended. It was to be mandated to oversee the licensing and operation of water facilities and to advise the ministers and fir