Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in the debate on water.
Let me begin by commending the member for Fundy—Royal on his motion. I believe it is long overdue. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy to bring attention to this most basic of human needs. I find it almost unbelievable that after the tragic experience in Walkerton, we are now experiencing the same kind of problems in North Battleford. What we see demonstrates that we require more leadership, certainly on the part of government.
I would like to take us back to pre-Walkerton history. As the former mayor of Dauphin, I had to live through the same kind of experience, so I will speak from my experience as a municipal leader who had to shepherd a community through an outbreak in giardia back in 1995.
If we look at the records in 1993, Milwaukee, Wisconsin had a cryptosporidium outbreak which took many lives. We called it legionnaires' disease. Then on we go to Waterloo. An hon. member across the floor mentioned this morning the problems that Waterloo had with cryptosporidium and giardia around the mid-1990s. In Kelowna there was an outbreak in 1996 of cryptosporidium.
This is not new. We have known about the problem for at least a decade. What has the government done about it? Not an awful lot. It has pointed the finger at the provinces because it is a provincial jurisdiction, but it needs to show more leadership. Canadians expect their health to be protected. Consumption of potable water is part of that health and safety need.
Our water systems and water treatment plants, for those communities that have them, go back to the 1950s vintage. That was when most of them were built. There are a lot of communities that do not have water treatment systems. They rely on surface water or well water. In fact inclusive in the topic of debate today, we really should be looking at the whole issue of sewage treatment because sewage facilities built back in the 1950s and the early 1960s are all falling apart today. In other words, they will and have become a problem to the environment just as much as to potable water.
In 1995 a boil water order was issued for Dauphin, which is where I come from. At that time I was the mayor. Obviously when people cannot drink the water what can they do? Little does one realize that without water there is not a lot one can do. However when people have to boil the water to use it, it creates a lot of difficulties.
Imagine a community being under threat of not having potable water for a period of almost two years. That is why I believe there needs to be an emergency funding provision put in place by the federal government for communities, such as North Battleford, that need it. In essence, one of the key responsibilities for the federal government is to provide tax dollars to build these facilities.
Building water treatment facilities are not ordinary mundane activities at the municipal level. It takes huge amounts of dollars. In the case of Dauphin, Manitoba, we were very fortunate, through the PFRA and through the co-operation of a fellow by the name of Erminio Calagary, we managed to get the support of the federal government, the provincial government and the municipal government to put the dollars together and built a brand new water treatment plant. It amounted to something like $9 million.
That $9 million to a community of about 10,000 people is a huge tax load. It is easy for the federal government to say that it will throw some money here and there through its infrastructure program and hopefully then tripartite agreements will get some money to build water treatment plants or sewage plants.
I was very deeply involved with the 1993 infrastructure program. That money was distributed on a per capita basis, which did not account to very much especially when we knew the cost of water treatment facilities. The federal government has to ante up. After all that the money does belong to the people.
I agree with the FCM, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and its lobby to ensure that fresh or potable water is always available to all communities. There are over 4,000 municipalities. The FCM resolution number 26, which was adopted in the year 2000, states:
—reaffirm its commitment to the protection of public health in all aspects of the provision of water for human consumption, including the protection of drinking water or drinking water sources.
Further to this statement, perhaps it is time the federal Liberal government recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the municipalities of this country.
I still remember in 1996 listening to the Prime Minister in Calgary. He stated that the municipalities played a huge role in this country, that they were very important, that they were the first level of government and that they were closest to the people. I am still waiting for the Prime Minister of the day to recognize the legitimacy of the municipalities. Until that happens, the municipalities will always be bantered about between the provinces and the federal government.
As we know, the provinces always say the municipalities are the children of the provinces and that the federal government has no business dealing with them. It is long overdue, when it comes to health care and water issues, that the municipalities be at the table. It is no different than if the topic of discussion was roads.
Therefore, water is essential and it impacts all of us. It is time the federal government recognized that water should be treated the same way blood is treated. When we get a transfusion most of us think the blood is safe. Likewise, when we pick up a glass of water we should not question the safety of that glass of water. As we know, that is not the case at this point in time.
I would like to talk about the lack of support for potable water development for aboriginal reservations. In my riding I have 13 reservations and I know that they are in dire need of infrastructure development. In fact, when will the federal government move on this? Hopefully it will not wait for someone to lose their life before it makes some concerted effort to deal with the deplorable conditions of drinking water on many of the reserves.
I have many Metis communities in my riding. Health Canada has to put its foot down and be more assertive in making sure that funds go to water and sewage infrastructure development in those communities, rather than just handing the money over to the Metis provincial organizations and letting them give out the money. In many cases basic issues like water and sewage are left out altogether.
We need specific programs for water and sewage. The government should avoid the word infrastructure. In the last round of debate the definition of the term was wide open and infrastructure dollars were used in many areas. A government that wants to lead and be accountable should set up water and sewage programs. If we do not do it at this point it will be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems that confront Canadians.