Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responds to a reporters question during a news conference, Wednesday, February 24, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responds to a reporters question during a news conference, Wednesday, February 24, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ottawa won’t set new deadline for providing clean water in First Nations communities

There are still 38 First Nations communities where the water isn’t considered safe to drink

Indigenous Services Canada won’t set a deadline for lifting all remaining long-term drinking-water advisories in First Nations communities, but it will create a website to provide estimated completion dates for each one that remains.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he remains committed to ensuring every First Nation community will have access to clean drinking water.

“Our commitment to lift all long-term drinking-water advisories on public systems on reserve remains firm,” Miller said Wednesday at a news conference in Ottawa.

“I don’t underestimate the amount of work to be done, particularly in the face of a global pandemic, but we’re ready to work through this.”

Department officials said public health measures, contractor and human-resource shortages as well as supply-chain interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic make it too difficult to figure out a firm timeline for getting everything done.

“We’ve lost, in effect, a construction season, but it isn’t an excuse,” Miller said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in 2015 to lift all drinking-water advisories by this March. In December, Miller announced that deadline would be missed.

Over 100 long-term drinking-water advisories have been lifted since 2015, but there are still 38 First Nations communities where the water isn’t considered safe to drink.

Department officials told a technical briefing Wednesday that they are aiming to take full advantage of the spring and summer construction period to make up for the delays.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said considerable progress has been made to end drinking-water advisories since 2015 but the government should work to lift all remaining advisories.

“I continue to urge the federal government to work together with First Nations to implement long-term solutions within realistic timelines that will provide water certainty for our children and families,” Perry Bellegarde said in a statement.

The federal government is also launching a new website to track progress on lifting the remaining advisories, which Miller called an “effort in transparency.”

“Now people can look on the website and see the detailed planning involved,” he said.

“People can see that. They don’t need to trust my words.”

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh rejected the government’s claim that the new website will provide more transparency.

“It’s not going to help at all. It’s going to do nothing,” Singh told a virtual press conference Wednesday.

“In the year 2021, in one of the G7 nations with an economy as large as ours and the resources that we have, there is no excuse that the Liberal government hasn’t fixed this problem.”

Singh called for a new deadline for all long-term drinking water advisories to be lifted.

“People deserve clean drinking water at a minimum. There is no excuse for this not to happen,” he said.

“What Indigenous communities want to see is a real commitment to clean drinking water, not broken promises, not fake words.”

The federal auditor general Karen Hogan said in a report released last month the government did not provide the support needed to ensure First Nations communities have access to safe drinking water.

She also noted the government has not created a regulatory regime for managing drinking water in First Nations communities.

The report concludes that 100 long-term advisories were lifted between 2015 and 2020 but 60 remained in effect as of Nov. 1, 2020, and almost half of those have been in place for more than a decade.

Miller said some First Nations including Shoal Lake and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte chose to maintain drinking water advisories until they finish the construction of long-term projects.

“This is a choice that I respect to maintain the long-term water advisories until such time as those long-term projects are completed,” he said.

Miller said there had been massive underinvestment in Indigenous communities by previous governments when the Liberals came to power in 2015.

He said there was no plan to get rid of the 105 long-term drinking water advisories that were in place five years ago.

Miller said that, among other things, has caused a lack of trust in the government among many Indigenous people, noting that the new website will guarantee more openness for First Nations people, so they can see the work the government is doing in their communities.

“You may say that a website alone doesn’t do that, but it does start to build the confidence because people get to see what I’m seeing, what my department see. They also get to see, perhaps, some of the challenges and pitfalls.”

READ MORE: Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

—With files from Christopher Reynolds

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Drinking waterIndigenous

Just Posted

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees in Oyster Bay

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

Naloxone is used to treat opioid overdoses. (Black Press Media files)
Island Health issues overdose advisory for Greater Victoria

The advisory directs bystanders to an overdose to call 911 and administer naloxone

John Albert Buchanan was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar. Pictured here, Buchanan walking to the court in Nanaimo last year. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Six years including time served for Nanaimo man in bludgeoning death

John Albert Buchanan sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo for death of Richard Sitar

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote North Island logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

RCMP on scene yesterday at the altercation at the trailer park. (Submitted photo)
Violent altercation at Port Hardy trailer park sends one to hospital

Police say man confronted another over airsoft shooting, then was attacked with a weapon

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

FILE - This Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, file photo shows the dashboard of the Tesla Model X car, at the company's headquarters in Fremont, Calif. Newer cars that connect to the internet are capable of collecting vast amounts of data about their drivers. Tesla Motors has used data to reveal, sometimes within hours of a crash, how fast the driver was going and whether or not the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system was engaged. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Test of vehicle’s self-drive features mistaken for impaired driving

Campbell River RCMP warn busy roadway no place to check out a vehicle’s new features

A trailer with fire damage is taped off by the Port Alberni Fire Department at the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Fire knocked down at controversial Port Alberni property

City is concerned about zoning, building code and fire code infractions surrounding the trailers

Prince Philip is seen here talking to Alex Rennie about platters of food presented by the culinary deparment at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in 1983. (Courtesy of Alex Rennie)
Parksville man recalls meeting Prince Philip at what was then Malaspina College

Alex Rennie, a former culinary instructor, got to shake hands with royal visitor

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Most Read