The Conservative government has decided to back the Liberals in their efforts to address the need of First Nations communities in Canada for clean, running water, after a motion passed at the House of Commons on November 17. The motion, which was moved by interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, seeks to create a bill with all parties to improve access to clean drinking water on First Nations reserves.
The motion was passed days after Ecojustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, issued its report on water quality in Canada. The report gave the federal government a failing grade, and stressed the lack of improvement in the quality of water for First Nations communities. Grades were determined by evaluating treatment and testing requirements, drinking water quality standards, source water protection, and measures for transparency and accountability.
According to the report, “Federal management of water – for places like First Nations reserves, military bases, and federal parks – still fails to meet basic benchmarks for safe consumption.”
Rae addressed the House of Commons during the debate on the motion, urging them to begin efforts no later than spring 2012.
“[We need] to address, on an urgent basis, the needs of those First Nations communities whose members have no access to clean, running water in their homes,” said Rae.
“We have to recognize that Canadians live, unfortunately, in very different conditions depending on where they live. A continuing affront to our sense of wholeness, justice, and fairness as Canadians is the fact that members of First Nations communities and other aboriginal communities across the country are living in conditions of deep poverty and great hardship,” he added.
John Duncan, Conservative MP for Vancouver Island North and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, announced the availability of new funding to address the pressing water issues for Aboriginal communities in Northern Manitoba.
“I am proud to announce today that, in addition to those ongoing commitments, we are also providing an additional $5.5 million to support infrastructure improvements in Manitoba’s Island Lake community,” said Duncan during the House debate.
In an interview with The Daily, Carolyn Bennett – MP for St Paul’s and Liberal Critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development – said that this is not only an issue for Aboriginal communities.
“It’s something that all Canadians are embarrassed about, because it really is that so many of our citizens are actually living in third world conditions, when we have the constitutional responsibility to serve these conditions,” said Bennett.
“We hope that as we come up to the budget, that we will demand a real strategy for this because we won’t be satisfied until 100 per cent of First Nations homes have fresh running drinking water and waste water management,” she added.
Randy Christensen, author of the report issued by Ecojustice, expressed his satisfaction in a press release, and expressed the need to move towards better access to clean water for First Nation communities in Canada.
“The government’s commitment to ensure all First Nations reserves have clean drinking water is a move in the right direction, and all parties in the House deserve credit for stepping up on the issue,” said Christensen.
Bennett also said that many First Nations communities within Quebec have been identified because of their lack of clean water.
“There were certainly many communities identified in Quebec that have problems. When I was at Akwesasne – which is partly Quebec, partly Ontario and partly the US – they had [water quality] problems,” she said.
According to Bennett, the proposed bill will be a step in the right direction, but she believes that government needs to do more to help First Nations communities.
“The long-term solutions are not only the infrastructure and building the systems, but also getting the training to the community so they can keep those systems operations. So it’s the long-term sustainability of the systems that we are also calling on the government to approve,” she said.