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.


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


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.


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.


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.

May 29th, 2014 / 4:05 p.m.
See context


Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

You mentioned in your address, and going back to the water discussion, $136 million in supplementary estimates (A) this year for water and waste-water infrastructure on reserve. Of course, you mentioned coming in with Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. I understand this legislation is helping protect our government's significant investments in first nations water and waste-water systems. I'm wondering if you could elaborate, for some of us who are relatively new on this committee, on some of the benefits that have come about by the adoption of this piece of legislation.

First Nations Control of First Nations Education ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2014 / 12:55 p.m.
See context


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to stand in the House to speak to a bill that is extremely important to the people who sent me to Parliament, first nations and indigenous people in northern Manitoba, and of course, first nations people across our country.

I want to begin by speaking about the reality that first nations youth face in communities in our part of the country. Some weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Little Grand Rapids. Little Grand Rapids is a small first nation on the southeast side of Lake Winnipeg. It is isolated. There are no roads that go there; it is in the middle of the forest, or the bush, as we call it. People work hard at what they do, hunting, trapping, fishing, and they hope for the best for the future of their kids, as anybody does.

What I hear from them when I visit from house to house is their concern for their kids, the concern that their kids are not going to have the same opportunities as other kids. It is not because of where Little Grand Rapids is, how far it is from the city or where it is positioned geographically. It is because it is a first nation, and they know their kids face some of the most unequal opportunities in terms of education in this country. Because they are first nations, going to school on reserve, they are guaranteed to be going to a school that is funded to a lesser extent than other schools.

What does that mean? It means that their kids go to a school that some people describe as a fire trap. It is a school where the doors do not lock properly. In order to lock them in -40° weather, so the cold does not come in, they have to a use a chain and a lock. It means the fire alarm system does not work. In fact, when Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development built the school, it hooked up those little fire alarm contraptions that we see everywhere else. It put them on the walls throughout the school and never hooked up the wiring to a fire alarm system. Guess what? There is no fire alarm system. Not only is there no fire alarm system, but as a result there is no sprinkler system, and due to the underfunding, there are no fire extinguishers.

My question in the House for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is whether he would be okay with his kids going to a school like that. Why should the youth of Little Grand Rapids and first nations across this country go to schools that are dangerous, underfunded, falling apart, and full of mould, that do not have enough books, do not have enough teachers, and do not have enough resources, and that are setting them up to fail?

When we talk about the history of colonialism and paternalism that first nations have faced in this country, we cannot just talk about history, because it is happening today. It is happening in the way first nations people face unequal standards across the board, whether it be education, health, employment, housing, or infrastructure. The list goes on.

To see what is most fundamentally clear in the response to the needs of first nations youth and the kind of paternalism we see, one has to go no further than the approach the government has taken on Bill C-33, the first nations education act. The reason I say that is that a fundamental obligation of the federal government to consult with first nations people has not been adhered to in the development of this critical bill.

First nations across the country, certainly those in Manitoba, have been clear that, without consultation, the bill cannot be supported. It is not because they have not made clear the importance of consultation. They have made it clear and have been consistent over the last number of years.

In December 2012, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada began consultations on an education act. In July 2013 the department released a document called “Developing a First Nation Education Act: A Blueprint for Legislation”. With few amendments, that blueprint became a draft legislative proposal for a first nations education act in October 2013. I am sure all too many members of the government will remember that the draft proposal was condemned by first nations educators, leaders, and activists overwhelmingly.

On the very issue we are discussing today, on the critical issue of education for first nations, first nations have told us the direction they want to take and their priorities.

In 2013 a special assembly the Assembly of First Nations highlighted five priorities: first, respect and recognition of inherent rights and title, treaty rights, and first nations control of first nations education jurisdiction; second, statutory guarantee of funding; third, funding to support first nations education systems that are grounded in indigenous languages and cultures; fourth, mechanisms to ensure reciprocal accountability and no unilateral federal oversight or authority; and fifth, ongoing dialogue and co-development of options. Those five priorities were laid out clearly in a very public manner by first nations themselves, and sadly, the federal government failed to adhere to those priorities.

What we hear from the federal government is rhetoric that is at first premised on having spoken with first nations and of having heard real concerns. Then when I and my colleagues raise the concern that first nations across the country have not been consulted on this legislation, when they need to be consulted, we hear threats, intimidation, and the same old colonial attitudes that first nations have put up with for centuries.

It is clear that first nations across this country are saying no to the first nations education act. I and my colleagues in the NDP are proud to stand with them. I am proud to stand with first nations educators who are speaking out against the first nations education act.

I would like to share the words of Janice Mokokis, an educator and lawyer from Alberta, who has been involved with the Idle No More movement. She has been clear in her opposition to the first nations education act. Janice tells us:

There have been rallies and teach-in's held across the country to inform the Canadian public and First Nations about the implications of this Bill. People who have attended the rallies include children, mothers, fathers, teachers, professionals, leaders and those that would be directly affected by this...[government's actions]. There has been consistent opposition about the Conservative's agenda what they deem to be good for First Nations on Education. The Conservative's idea of 'consultation' needs to be closely questioned and critically examined. For example: In the Saskatoon consultation, people were...pushed out of the 'education consultation'.

It was made clear that they were not welcome to have their voices heard.

I also stand in solidarity with people in the blue dot campaign, who made clear their opposition to the government's desire for them not to be welcome at the announcement on the Kainai first nation in Alberta. Members of that nation and first nations people from across the country were there to hear an announcement of legislation that has everything to do with their future, and yet they were not even welcome to stay in the room.

It is clear that there is opposition from coast to coast to coast. First nations people are saying that their inherent rights are not being respected, that their treaty right to education is not being respected, and that the right to consultation that they have under the Canadian Constitution and that is recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is not being respected. The necessity of consultation is not being respected.

The reality is that first nations youth sit by and suffer as a result of the way the Conservative government is approaching a fundamental part of their development and future. We know the statistics are grim. Secondary school data over the last number of years identify the rate of first nations graduation at approximately 36%, compared to the Canadian graduation rate of 72%. Some 61% of first nations young adults have not completed high school, compared with 13% of non-aboriginal people in Canada.

In 2010, there were more than 515 first nations elementary and secondary schools available to approximately 109,000 first nations students resident on reserve. Over 64% of these students attended 515 on-reserve schools operated by first nations. The majority, 75%, were enrolled in either kindergarten or elementary school.

First nations youth is the largest young population in our country. I am so privileged to have had a chance to visit first nations across our region and look into the bright faces of these little kids, who want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and carpenters and who want to do great things. All I can think of is the way I come to work every day to look at a government, a Prime Minister, and a Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development that do everything in their power to ignore the voices of their communities, educators, and leaders. They say they are doing the right thing and they say they are going to do the right thing, but after the next election, maybe in a few years, or maybe if they get re-elected. Maybe. All the while, these young people are left in limbo.

I am also fortunate to have learned from elders. They are elders who fought as part of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, fought against the white paper, and fought against the control that the federal government had on their education. They fought back, and they fought for first nations control of first nations education. Many of these elders are not with us today, owing to the challenging life situations in our communities and the shorter life spans that first nations people have. However, in my conversations with them and in my journey to Parliament, they taught me a very clear lesson, that first nations control over first nations education is fundamental to the success of the education system. It is fundamental to the success of first nations youth as they go forward. This is because first nations know what their nations need.

We know about education in first nations language; youth who learn their first nations language succeed at great rates. We know that when they have the resources in their schools to learn their mother tongue, the historic language of their people, they will have opportunities that other youth do not have. We know that when first nations have control over the kind of curriculum, priorities, and lessons that are shared with their youth, their students succeed.

I think of first nations like Roseau River, Peguis, Fisher River, and others that have had very successful models when it comes to education. It is not because the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development told them how to do it. In fact, it is the absolute opposite. It is these first nations that have stood up and sometimes, with the few resources they have, pulled together extraordinary people. They have supported the education of their youth, who have gone on to become experts and specialists in education and have come back to their communities and invested in the resource that is most important to them: their youth.

One would think that, in seeing the successes and knowing the way graduation rates in first nations increase when there is proper funding and proper support, when there is a focus on first nations language, the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs would celebrate, that it would say that first nations control over first nations education is critical.

Consulting with first nations on further steps, on a first nations education program, is not only critical but first nations need to be leading that direction. Instead, what we have is a slap in the face from the federal government, which has a fiduciary obligation to first nations that makes it very clear that it does not matter what success these students have, it does not matter what success these leaders have had in fighting for education in their communities, with its response to promise action and change and to do that with a father-knows-best mentality, that what it knows best is what is going to go.

Some years ago I had the honour of sitting with leaders and grassroots people in Thompson at the office of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, where we saw live the apology the Prime Minister made to first nations people about the tragedy of the residential school system. I remember it moved all of us. I am proud that our leader Jack Layton was integral in that important historic day. There were tears. There was sobbing. There were people who were very emotional about that apology, people who had been very clear about the abuse, the oppression, and the racism they had faced. However, there was also an overwhelming sense of hope, hope that things can change, that a new spirit of reconciliation was guiding our country.

Over the last six or seven years, I cannot say how many people I have met across northern Manitoba, how many first nations people, who have said obviously that apology meant nothing to the Prime Minister. People took the time to believe and to enter into that spirit of reconciliation. Unfortunately, through the actions of Prime Minister, not just in looking at Bill C-33 but also Bills S-2, S-6 and S-8, as well as omnibus bills like Bills C-45 and C-38, we can look at the long list of legislative actions that the government has taken that fly in the face of that apology, of that spirit of reconciliation, of that commitment that the relationship with first nations would be different.

At the end of the day, is there anything more important than investing in the future of our young people? In the one area of education, the federal government had the chance to change course and maybe remember the statement that the Prime Minister had made in terms of that apology and act in the spirit of that apology. Instead, he and his government have chosen to take a very different approach, an approach that is clearly not only supported by first nations but is extremely deeply problematic in terms of the future of first nations education in our country.

In closing, I am proud to stand with first nations in Manitoba who oppose the first nations education act and who are very clear in demanding far better from the government, from Canada, and from the Crown when it comes to the future of education for first nations.

June 19th, 2013 / 4:20 p.m.
See context


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House did attend His Excellency the Governor General in the Senate chamber, His Excellency was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to certain bills:

C-321, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials)—Chapter 10, 2013.

C-37, An Act to amend the Criminal Code—Chapter 11, 2013.

C-383, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act—Chapter 12, 2013.

S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code—Chapter 13, 2013.

C-47, An Act to enact the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act and the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts —Chapter 14, 2013.

C-309, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (concealment of identity)—Chapter 15, 2013.

C-43, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act—Chapter 16, 2013.

S-213, An Act respecting a national day of remembrance to honour Canadian veterans of the Korean War—Chapter 17, 2013.

C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 18, 2013.

S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)—Chapter 19, 2013.

S-2, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves—Chapter 20, 2013.

S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands—Chapter 21, 2013.

C-63, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2014—Chapter 22, 2013.

C-64, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2014—Chapter 23, 2013.

C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 24, 2013.

C-62, An Act to give effect to the Yale First Nation Final Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 25, 2013.

S-14, An Act to amend the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act—Chapter 26, 2013.

S-17, An Act to implement conventions, protocols, agreements and a supplementary convention, concluded between Canada and Namibia, Serbia, Poland, Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Switzerland, for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes—Chapter 27, 2013.

S-15, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001—Chapter 28, 2013.

It being 4:24 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, September 16, 2013, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 4:24 p.m.)

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2013 / 12:35 p.m.
See context


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, although we certainly support the four-year election term under this legislation, there are a number of other parts of the legislation that are ill-defined. We have to look to other instances where people cannot trust what is in legislation. I look to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its ongoing dispute with the government over relevant documents.

In this piece of legislation, clause 41 sets out the regulation process. This regulation process is important because it covers the appointment, powers, duties and removal of electoral officers and deputy electoral officers, the manner of identifying electors of a participating first nations and so on. There are a number of very important clauses that regulations would define.

Nowhere in this piece of legislation is the process outlined by which first nations will be included in the development of regulations. At least in Bill S-8, the clean drinking water bill, in the preamble it said “working with first nations”. However, it does not say that anywhere in this act.

I wonder if the member could address specifically how first nations would be included in the development of regulations.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

June 13th, 2013 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, this time last week, I said that I hoped to have a substantial list of accomplishments to report to the House. Indeed, I do.

In just the last five days, thanks to a lot of members of Parliament who have been here sitting late at night, working until past midnight, we have accomplished a lot. Bill C-60, the economic action plan 2013 act, no. 1, the important job-creating bill, which was the cornerstone of our government's spring agenda, passed at third reading. Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, passed at third reading. Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act, passed at third reading. Bill C-62, the Yale First Nation final agreement act, was reported back from committee and was passed at report stage and passed at third reading. Bill C-49, the Canadian museum of history act, was reported back from committee. Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act, was reported back from committee this morning with amendments from all three parties. Bill S-14, the fighting foreign corruption act, has been passed at committee, and I understand that the House should get a report soon. Bill S-15, the expansion and conservation of Canada’s national parks act, passed at second reading. Bill S-17, the tax conventions implementation act, 2013, passed at second reading. Bill S-10, the prohibiting cluster munitions act, passed at second reading. Bill S-6, the first nations elections act, has been debated at second reading. Bill C-61, the offshore health and safety act, has been debated at second reading. Bill S-16, the tackling contraband tobacco act, has been debated at second reading. Finally, Bill C-65, the respect for communities act, was also debated at second reading.

On the private members' business front, one bill passed at third reading and another at second reading. Of course, that reflects the unprecedented success of private members advancing their ideas and proposals through Parliament under this government, something that is a record under this Parliament. This includes 21 bills put forward by members of the Conservative caucus that have been passed by the House. Twelve of those have already received royal assent or are awaiting the next ceremony. Never before have we seen so many members of Parliament successfully advance so many causes of great importance to them. Never in Canadian history have individual MPs had so much input into changing Canada's laws through their own private members' bills in any session of Parliament as has happened under this government.

Hard-working members of Parliament are reporting the results of their spring labours in our committee rooms. Since last week, we have got substantive reports from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Standing Committee on Health, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

We are now into the home stretch of the spring sitting. Since I would like to give priority to any bills which come back from committee, I expect that the business for the coming days may need to be juggled as we endeavour to do that.

I will continue to make constructive proposals to my colleagues for the orderly management of House business. For example, last night, I was able to bring forward a reasonable proposal for today's business, a proposal that had the backing of four of the five political parties that elected MPs. Unfortunately, one party objected, despite the very generous provision made for it with respect to the number of speakers it specifically told us it wanted to have. Nonetheless, I would like to thank those who did work constructively toward it.

I would point out that the night before, I made a similar offer, again, based on our efforts to accommodate the needs of all the parties.

Today we will complete second reading of Bill S-16, the tackling contraband tobacco act. Then we will start second reading of Bill C-57, the safeguarding Canada's seas and skies act.

Tomorrow morning we will start report stage of Bill C-49, the Canadian museum of history act. Following question period, we will return to the second reading debate on Bill S-6, the first nations elections act.

On Monday, before question period, we will start report stage and hopefully third reading of Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act. After question period Monday, we will return to Bill C-49, followed by Bill C-65, the respect for communities act.

On Tuesday, we will also continue any unfinished business from Friday and Monday. We could also start report stage, and ideally, third reading of Bill S-14, the fighting foreign corruption act that day.

Wednesday, after tidying up what is left over from Tuesday, we will take up any additional bills that might be reported from committee. I understand that we could get reports from the hard-working finance and environment committees on Bill S-17 and Bill S-15 respectively.

Thereafter, the House could finish the four outstanding second-reading debates on the order paper: Bill C-57; Bill C-61; Bill S-12, the incorporation by reference in regulations act; and Bill S-13, the port state measures agreement implementation act.

I am looking forward to several more productive days as we get things done for Canadians here in Ottawa.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

June 13th, 2013 / 3:10 p.m.
See context


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to have that level of civility. I congratulate my friend across the way.

Before asking the usual Thursday question and before the government House leader across the way starts to talk about how he has been able to abuse Parliament over the past week, I would like to make a small observation for all those listening.

Of all the bills I am sure he is about to mention that are important, not a single bill passed through this legislative process in anything resembling a normal fashion. Bills S-8, S-15, S-17, S-2, S-6, S-10, S-16, C-56 and C-60, every single bill we have debated in the past week, operated under time allocation. I might parenthetically add that seven of them came from the Senate. It seems like a strange place for the government to get its agenda: a bunch of unelected, under-investigation senators, but so be it. It is the government's choice.

We tried to work with the government to find ways to allow the House to debate bills and to do so expediently. A good example is the Sable Island as a national park bill. For example, we offered up about five or six speakers who wanted to address the merits of the bill, which would have allowed the passage of that bill after they had spoken. The reaction from the leader from the other side was to move time allocation, which in fact ended up taking up more time in the House than the offer the NDP had made would have taken.

The Conservatives' strategy is sometimes bizarre. In fact, it is hard to figure out whether it is a strategy or not. I would like the Conservative member to enlighten me on this, even though the Conservatives' responses have no merit.

We have spent more than 14 hours debating and voting on time allocation motions in the past two weeks alone. I find it ironic that the government allots only five hours of debate to the content of the bill under time allocation, when the vast majority of our time is spent debating and voting on the time allocation motions and not on the bills. That is the Conservatives' way of doing business.

When will the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons learn that a hammer is not the only tool available for getting the work done?

Could the leader of the government tell us what his plans are for this week and the week following?

Second ReadingFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 11th, 2013 / 1:35 p.m.
See context


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill S-6, an act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain first nations and the composition of council of those first nations.

Before I start, I would like to read from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In article 18, is says:

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters that would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.

That particular section of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is particularly important because, of course, what we are talking about today is how first nations elect their chiefs and council members.

I will turn for a moment to the legislative summary. It indicates that, “First Nations may choose to opt in to the new elections regime proposed under the legislation, or they may be brought under the new elections regime by ministerial order in some circumstances.”

I would agree with previous speakers that moving to a four-year term on an opt-in basis absolutely makes sense, but there are other elements of this legislation that first nations have spoken out against. If the government would entertain some amendments to this piece of legislation, I am sure we could all agree on how to move forward.

I would like to go back to the legislative summary:

According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 240 First Nations hold elections pursuant to the Indian Act, 341 First Nations conduct “custom” or community-based elections rather than elections under the Indian Act, and 36 First Nations select their leaders according to their self-government agreements.

This is an important point because of the fact that there are already a variety of ways by which first nations select their leadership.

The legislative summary notes that the Senate released a report entitled, “First Nations Elections: The Choice is Inherently Theirs” and says:

It indicated that the existing two-year term of office imposed on First Nations by the Indian Act is too short to provide political and economic stability, often creating deep divisions in communities. The report further noted that Indian Act election systems are often fraught with administrative difficulties and inconsistencies, resulting in frequent election appeals.

The legislative summary goes on to talk about the number of times attempts have been made to make reforms to the Indian Act around the elections process. It notes that:

Attempts to reform the Indian Act election system arise from growing First Nations dissatisfaction with the operation of the regime, including its administrative weaknesses, such as loose nomination procedures and a mail-in ballot system that is open to abuse.

Other substantive concerns with Indian Act elections relate to the degree of ministerial intervention, the lack of an adequate and autonomous appeals process and the absence of flexibility to set the terms of office and to determine the size of councils.

It is those points around the ministerial intervention and the autonomous appeals process that are sticking points in the current piece of legislation.

The summary goes on to talk about the fact that a number of recommendations arose as a result of the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and some of these recommendations that are not included in this piece of legislation are as follows, and this is from 1996:

With respect to elections, a key proposal was to develop community leadership selection systems and remove the application of the Indian Act as a preliminary measure to re-establishing traditional forms of leadership....To accomplish this, the following steps were suggested: community-level development of custom codes; community development of local dispute resolution procedures; the establishment of regional First Nations capacity and advisory bodies;

And so on.

Again, some of the elements that were recommended back in 1996 are not present or appropriately resourced under the current legislation. I mentioned earlier that one of the sticking points was under clause 3(1), which states that the minister may, by order, add a first nation to this schedule of first nations participating in the new election system.

Once again, I know that the former parliamentary secretary pointed out the fact that this power has been in place, but here we are reinforcing and reiterating that power once again. This is one point where first nations are saying to butt out. They should be able to have an appeals process internally to look at this. I will speak to this point in a little more detail later.

The other problem with this legislation is the regulations in clause 41. The clause provides for the governor-in-council to have broad and general powers to make regulations with respect to elections. Again, I will touch on this point a little later.

With regard to the support, initially we had the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress that were engaged in consultation around the development of the legislation. However, this is a pattern that we continue to see with the government. There are reports and recommendations from first nations, and then the government disregards some or all of those recommendations and reports.

This is the case in point. According to the legislative summary:

Opinions on the ensuing legislation are divided among First Nations organizations involved in the engagement process: while some support the new legislation, others do not view it as reflective of the report and recommendations.

Some First Nations leaders expressed strong support for Bill S-6. At the December 2011 announcement of the new legislation...the Atlantic Policy Congress, echoed the government's view that the Act will support sound governance and increase economic development in First Nations communities.

The current Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Derek Nepinak, however, has expressed strong opposition to Bill S-6. In a written statement, quoted in several media outlets on 7 December 2011, 37 Grand Chief Nepinak stated that the proposed legislation does not fulfill the recommendations put forth by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and represents an apparent “attempt by the Minister to expand governmental jurisdiction and control of the First Nations electoral processes that are created pursuant to the Indian Act or custom code.”

In particular, Grand Chief Nepinak has criticized the following features of Bill S-6: in certain circumstances, the Minister’s ability to bring First Nations under the legislation without their consent; the lack of a First Nations appeals process; and the conduct of draws to resolve tie votes in elections for band council chiefs and councillors.

There is not the kind of support that the government is touting. I want to turn to a legal opinion from December 29, 2011. This has been provided primarily to first nations using a customary election code or regulations, and this is the legal opinion, and this is why it is important for first nations that are currently under custom code:

Based on a preliminary review of the proposed legislation, Bill S-6 may offer an improvement over the existing Indian Act election provisions. However, for those First Nations that already operate under their own customary election codes or regulations, opting into the First Nations Elections Act would provide only marginal benefits and may in some instances be viewed as a step back in a First Nations pursuit of self-government.

While there may be specific provisions within Bill S-6 that a particular First Nation may find attractive (such as a four year election term), First Nations should consider amending their existing custom codes or regulations to incorporate any provisions of interest as opposed to opting into the First Nations Elections Act.

I mentioned earlier clause 41 and the concerns. What we saw with Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act, was that bill was enabling legislation that laid out a process and some content for regulations.

Of course, what happened is that there is no meaningful provision for first nations to be involved in the development of regulations and the subsequent implementation of regulations. That is the same case in this legislation.

The legal brief says:

The Regulations—the Devil is in the Details

At this time, all that the Government has shared with First Nations are the provisions within Bill S-6. Section 41 of the Bill provides for the regulatory making powers of the Governor in Council. The Regulations to be passed include those dealing with the appointment, powers and duties of Electoral Officers, the certification (decertification) of Electoral Officers, who are electors, who and how candidates may be nominated, how voting is to be conducted, and the removal of a Chief or Councillor by way of a petition and anything else in the Act that requires regulation.

Those are pretty broad scopes of power under the regulations, and nowhere in Bill S-6 does it talk about how first nations will be included in that process. People are right to raise flags around that.

The brief goes on to say:

Ultimately, how attractive this legislation will be to any First Nation will depend greatly on what is, or is not included or provided for within the Regulations. However, it should be kept in mind that Regulations are designed and intended to be amended easily and quickly. Therefore, while a First Nation may opt into the First Nations Elections Act on the basis of what it considers to be attractive Regulations, there is no guarantee that the Governor in Council will not change these Regulations to something that a First Nation may find less appealing.

That is why when we had Bill S-8 before committee, New Democrats proposed that a clause be inserted that required regulations to come back before the House and referred to the appropriate committee, so there would be some parliamentary oversight. Otherwise, there would be no parliamentary oversight.

There is a precedent for it because in 2003 or 2004, the Quarantine Act had a clause that had the regulations come back before the appropriate committee.

Under the clause opting into the first nations election act, pursuant to section 3(1)(b), the minister may order a first nation to use the first nations elections act in circumstances where the minister is satisfied that a protracted leadership dispute has significantly compromised the governance of that first nation. What qualifies as leadership dispute in the first instance, let alone a protracted leadership dispute? There is no definition, no qualifiers around that.

Under what circumstances is there significantly compromised governance? This section is extremely subjective and at the sole discretion of the minister there is a potential that any first nation could be forced to use the first nations election act if chief and council cannot agree on issues such as budgets, funding, housing and so on, on what the minister may consider to be a timely basis.

On the opting out piece, opting out of the first nations election act, while it is simple for a first nation to be added to the first nations election act, being removed from its operation is a far more complex undertaking. To be removed from the act, a first nation must satisfy a number of specific requirements and the minister “may”, not “shall”, remove the first nation from the operations of the act.

The key requirement that must be satisfied includes establishing a new election code that is approved by a majority of the majority of the voters. The code must include amendment procedures and there can be no outstanding charges under the act against any member of the first nation. Even if these requirements are met, it still remains at the minister's discretion as to whether the transfer out of the act will be approved or not. Therefore, we again caution first nations already using a custom election code or regulation, their customary powers should be guarded and protected jealously since it may be difficult to regain these customary powers once a first nation opts into the first nations elections act.

I mentioned earlier the appeals procedure. When I quoted Article 18 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it indicated that representatives needed to choose their own procedures as well as maintain their own indigenous decision-making institutions. The appeal procedure is problematic in this act.

Under sections 30 to 35 of the proposed legislation, there is only one way to appeal an election: apply to either the Federal Court of the court of Queen's bench for a review of the election. The only ground available to overturn an election is to prove that a provision of the legislation or regulations was contravened and the contravention was likely to affect the outcome of the election. Internal appeal mechanisms are not provided for.

Using the courts is a costly and time-consuming process. The legislation does not provide for funding of these appeals to the court. Therefore, only applicants who can afford to hire a lawyer are likely to pursue an appeal. Further, appeals to the courts can be time-consuming and may take months for an appeal to be dealt with. On a side note, we only have to look to what is going on currently with various alleged misdemeanours, or perhaps outright fraud, under the current Canada Elections Act and the amount of time it takes for that process to unfold. We are going to see the same kind of process when it comes to forcing first nations to resort to the courts in order to sort some of this out.

On the other hand, if the regulations are to provide that the first nations will fund appeals or if courts make a practice that all or most appeals will be funded or paid for by the first nations, significant expenses may be incurred by first nations following every election. Many, if not most, custom election codes or regulations provide for some form of internal appeal process that will allow first nations members to file and have heard an appeal or grievance in regard to an election, usually without the need to hire a legal counsel. These processes will allow for most members with a grievance to participate in the appeal process if so inclined.

Further, if an appeal is unsuccessful, the aggrieved member may still choose to pursue the matter to court. That is, most of the existing custom election codes and regulations provide or allow for both an internal appeal process and a court-driven appeal. The proposed legislation only provides for the courts to be the final arbiter of election disputes. That is an enormous problem. It would seem perfectly reasonable, and again I go back to the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report, that indicated dispute resolution mechanisms needed to be developed by the first nations themselves. It would seem a perfectly reasonable approach to take.

I referenced clause No. 41 earlier in my speech about the problem with having regulations developed essentially without input and without any oversight.

In addition, we proposed another amendment with regard to Bill S-8, which would be an appropriate amendment for this legislation with regard to looking at whether there would be unintended consequences with legislation.

With respect to Bill S-8, we proposed that within five years after the act came into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operations of the act and of the regulations made under this act would have to be undertaken by such committee of the Senate and of the House of Commons as may be designated and so on.

The purpose of having some sort of five year review would be to look at what was happening with the regulations and also to look at whether the act was achieving its intended objective.

We heard from other members who spoke in the House about the fact that the legislation would provide stability in the communities and add to economic development opportunities.

I was first elected in 2004 and was in constant election mode. I understand the challenges for chiefs and councils when they are in two year election terms. It is not a reasonable period of time to develop and implement an agenda and to look at some of the results of it. If the government had just stuck to the four year term in the legislation, we would have had no problems supporting the bill, but it had to stick in other mechanisms.

I want to turn briefly to testimony that was heard in the Senate with regard to objections to the bill, and I want to refer to Derek Nepinak, the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. I will read some of his testimony before the Senate. I have no idea how much time we will have when the bill gets to committee, because time allocation has become a way of doing business here. I do not even know if we will have time to have witnesses before committee. Chief Nepinak said:

Regarding clause 3(1)(a), we know already that the development of custom codes in our communities and the passages of them requires a double majority vote, meaning that we need to hold a referendum which includes a majority of the electors, as well as a majority passing the customary code. That double majority is reflective of the ability and willingness of our community members to participate in governance processes. I think that this bill undermines that somewhat in allowing a chief and council to move a resolution to opt into this new legislation. I think that is problematic because it excludes members of the community.

I have concern with respect to the phrase “protracted leadership dispute”. I am not quite sure what that means. I find the term overly ambiguous. It opens up a broader discretion for the minister to impose Bill S-6 on a community that might not otherwise wish to be part of the new legislation.

He goes on to outline a number of other clauses. Then he goes on to say:

Speaking broadly with respect to clauses 30 to 35 on contested elections, the chiefs in Manitoba supported the resolution to move forward in the discussion on the basis that we would discuss a process of tribunals or regional tribunals to engage the challenges resulting in our elections. I think it is fundamental to the self-determining efforts of communities to be able to engage their conflicts, be able to engage conflict, and to make difficult choices. I believe it is in the form of a tribunal...that...really come to the surface...the form of a decision-making body with authority—that our values and our systems of decision making...We can really show, and once again redevelop, those systems that were once there. I believe we need to be shown the respect and given the room to develop these tribunals so that we can adjudicate these matters within our systems. I believe that is a critical piece of the legislation that is missing.

I want to quote Ms. Cook-Searson, who also was before the Senate. She said:

I just wanted to comment on the question...One of my points was that we should have an independent First Nations electoral commission or a First Nations tribunal to settle any election disputes because it is afforded already for the federal government, the provincial governments. You have mechanisms in place where it is part of the regular part of democracy. If it is good for the federal government and the provincial governments, why is it not good for First Nations? Why not an option for a truly independent electoral commission? I do agree there will be disputes and you do need a mechanism to deal with them. However, rather than go through the minister or the cabinet or through the courts, we could have this independent First Nation electoral commission or First Nations tribunal to settle any election disputes.

Ms. Cook-Searson raises a really valid point. Elections Canada is doing its job currently about some allegations with respect to members of the House. Why do first nations not have access to the same kind of process?

I will end on that note. I hope the government will entertain some amendments to the legislation.

Second ReadingFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 11th, 2013 / 12:30 p.m.
See context


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Western Arctic for his input on this piece of legislation and, of course, for the great work that he does on the aboriginal affairs committee.

There is one specific clause in the bill that I want to ask the member about, clause 41, which provides for governor-in-council to make regulations.

We just finished with Bill S-8 on safe drinking water, which was all about making regulations. The concern that was raised under Bill S-8, and I am sure it will be raised under Bill S-6, is the fact that there is no rigorous provision for first nations to be involved in making regulations. In fact, the NDP proposed an amendment to Bill S-8 that would see regulations come back before the House and tabled to the appropriate committee so that there would be parliamentary oversight.

Could the member comment on the fact that there is no provision in this piece of legislation for first nations to be involved in the development and implementation of regulations?

The House resumed from June 6, consideration of the motion that Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands, be read the third time and passed.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

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


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 6th, 2013 / 7:50 p.m.
See context


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 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 / 7:35 p.m.
See context


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 / 7:20 p.m.
See context


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 / 7:10 p.m.
See context


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 / 6:55 p.m.
See context


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.