Canada says it can solve the drinking water crisis on First Nations by 2021
The federal government has launched a new action plan to bring clean drinking water to all First Nation communities by 2021, and the ministers responsible say they are on track to meet that goal.
Indigenous Affairs says there are currently 71 boil water advisories for INAC-funded public systems on reserve — down from 77 in November 2015.
However, the government also expects First Nations to participate in ending water advisories, and says it can’t meet its goal without them.
“Canadians expect that there should be no place in Canada where you can’t turn on the tap and drink the water, or bathe your children and not find that they break out in a rash,” minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett told reporters Thursday. “For the first time, we are implementing a long-term action plan to allow water projects and solutions to continue without succumbing to a short term cycle of starts and stops that has so hindered progress in the past.”
She added that for progress to happen, “we need to work hand in hand with First Nation partners and their technical advisors” and that the government will focus additional efforts in Ontario, Saskatchewan, where more than 90 percent of the advisories are located.
Here’s what’s new:
- Indigenous Affairs says it has lifted 18 long term drinking water advisories since the Liberals came into power in November 2015. However, more short and long term advisories may have come into effect since then.
- It says it is targeting 44 more long term advisories through 29 projects that are currently underway on 28 reserves.
- The action plan is targeting 71 long term drinking water advisories, the government agency says, and there are a total of 201 projects supported by Indigenous Affairs that are currently underway across Canada.
- The government is launching a new online hub where it says Canadians can track its water commitment
In a technical briefing, government officials said they had dedicated more staff to the First Nations water file than under the previous government, although they did not provide a number. Officials also emphasized that they have more money to work with under the 2016 budget. The Liberals have allocated $1.8 billion over five years toward the water issue. To date, the department has allocated $275.7 million of that money.
Bennett also reiterated the federal government’s view that it is the responsibility of the Ontario government to clean up industrial mercury that has poisoned members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation. But she said Ottawa is working with the community to compensate those affected.
The government’s timeline for ending water advisories on reserves has wavered between five and six years. In a VICE-hosted town hall before the election, Justin Trudeau promised to end all water advisories on reserves across the country within five years, which would mean a deadline of November 2020. In a VICE documentary after he was elected Prime Minister, he said if his government took six years to solve the advisories, he would consider that promise fulfilled.
Cover: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press