Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to enter the debate on the opposition day motion on water in first nations communities.
We have identified this as an issue whose time has come to be solved. This morning the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada spoke very clearly about the fact that there has been inadequate attention paid to this issue by all parties over the years. We can argue who has done good things and who has not done good things. His plea was that we put partisanship aside and we recognize together that there is no reason for not solving the problem. The problem is the inequity in terms of access to safe, clean drinking water and waste water treatment in first nations communities compared with non-aboriginal communities. I could not agree more.
This is an issue that all members of Parliament care about. It is a humanitarian issue. It is an equity issue. It is about safety. It is about saving lives. It just takes political will. This motion invites members of Parliament to agree that the time to solve this problem is now.
All levels of government share a responsibility for ensuring that all Canadians have reliable access to clean, safe drinking water.
We need to establish a strategy immediately in order to ensure that all aboriginal communities have access to drinking water. We need to take pertinent and decisive action to resolve this completely unacceptable situation.
There are fundamental water problems in Canada. Water is a very complex issue. The delivery of safe and clean drinking water is extremely complex. I learned that in my first year as minister of the environment in British Columbia. There were far too many boil water advisories in British Columbia. As the environment minister, I worked with the health minister to look at our approach to drinking water. A panel of experts headed by up by Mr. David Marshall, who was the chair of the Fraser Basin Council, assessed a proposed new drinking water act. It provided feedback to the government. That act was duly passed. There was also a safe drinking water action plan.
That action plan addressed the cumulative impacts on water. It gave communities the power to bring industry, the municipal government, non-governmental organizations and government departments together to develop a plan for addressing the cumulative impacts on water. The regulations gave the government some teeth for making sure that the challenges to obtaining safe and clean water were addressed. Having gone through that process, I am aware of the great complexities that plague us in having safe drinking water in communities across our geographically vast nation.
The regulatory and legislative gaps are still rife, despite the fact that many provinces and the federal government have made efforts to address that issue. Federal-provincial jurisdiction is always a challenge. The federal government wants to ensure it is not stepping into a provincial jurisdiction and provincial governments may be waiting for the federal government to take leadership.
Provinces and the federal government work together often in a constructive way. The leader of the Liberal Party pointed out that when he was premier, the government of Ontario worked with the Liberal government in Ottawa to address issues of inequitable access to safe water and infrastructure in aboriginal communities. The federal-provincial sharing of jurisdiction, of which water is a classic example, does not need to mean inaction or ineffectiveness. It simply needs to be addressed in the development of the strategy. It means working with the provinces to solve this problem.
By the way, I would not consider that to be a great strength of the current Conservative government. Consultation with the provinces in matters such as its crime bill, Bill C-10, and other matters has been missing completely and consultation certainly is necessary in a water strategy such as the Liberals are proposing in this motion.
There is a deficit across Canada in all categories of infrastructure. Municipalities, small and large alike, have gone to the federal government to reinforce that it is the federal government that has the ability to tax. A large percentage of taxes that are levied are federal government taxes, but the majority of infrastructure is the responsibility of municipalities. There is a mismatch.
There is over $1 billion in new funding needed immediately, and $4.7 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade water and waste water infrastructure to existing standards, according to a national report regarding first nations reserves. It would take $4.7 billion over 10 years to address this problem. Those are significant resources especially at a time when Canada is facing a slowdown in its economy, and we have not yet made up the half a million full-time net jobs that we have lost since before the recession.
Let us put this into perspective. What is the cost to the treasury as a result of the reduction in taxes for large and profitable corporations? Their tax rate will go down from 16.5% to 15.5%.
I was at a breakfast this morning with the eminent economist Jack Mintz from Alberta. When asked about corporate tax rates, he said that his view is that they are appropriate right now. They are far lower than those in the United States. He is not calling for additional tax reductions.
The Conservative government is planning a corporate tax reduction from 16.5% to 15.5%. That will cost the treasury well over the $4.7 billion over 10 years that is needed for first nations waste water and drinking water infrastructure.
Rather than further reduce corporate taxes, the government could decide that it would be more important to ensure that first nations living in communities without running water have safe drinking water and waste disposal. Imagine that. Is the government able to rethink its ideological decisions and do what is right to provide justice and equality for our first nations people? I hope so.
What about the government's new approach to crime? It will mean harsher and longer sentences for young people. Criminologists and people working in our criminal justice system say that will be counterproductive.
Many aspects of Bill C-10 are widely criticized by criminologists and public safety professionals. Many Canadians are concerned about the increased criminalization of Canadians and the effect that would have on first nations. The reality is there is a disproportionate number of first nations people in our jails, and it will be even worse when Bill C-10 passes.
We have been arguing that those funds should be put into supports to prevent young aboriginal people in our cities from ending up in prison, as opposed to bringing in longer prison sentences, more prison sentences, and inflexible sentencing.
There are nine former bills rolled into that one bill. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated that the government's crime agenda will cost $5 billion. Let us take that $5 billion and use it to upgrade the water infrastructure in remote first nations communities, those communities where people are carrying their water in buckets. Let us solve that problem rather than throwing more aboriginal young people in jail. I would ask the Conservative members to think about that.
Does it make more sense to add more prisoners to our already overcrowded prisons? Because of overcrowding, 85% of prisoners cannot access the drug treatment programs or anger management programs they are required to do under the conditions of their corrections plan. The government added $120 million over five years for security, for dog teams, ion scanners and security experts. Why? Because overcrowding leads to more criminal behaviour in prison. The government wants to further overcrowd the prisons and dump more money into prison security, and yet it is cutting the drug treatment program in prisons. This is only going to get worse and become more expensive.
We should use the funds that Canada will have to dedicate because of Bill C-10 and the overcrowded prisons to address the lack of access to running water in our first nations communities.
As of last year, 116 first nations reserve communities across Canada were under a drinking water advisory. On average, these drinking water advisories last a year. They cannot drink water for that period of time. What are they going to do? They are going to spend time boiling that water, using expensive diesel fuel or other fuel that in some cases has been flown into their communities, so they and their children do not get sick.
That is completely unacceptable. Too many of these communities have living conditions that are shocking to Canadians when travelling to other countries and seeing some of the communities without running water and waste disposal. We should be shocked into action, knowing that those communities are rampant in Canada.
There are a number of things that have led to this problem. The government's response so far has been to cut Environment Canada's environmental monitoring program. We need to add resources. The answer is not regulation without resources. These communities do not have resources.
I want to just touch on some of the myths about water in Canada. I recently hosted a policy breakfast in Vancouver Quadra with a very eminent, recognized professor at UBC, Dr. Karen Bakker. She is the author of a book about water called, Eau Canada, which has been very highly regarded and has won awards.
Dr. Bakker came to my policy breakfast to talk about five myths of Canada's water. One of them is that we have the most abundant fresh water anywhere. That is not true. There are countries that have more fresh water, and certainly on a volume of water per square hectare, we are not near the top of the pack.
The myth is that our fresh water is clean. In fact, we lag in terms of the cleanliness of our water. Unfortunately we know that some of our industrial developments are contaminating our water. With some of our farming practices, even in the Fraser Valley, in today's era of understanding the threats to groundwater of overusing fertilizer or mismanaging the disposal of sewage from livestock, we still see the contamination of our streams, creeks and aquifers. Canada's water is not as clean as Canadians would like to think.
We also think our waste water is being treated before it goes back into the environment, as it should be. According to Dr. Bakker, Canada has nothing to be proud of in terms of our waste water treatment standards.
There is a myth that our water is well-regulated and unfortunately that is also untrue. When I was the minister of environment in British Columbia, I discovered that British Columbia was called the wild west for groundwater because there was absolutely zero regulation of that water. Anyone could put a well of any size anywhere and extract water from the ground without any regulatory oversight or rules. One of the things I was able to do as a provincial minister was to introduce the first-ever groundwater regulations in British Columbia.
Last, according to Dr. Bakker, people's conception about threats to our water is the export of bulk water to the United States. That is one of the biggest threat. In fact, Dr. Bakker's view is that this is a low risk because the northern U.S. states would prevent it. Their water regulatory regimes are stronger than in Canada. The risk is that Canadians do not understand the depth and extent of the problems with our water supplies.
I want to get back to the situation of first nations bearing the brunt of the challenges of having clean running water and waste water treatment. There is a lack of drinking water and a lack of adequate sanitation and flush toilets.
First nations communities are 90% more likely to lack running water than other Canadian and non-first nation homes. Just think about that. That is simply unacceptable and we cannot allow it. Canada is a country that has a medium rate of income inequality, but it is growing faster than income inequality in the United States. This kind of neglect of first nations' basic health, safety and access to clean water contributes to income inequality. Families are spending their time, effort and resources to do something that I, in Vancouver Quadra, can do by turning on a tap or flushing the toilet. Those families are not spending that time completing high school, or getting post-secondary education or finding a way to have jobs and economic opportunities in their communities.
We do see dramatic differentials in our human and social conditions in first nations communities. The levels of lower economic opportunities, such as health, education, longevity, infant and child mortality, numbers of community members in jail, et cetera, are unfortunately higher in first nations communities. First nations make up 2.7% of the adult population, yet 18.5% of the prison population and that is unacceptable. However, it does not come out of the blue. It ties into our inability or unwillingness as governments to put our shoulders to the wheel and work together to tackle this very basic determinant of the quality of life, which is to have safe running water and waste water treatment.
We need a real strategy, not just a list of problems and goals. We need to have the actions, the accountability for those actions and we need to take care of this problem and we need to start now.