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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

“Hot Rod” cast members in Cloverdale during the movie shoot in the summer of 2006, in a photo by Paul Orazietti, executive director of Cloveradale Business Improvement Association. (submitted photo)
SURREY NOW & THEN: ‘Hot Rod’ comedy helped put Cloverdale on movie/TV map

Film backer says Surrey needs to publicize such site highlights, with ‘Smallville’ and more

Police responded to a report of a shooting in the 1300-block of 176 Street at around 7:15 p.m. on June 3, 2017. (File photo)
Trial dates set for senior charged in 2017 ‘targeted’ South Surrey shooting

Jury trial for Kenneth Turpin scheduled to begin Oct. 25

Earl Marriott Secondary alumna Tanis Orsetti has received a $15,000 Cmolik Graduate Studies Scholarship to further her studies in the field of medicine. (File/Contributed photo)
Earl Marriott alumna selected for new $15K scholarship

Tanis Orsetti is studying the use immunotherapy in cancer treatment

Eternity Medical Equipment’s ECAN95 masks have received Health Canada approval and CSA certification. (Eternity Medical Equipment photo)
South Surrey N-95 equivalent manufacturer launches mask recycling program

Eternity Medical Equipment partners with Ontario-based LifeCycle Revive

People take part in an anti-curfew protest in Montreal on Sunday April 11, 2021. Hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal tonight in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giuseppe Valiante
VIDEO: Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. The Vancouver Canucks say 25 players and coaches have tested positive during a COVID-19 outbreak that involves a variant of the virus. It is now the biggest reported outbreak in the NHL this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks’ return to practice pushed back as player added to COVID protocol list

COVID outbreak has led to eight games being cancelled

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

Most Read