House of Commons Hansard #264 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parks.

Topics

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just want to pick up on the member's last comment on standing up for first nations in support of the legislation.

There is a great deal of concern among many of our first nations leaders that quite often the government has made the decision to bring in legislation without working hand-in-hand with them. We have had court rulings that have made it very clear to the government that it has an obligation to work with our first nations before it brings in legislation. There is a sense that the government has not been co-operative in working in consultation prior to bringing in legislation.

The specific piece of legislation before us dealing with safe water is something that is really important to our first nations communities. It is not only legislation. It is also having the resources necessary to make it happen.

I have heard a number of Conservative members talk about the $3 billion the government has invested. Can the member provide us with a clear indication of where that $3 billion has actually been spent?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

June 6th, 2013 / 7:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, the first part of the member's question dealt with consultation. He is correct in the sense that the government obviously has a duty to consult. To respond to him on that point, since 2006, there have been expert panel public hearings held across Canada. They heard from over 110 presenters and received more than two dozen submissions. There was a series of engagement sessions held with first nations communities in February and March 2009. There were 700 participants, of which 544 were first nations. In the fall and winter of 2009-10, government officials met with first nations chiefs and organizations to discuss specific regional issues raised during the engagement sessions. From October 2010 to October 2011, there were discussions held with first nations organizations to deal with this as well.

His own party, and the former leader of the party, introduced a motion in the House to address the urgency with respect to water quality for first nations communities and those residents. That is exactly why the government is acting on this.

With respect to the $3 billion in investments between 2006 and 2013 the member referenced, during my speech I mentioned a number of the communities that have received very specific investments. One community received $10 million. The Bouctouche First Nation in New Brunswick received $2 million. The Wasauksing First Nation, located near Parry Sound, received $16 million. There are very specific investments across the country. I referenced the--

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. I would ask all hon. members to pay attention to the Chair when they are answering, for a signal that their time is drawing to a close. Questions and comments. The hon. member for Halifax.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to read a quick piece from the member's minister. I think this is testimony from the committee.

He said:

You may recall that one of the key findings of the national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems was that the majority of the risk identified in high-risk systems relates to the issue of capacity, with only 30% relating to design risk and infrastructure issues.

If the question is really of capacity, why is the government not putting forward something to deal with capacity, actually investing in people while they invest in the infrastructure?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, in terms of capacity, my colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke mentioned the circuit rider training program. I think this is an excellent program that members on both sides can certainly support.

The government invested in the development and implementation of a remote watering system, for instance, in my own province of Alberta. The total cost for this initiative was $4.3 million. It was in direct response to a number of recurring issues that have been identified by the circuit rider trainers.

It is a very specific example with respect to capacity to ensure that these changes were going to be made both in terms of regulation, but also in terms of investments. They can make a real difference in terms of the impacts for people who live in first nations communities.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill S-8 today. I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary Centre.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, so I am very familiar with this legislation. It is important legislation, necessary legislation, and legislation that I am proud to stand here and support.

One of the things that often gets lost in this debate, and I have heard over and over again at committee, is the misunderstanding of what this legislation actually is designed to do. We often hear from members on the opposite side of the House who say that the bill does not do this or does not do that.

It is not designed to be a panacea. It is not designed to solve every single problem. It is designed to solve one specific issue that was raised by the expert panel, and that is the need for regulations to set safe drinking water standards. The panel recommended other things as well, but that was one of the key issues that the experts said needed to be moved forward. That is why this legislation is so important. It would give the authority to enact regulations to ensure we have standards consistent to allow for safe drinking water. Safe drinking water is important, and we know that. It is a huge issue.

The issues that we have with first nations communities are varied and many. We have geographical challenges and different circumstances. They are complex. We have to find ways to filter water to remove contaminants, and we have to find ways to deal with waste water.

A lot of these issues are faced by non-aboriginal communities across Canada. And, what is the number one tool that they will use to ensure that they have safe drinking water? It is a system of regulation that is designed to ensure that treated water is up to certain standards, and that is why this legislation is so important. Right now, there are no legally enforceable standards to regulate both water and waste water on most first nations communities. There are some self-governing first nations that do, and they have established and enforced water quality regimes, but they are the exception and not the rule. Bill S-8 would help to turn that exception into the rule.

People have come to the committee and said that the legislation could do this or that, and it might transfer some liability to first nations. I remind them that is because this is enabling legislation. The legislation does not say “it shall” do this or that. What it says is, here is a list of things that may end up being regulated. It would give the authority to engage in a comprehensive discussion with first nations communities with respect to regulations that need to be in place to suit each community. We always have to remember that this is enabling legislation.

We have a strategy on safe drinking water, and there are three pillars: continuing investments in water and waste water infrastructure, developing enforceable standards and protocols, and enhancing capacity building and operator training. We just heard the member for Winnipeg North ask a question about capacity. Of course, we have invested a significant amount in capacity through the circuit rider training program, which is a fantastic program that is making big differences.

When we talk about some of the issues surrounding capacity, we can say that seven years ago only a small minority of first nations had water systems that had trained and certified operators. There were very few. The progress is clear. By 2011, the national assessment found that operators with the appropriate level of certification managed 51% of first nations water systems and 42% of first nations waste water systems. Therefore, we have gone from a few to 51% and 42%. That is a significant increase.

A year later, annual performance inspections of the same systems had determined that these percentages had increased to 60.1% and 53.9%. Yes, it is not 100%, we want it to be at 100%, but we are getting there. Properly trained operators will ensure that the systems comply with regulations and consistently produce clean and reliable drinking water.

We are looking at all of these things. They do not operate in a vacuum; we have to have the regulations. That was raised by the expert panel. We have to have skilled operators. We are making those investments. We also have to have investments in the infrastructure that is necessary to produce the safe water and the drinking water and the waste water. That is why we have invested close to $3 billion in waste water and drinking water systems since 2006. Those investments are making a real difference.

However, not only are we making those investments, we are making the right investments. Why are we doing that? It is because we went forward with the most comprehensive review in the history of our country to look at water and waste water systems. It is a review that was not done by the previous government. We did that. We wanted to know which systems needed to have those investments. Systems are rated as high risk, medium risk and low risk. Therefore, we can prioritize where the investments need to be. Look at the high risk ones. Let us work on those first. We look at this as a multi-faceted approach, one that is going to make a significant difference.

When we look at the regulations, we want time to do that. We are saying we are going to take time and develop them in consultation with first nations to make sure that we have the right regulations to ensure we have safe drinking water and properly treated waste water.

Some people have said “Wait a minute, where is the money? We cannot impose these regulations without money.” Well, I say, how does one build a house without knowing what the designs are? Someone does not just go up and say, “I want a house. Here's the money.” They have to actually design the house. That is what the regulations do. They are designing. They are saying these are the regulations that need to be in place. Once they know what those regulations are, then they can figure out what it is going to cost to implement those regulations. That is exactly the process we are following. We are going to develop the regulations, in consultation with first nations, and then we are going to figure out what, if any, funding arrangements need to change.

Seven years ago, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations agreed to work together on drinking water. Today, the House has the opportunity to support this collaboration by endorsing Bill S-8. Surely, residents of first nations communities have waited long enough to have these regulations brought forward and put in place. We want to move forward with this and I am hoping that we are going to have the support of all parties in the House to make sure that we can move forward with regulations that will help bring safe drinking water and waste water to first nations communities.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was interesting to listen to, but there was one part that kind of stuck in my craw a little. He talked about needing regulation first and then deal with the money piece later and one cannot build a house unless one knows what the design is.

I can buy that argument, except when I look at the Conservative track record. For example, we had a national housing strategy bill in the House that was just the framework. The reason the Conservatives said they voted against it was because it would cost millions and billions of dollars and bankrupt the country. However, hang on, this piece of legislation is just the design plans. It is just the structure that we need and we will deal with what it will cost and what it will actually look like after. I wonder how the member can stand up in the House and make that argument when it is clearly a pretty hypocritical position?

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not see it as hypocritical at all because we are talking about an important issue with first nations drinking water. If we are going to do it we are going to do it right. We have to know what the regulations are before we say what it is going to cost. This is a very simple thing.

We are not coming up with, as she was talking about, an amorphous national strategy. What we are saying is we are going to develop specific regulations. Once we know what those specific regulations are and what standards are going to have to be applied, then we can determine what that is going to cost. We cannot put the cart before the horse, and we are not going to do that.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have learned a lot on this subject from today's debate. I would like to go back to the previous member's comments. When we talk about these things, most of the time the devil is in the details. I remember reading the bill the member spoke of, which called for all affordable housing, a provincial responsibility, to be up to LEED standards. That is just not acceptable. It will not be acceptable by the provinces and at the end of the day we would end up with less affordable housing with less money going towards these programs.

Why does the member believe the approach the government is taking, specifically on a case-by-case basis, would benefit an individual first nation band? At the end of the day, it would be that band that would benefit by a case-by-case system. I would like to hear his comments about how the bill would help move that forward.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has quite clearly pointed out the differences with what my colleague here was suggesting in this bill. We have to have the regulations. I keep going back to that, and I know I am, because we have to have the design of what the program would be before deciding what the funding envelope would have to be. That is exactly what we do.

I keep going back to this over and over again. I say it when we are going through this at committee. This is enabling legislation. It would enable us to go forward and put forward regulations to regulate waste water and drinking water. Again we would do that constructively with first nations, and once we had that, we would then be able to figure out what costs we needed to go forward with. Of course we would continue the investments we have made with respect to building infrastructure and building capacity. Then we would go forward with regulations.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is talking about referencing provincial laws right across the country. My question is very straightforward. What that means is effectively placing on the province a lot of the responsibility for the monitoring, enforcement and so on. It is a form of downloading. I wonder if the member would like to comment on how much this would cost the provinces.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joan Crockatt Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joan Crockatt Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

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

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

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

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Calgary Centre.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joan Crockatt Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

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

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

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

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

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

That is all they are asking. Nothing more.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

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

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

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

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

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

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

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

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

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this particular bill today.

All of the government members have talked about two things. One is regulation, which is what they say this bill is all about, and the second is that they say that implementation will come later.

In other words, what they are saying is they will impose the rules, but they are not going to follow up or carry on or commit to ensuring that any funding is there to make that happen. Therefore, it is destined for failure.

I do not know why the government did not put just one little clause in this bill that said, “Here are the regulations as we see them, and this is what we think needs to be done”.

By the way, although there is some provincial jurisdiction, it is hard to argue with regulations that talk about the training and certification of operators, source water protection, location, design, modification, maintenance, operation of water systems, drinking water distribution by truck if it is needed, the collection and treatment of waste water, monitoring, sampling, testing. No one can argue with that, whether it is a first nations municipality or a non-first nations municipality. Those kinds of things make sense.

Of course, at any given time in this country, we have more than 100 first nations on boil water advisories, and that situation continues.

Here we have regulations that are not followed up with any kind of commitment from the government. That is where the main part of the problem lies with this particular bill.

Why did the government not put a clause in the bill that simply says, “Here are the implementation rules. This is what we think needs to happen. By the way, we will ensure that this is funded to make sure that 100-plus first nations across this country do not have boil water advisories, and in fact that boil water advisories will not exist anywhere in this country any longer. We will ensure that all first nations have all the regulations in place and, by the way, we are going to back it up with money.”

We heard Conservative after Conservative say that they will pass the regulations and worry about the money and the implementation later. It seems to me that a lot of red flags should go up with all Canadians right across the country when they hear that.

Let me read a couple of quotes from first nations groups as to what they think about this bill, because the red flags have certainly gone up with first nations.

The Chiefs of Ontario recently had a headline on a news release that said, “Federal Bill S-8 fails to 'protect' drinking water for first nations”.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which I am very familiar with, is in northern Ontario, and by the way, many communities are fly-in communities, so I am not sure how this partnering thing that a previous member was talking about is going to work. The headline from there reads, “Water Legislation Fails to Address Critical Lack of Infrastructure in NAN First Nations”.

Dr. Harry Swain, the chair of the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations, stated:

This is not...one of those problems in Aboriginal Canada that will persist for ever and ever and ever. This is one that can be solved and it can be solved with the application of a good chunk of money for a limited period of time.

The end of that quote puts it all in a nutshell for us. We are not talking about money forever; we are talking about money spent, and if these regulations are the regulations that the government thinks need to be established, let us make sure the funding is there.

However, there is no commitment for funding at all.

The regulations, by and large, are the same kinds of regulations that non-first nations municipalities have right across Canada, and they are mostly governed by the provinces.

I asked a question of a government speaker earlier today. I asked what it is going to cost the provinces to monitor and implement this measure. The response was that it is not going to cost the provinces anything. I am not entirely sure, but we are going to have to take that speaker at his word. It is something to think about as we carry on this debate.

Sometimes people say that it is not about money and that we should not worry about money, because it is about regulations and making drinking water safe. The fact of the matter is that we have to commit to spend the money to make that happen.

I see some heads nodding “no” on the other side. I hope the member has a question for me later on.

We cannot put regulations in place in communities that in some cases have absolutely no infrastructure for water delivery and or for handling waste water and expect them to say, “Let us follow the regulations; no problem, we can do that”. How do they do it?

I would be interested to hear what my hon. friend across the way has to say about that.

There is another issue here, which is that these regulations could very well overrule any laws or bylaws that a first nation might have in its own community.

I think that is a concern. It limits the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of its duties under the regulations.

I think not just New Democrats but all of us want to see safe, clean water and water systems that work for first nation communities, but imposing this legislation is not the solution. The federal government cannot simply unload its liability to first nations without providing the funding to bring those systems up to the new standards in the bill.

First nations oppose this act because of the new liability provisions for first nation governments. My hon. friend across the way said that the non-derogation clause is formulated to possibly be the first step to erode constitutionally protected rights. These things are not spelled out in black and white in the bill, but they are concerns that first nations have.

The delivery of safe drinking water to on-reserve first nations communities is critical to the health and safety of first nations Canadians, but for more than a decade, many first nations have lacked adequate access to safe drinking water.

As a bit of history, this is the second legislative initiative to address safe drinking water on reserves. The predecessor was Bill S-11, but it did not proceed to third reading as a result of widespread concerns. Because it did not proceed, it subsequently died when Parliament was dissolved before the last election.

Bill S-8 retains a number of features from Bill S-11, particularly in the areas to be covered by eventual federal regulations. Non-derogation language is still included in the proposed legislation, expressly allowing for the abrogation or derogation of aboriginal and treaty rights in some circumstances. It also provides for the incorporation by reference of provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water.

Why are we opposing the bill at this point in time? New Democrats agree that the poor standards of water systems in first nation communities are hampering people's health and well-being and causing economic hardship. However, this legislation would make first nations liable for water systems that have already proven inadequate without any funding to help them improve their water systems or to give them the ability to build new ones more appropriate to their needs.

I see my time is up. I certainly welcome questions from the floor. Let me just say in closing that this is a very important bill, and I hope that someone from the other side is going to ask me a question about the implementation of this bill, should it pass.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

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

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

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

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

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