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

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta begins rolling out AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for those aged 40 or older

There are more than 70 pharmacies offering AstraZeneca, including 26 offering walk-in appointments

A child writes in their school notebook during a home schooling session in Cremona, Alta., Monday, March 23, 2020, amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of students in Calgary will shift to online learning as of today in a bid to curb rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Online classes begin for some Alberta students amid rising COVID-19 cases

Alberta currently has the highest rate of active COVID-19 cases in the country

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Alberta joins Ontario in lowering minimum age for AstraZeneca vaccine

More than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in this country

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,516 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

Central zone has 1,849 active cases

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Most Read