Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines).
My colleague from Edmonton Strathcona did a great job of talking about things that are missing in this piece of legislation and also what is important.
Before I get started, I want to talk about some of the water defenders in my riding. I want to recognize Linda Safford and the great work that the Comox Valley Council of Canadians do. I want to recognize Dan Lewis and Bonnie Glambeck from Clayoquot Action, and my friend Sarah Thomas, who has fought so much for the Alberni Valley and the protection of the watershed there. I also want to recognize Tsimka and Gisele Martin from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation for their defence of Meares Island and protecting our water there.
It is really important that we have water defenders in our communities. We are fortunate to have eight Nuu-chah-nulth nations in my riding, the Qualicum nation and the Comox people. They are always there to defend what is important and that is our water.
We rely heavily on clean water in our riding for our water supply. Comox Lake is something we are looking at as a water supply in the Comox Valley to ensure that we have clean water. Meares Island supplies the water for Tofino and Ucluelet is looking at getting its water from Kennedy Lake.
We all know that water makes life possible on our planet. We learn this as children. If we are fortunate to live near the streams, rivers, lakes and oceans of our country, we learn that it is fundamental to our local economies, our culture and our food security.
Too often we take this knowledge of water as the essence of life for granted as we live our lives. We waste it and we pollute it with industrial waste and debris such as single use plastics, which I have raised repeatedly here in the House.
Protecting and preserving our water is urgently required through a national ocean plastics strategy, including filling the legislative and regulatory voids that are required to ensure effective stewardship.
At the same time, there is no question that water is a human right. Nothing can survive very long without it. We can live up to a month without food, but only for a week without water.
Most of us also take the right to safe drinking water for granted because most of us have access to an abundance of fresh water like I just spoke of. I live in a temperate rain forest so we do take it for granted. However, this is not true for two-thirds of all indigenous communities here in Canada. These communities have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade and people in many municipalities as well face repeated drinking water advisories.
This is true, for example, of the Comox Valley in my riding which has been subjected to multiple boil water advisories covering a period of 126 days just over the past three years. We have an application for the Comox Valley water treatment project and we desperately will need federal and provincial support to establish that and ensure that we do not have these boil water advisories and that we know that our children, our elders and all citizens will have access to clean drinking water.
During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to end drinking water advisories in indigenous communities within five years. The government is three years into its term and we are far from that. According to a recent report from the David Suzuki Foundation, the Liberal government is not on track to fulfill this promise and, sadly, it has no plan to get there. The government has two years left in its five-year promise and there is no plan to fulfill this promise. This is completely unacceptable. It is disappointing and frustrating. Frankly, it is embarrassing.
According to a 2014 Ecojustice Canada Report, drinking water standards in Canada continue to lag behind international benchmarks. The report compared the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality with corresponding frameworks in the United States, European Union, and Australia, as well as standards recommended by the WHO. While Canada has, or is tied for, the strongest standard in 24 instances, it has, or is tied for, the weakest standard for 27 substances. That is unacceptable.
In 105 other cases, Canada has no standard at all where at least one other country does. There is no regulatory framework holding the federal government accountable for safe drinking water in indigenous communities. This is largely because provincial laws and regulations that apply to municipalities do not apply to reserves, which are considered federal lands under federal jurisdiction.
The federal government's unacceptable failure to provide clean drinking water in indigenous communities is still unacceptable, and its funding continues to be inadequate for addressing urgent, immediate drinking water and wastewater and waste management treatment.
While the mandated guideline reviews called for in this bill are important, more stringent national objectives and standards in line with the European Union, United States, Australia and the WHO are clearly required.
In closing, all Canadians clearly do not have equal access to clean drinking water. It is time for Canada to establish a national water policy to secure the principles of water as a human right and as a public trust. We need a plan to implement that strategy.