Madam Speaker, it is great to see you in the Chair again. I hope to join you in Ottawa very soon.
It is an honour to join the debate today on Bill C-230, which deals with a national strategy to redress environmental racism.
Preserving our natural environment is one of the most important issues of our time as is building a more just society and supporting Canadians of all races and from all walks of life.
The people of the Kenora riding know the importance of our environment quite intimately. In northern Ontario, hunting, fishing and ecotourism more broadly are a part of our way of life and a major driver of our economy. We understand how essential it is for clean air, clean water and a vibrant natural environment now, but also preserved for future generations.
Unfortunately, we have also seen first-hand how legacy failures by various governments have harmed the environment and the health and well-being of racialized people.
After I was elected in 2019, I used my first intervention in the chamber to raise the issue of mercury poisoning in the Grassy Narrows First Nation. Members of this nation as well as those of Whitedog in my riding have been suffering the effects of mercury poisoning, such as muscle weakness, cognitive impairments, reduced vision, hearing and speech, for decades. It was not until last year that the government finally signed an agreement for a treatment facility in these communities.
In both communities, the water systems were contaminated when toxic waste was dumped into the English and Wabigoon river systems in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2016, it was reported that the fish in Grassy Narrows, specifically, still had the highest levels of mercury contamination in the province of Ontario. This is perhaps the greatest example of environmental racism in Canada and the government allowed it to continue for five years under its watch without action.
Of course, we also remember the Prime Minister's smug and condescending comments toward protestors of this injustice at a Liberal fundraiser in 2019. He thanked these individuals for their donations without even attempting to address the real and urgent issues they were hoping to bring to his attention.
Contaminated or otherwise unsafe water is an unfortunate and unimaginable reality, yet it is the reality for many first nations across the country.
On March 1, the Globe and Mail reported that 39 first nations were under long-term boil water advisories. Several have gone without clean water for more than a decade. Last month, the Neskantaga First Nation, also in my riding, marked 26 years under a boil water advisory. Of course, members may recall that last year the residents of this community actually had to evacuate entirely because there was a breakdown of their water system.
The Liberal government promised that all long-term boil water advisories would be ended by March of this year. Of course, it is now March and we know that it is not close to reaching that goal and has not even set a new date for when it hopes to achieve that. It has blamed its lack of progress on the file on the pandemic, but that excuse frankly does not add up. We know it was on track to miss its timeline long before COVID‑19 ever hit. We also know that many indigenous communities have been incredibly diligent about fighting COVID‑19 have nonetheless been finding ways to get essential work done on reserve, while protecting the health and safety of their residents.
Many indigenous people across the country and indeed all Canadians see this delay for what it is, and that is the government once again putting their needs on the backburner.
I truly worry about how continuing with the failures of the past will prevent us from securing a more prosperous future. If the government is serious about addressing environmental racism, I suggest it place much more urgency on the issues of clean water in first nations across the country.
We also know that many indigenous people, particularly in remote and northern communities, like those in my riding, will be disproportionately impacted by climate change, and ridings like mine will bear the brunt of many of the challenges. Remote communities face unique circumstances. Some of these challenges are related to their geography of course, but many are exacerbated by chronic underfunding, discriminatory legislation and environmental neglect.
In the past few years, residents of communities such as Bearskin Lake and Fort Hope in the riding of Kenora have been forced to evacuate because of floods and fires, respectively. These extreme events are expected in my region; however, they have been increasing in frequency and severity in recent years.
I frequently hear concerns from residents of remote communities in Kenora who rely on ice roads as a major transportation route for essential items. Shorter and milder winter seasons, as we experienced this past year, are limiting many people's ability to use these road systems, and this is cutting off many northern communities from vital resources. Residents of these communities are resilient, but their opportunities are often limited by insufficient infrastructure.
Housing shortages, lack of transportation and limited access to goods and services all have negative impacts on health, nutrition, financial security and the emergency response in the north. These issues will only get worse as the climate changes and weather patterns become even more erratic.
Indigenous communities have been raising concerns about this for years, and since being elected, I have been fighting for real support in these areas. However, the lack of action from the government has been disheartening. Barely anything has been done to address the current challenges that remote communities face, let alone to prepare them for the consequences of climate change.
I do appreciate the very real and important issues the member for Cumberland—Colchester is aiming to address with this proposal. However, there are many questions we still need answers to. How will we prepare remote communities to respond to natural disasters if they continue to increase in frequency? How will we support hunters and anglers in maintaining their traditional ways of life as ice thins and wildlife behaviour changes? How will we ensure that communities relying on ice roads will not be cut off from the rest of the country when temperatures rise and winter seasons shorten? How will we ensure that houses and other facilities in these regions can withstand severe weather when the buildings they currently have are in an advanced state of disrepair?
These questions must be answered. Frankly, time is of the essence.
We can and must work to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. We can invest in new technologies and work with industry to reduce emissions. We can support Canadians who want to practice sustainability in their daily lives. We can take transformational actions, just as former prime minister Brian Mulroney did with regard to acid rain, to combat the environmental crises of our time.
We also need to do right by the people who are already feeling the effects of environmental degradation. I do not believe we as Canadians can trust the current Liberal government to do that, because right now the Liberal track record on these issues has been all talk and very little action. The Prime Minister committed to preserving our environment, reducing emissions and bringing clean water to first nations communities, but under his leadership, emissions have risen, critical habitat has been lost and indigenous communities are still underserved.
How can anyone take the government at its word when its environmental record remains one of failure to back up its big promises with action? The government has had over five years to address these issues with meaningful legislation and tangible actions, but it has completely failed to do so. Its inaction has increased inequality, food insecurity and negative health outcomes for indigenous communities. We need to do better, and that is why Canada's Conservatives will continue to raise the voices of those who have been disproportionately impacted by these legacy government failures.
I will end my remarks there. It has been a pleasure to join the discussion today.