Conservatives introduce legislation on First Nation’s Water Quality

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Greg RickfordOTTAWA – Greg Rickford, the Kenora MP and Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs stated, “Improving the water quality on reserve is a top shared priority for our government and first nations leadership across the country. Since 2006, we have made significant investments in water and waste-water infrastructure and in improving capacity for reporting, monitoring and maintenance of water infrastructure on reserve. However, as the recent independent national assessment showed, adequate legislative protection is essential to the effective monitoring of water quality on reserve”.

The Conservative government has announced legislation to take action on the problems of water on First Nations reserves.

Rickford added, “That is why I am happy to point out that our government is taking concrete action to protect the First Nations’ drinking water, by introducing the safe drinking water for First Nations bill in the other house. This legislation represents a vital step toward ensuring that first nations have the same access to safe drinking water as the rest of Canada. This new bill is the product of hard work, collaboration and partnership by all stakeholders. I want to applaud the Alberta Assembly of Treaty Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress for their leadership on this issue.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Les Louttit has denounced the Government of Canada’s introduction of The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act as an attempt by the federal government to unload its responsibility for water quality to First Nations while failing to address the critical lack of infrastructure in NAN communities.

“We are opposed to this legislation because it will impose water quality standards on impoverished communities that do not have the infrastructure and resources to meet them,” said NAN Deputy Grand Chief Les Louttit. “Regulating drinking water does nothing to address the fact that many of our communities do not have access to an adequate supply of safe drinking water in the first place. This is the key issue, and one this legislation completely fails to address.”

The issue was raised during Question Period on Thursday:

Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I will tell members what is not clean: first nations drinking water. The government has cut $186 million from the first nation water and waste water action plan and sunsetted the entire program. Last year, the auditor general roundly criticized the government for ignoring her decade of calls for greater investment to provide first nations with the basic services other Canadians had become used to.

Could the government explain how cutting the water program addresses the Governor General’s calls for expedited action into drinking water, including to the more than 100 communities still suffering under—

The Speaker: The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Mr. Greg Rickford (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC): Mr. Speaker, improving access to safe drinking water on reserve is a top shared priority for this government and for first nations communities across the country. We have made significant investments in two important regards: capacity, reporting, monitoring and maintenance of water infrastructure on reserve; and critical water infrastructure on reserve.

Yesterday we introduced the safe drinking water for first nations act to create enforceable standards that would guide future investments in water infrastructure and its related activities on reserve.

Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona, NDP): Mr. Speaker, yes, the government did table its latest version of the first nation drinking water law. However, the bill would provide no real standards, no time line and no funding guarantees. Contrary to the promised new way of doing business with first nations, the new law would not require government to consult first nations on the water standards and rules. First nations and legal and technical experts say that regulations without resources are meaningless.

Could the government explain why it is requiring first nations to ensure better water standards, while in the same breath it is yanking the moneys needed to comply?

Mr. Greg Rickford (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member that our water action plan has resulted in real improvements in water systems on reserves. For example, increasing and improving training and certification for first nation operators and managers is one of the essential components to a comprehensive water strategy for first nations.

We remain committed to ensure first nations people on reserve have access to the same quality of safe drinking water as all Canadians. That is why we have reintroduced this important legislation, building on our government’s unprecedented investments in water and waste water infrastructure.