Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise tonight to speak to Bill C-269, an act to amend the Fisheries Act regarding the prohibition of the deposit of raw sewage. It is a bill from the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who also has been Speaker. I probably have not agreed with many of the things the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has said over the years, however the issue of raw sewage in our water system is a very important thing to be discussing and I am glad we have an opportunity here to do so.
We know an element of this is under provincial jurisdiction, but people should be able to know we have a top quality environmental system in this country to keep people safe. It should be an issue we are all deeply concerned with. My hon. colleagues can probably speak of many municipalities that have issues with raw sewage being pumped into waters and rivers.
However, one of the things I am not really seeing in the bill is the effect in areas under direct federal jurisdiction, which are of course first nations reserves. It is really important for Canadians to understand that across Canada there is a two-tiered system of infrastructure, a two-tiered system of health, a two-tiered system of education and a two-tiered system of rights.
Those are the rights that exist for citizens of this country under provincial or territorial governments, and the rights of those citizens living on the reserves of our nation and who are under the mandate of the Department of Indigenous Services, the old Indian Affairs and the ultimate colonial system. For them, there is chronic underfunding for basic infrastructure.
When the Liberals ran in 2015 on getting rid of the water crisis and told everyone they would have the mission accomplished by the beginning of 2021, it inspired and galvanized Canadians. Canadians asked themselves how it was possible that in a nation as rich as Canada, in a country with the greatest water resources on the planet, so many people could not turn on their taps and drink safely. Dirty water is also tied to sewage and broken sewage systems.
When the Prime Minister was elected on that promise, people believed he would follow through. What would be an easier thing for the incoming Liberal government to do than to ensure we have proper water? What the Liberal government did not promise to do was deal with the water systems, which include sewage. Why is it important to understand that distinction? It is because the government decided it was going to do it on the cheap.
I remember the terrible Kashechewan water crisis, and Kashechewan is in a terrible crisis right now with COVID. The Minister of Indigenous Services sat on his hands and did nothing until the COVID crisis blew up out of proportion. It took me back to when I was first elected in 2005 and there was an E. coli outbreak in Kashechewan. We saw the same lack of action then.
At that time, the sewage system in Kashechewan was built near the water treatment plant because it was done cheap. When the rain came and the sewage treatment settling ponds overflowed, they flowed into the water system. Kashechewan did not even have a proper backup system so that if something came into the outtake it would actually stop the incoming sewage. The government did not bother to put that in because it was done on the cheap. We need to think about it in that perspective, because the water crisis that caused E. coli in that community and led to the mass evacuation of the entire community was the result of the failed sewage system.
When the Prime Minister failed on his latest promise on water, people asked how it was possible. The Prime Minister's number one promise was supposed to be that he was going to deliver clean water. If we look at community after community and at the Indigenous Services list of communities with safe water, the Liberals are always focused on the press release and not actually assessing the real problems.
They spend a lot of time saying they have gotten rid of this boil water advisory and that boil water advisory. I have been in communities that were told they got rid of six boil water advisories. That is because at the very edge of town there was a building that had a well and now that well was clean, but the rest of the community was not safe. That is not a comprehensive solution.
I asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer to cost out the Prime Minister's promises, and he was very clear that the government was deliberately underfunding the training that is needed to run a water treatment plant. The government was deliberately underfunding maintenance. Only the Department of Indigenous Services could cut a ribbon at a plant, walk away and think that there was never going to be a need for maintenance. Any municipality would say that things break.
There are isolated communities like Marten Falls' Ogoki Post, where the sewage lifts are hit by lightning and the boards “kack out”. Residents call and tell the department their sewage lifts are not working anymore and the feds say that it is not their issue. How is a community of 300 going to fix the fried-out sewage lifts? What happens? The sewage gets into the water, the water treatment plant starts to go down and then the feds say they are not going to fix that because it is not in their capital budget, but they will spend upwards of $2 million a year on bottled water. That bottled water money is not new money. It comes from another community where infrastructure was supposed to be built. They are taking money from an infrastructure project in one community that desperately needs it and they are buying bottled water for another community because they refuse to fix the issue.
When Liberals look at fixing the water situation, they look at what is cheapest, what is easiest and how to get out of it without having any more costs. I will give the example of the community of Attawapiskat. The water supply is a stagnant pool. It does not matter how many chemicals are pumped into that water: It will never be good, clean, safe water. The more chemicals that are pumped into the water, the more caustic it becomes and the more damage it does to children's skin. It is really something to see children living in Canada with open wounds all over their bodies. Anyone can go to any northern first nation and see the effects on these children.
Every now and then the media will pay attention and the government will say it does not understand the mysterious cause of these illnesses and rashes. It is obvious. It is because a stagnant pool of water gets chlorine dumped into it to make it drinkable and when the children are bathed in it, it damages their skin. Their skin starts to open and that is when the infections get in. This has happened in so many communities. I have had to medevac children out because of these conditions.
Another example is Neskantaga, which has gone 26 years without water. The Minister of Indigenous Services keeps scratching his head. He cannot figure out why he cannot get clean water to Neskantaga. It is because Liberals are willing to build a plant, but not willing to build all the infrastructure that supports the plant. A municipality needs a proper water plant, a proper source of water and proper pipes. It needs an entire system in order to get water to the community. Someone from Neskantaga said what the Liberals are offering to do is put a new engine in a rotted-out Ford vehicle, thinking we can drive it down the road. It cannot be done without the proper infrastructure. There needs to be proper piping, a proper water source and a plant that is actually built for the needs of the community. This is something the Department of Indigenous Services will never do.
We also see the same companies getting hired over and over again. In any other municipality, if a company built a water plant and the plant failed, there would be an investigation. Does anyone think that company would get the contract the next time? Not a chance. However, when a water plant fails, the Department of Indigenous Services says, “Oh well, whatever. It is just another day at the office.” The bonuses still go out to the senior bureaucrats and things do not change. These are the fundamental inequities that people are facing. There are communities like Maniwaki, just 100-and-some kilometres up the road from Ottawa. The Kitigan Zibi reserve cannot get clean water, but beside it the municipality of Maniwaki has clean water.
Why is that? One is under a provincial system and under that provincial jurisdiction, there are clear standards. There are obligations. There are rules in place. They have to deliver clean water to their community. However, the neighbouring reserve is under the federal government, so there is no obligation or standards. The feds do not want to put the standards in place because they do not want to spend the money.
That is what systemic discrimination looks like. It is in the water. It is in the sewage. It is in the school systems. It is in the failed health.
I am very interested in this bill and I am very glad that I had a chance to speak. I will be here all week taking questions.