APTN National News
OTTAWA–The Conservative government agreed Thursday to immediately provide clean running water to all First Nations communities across the country, but stopped short of promising any major funding to fix the dire situation faced by many reserves.
The Conservatives said they would support a Liberal party motion introduced in the House of Commons Thursday calling on the government “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.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said the government would support it because it was already working to give First Nations communities clean drinking water and sewage treatment services.
“We are going to support the motion from the standpoint that we are all in agreement that the current standards are unacceptable, the situation in First Nations communities across the country is unacceptable,” said Duncan.
Duncan, however, said the government was sticking to its plan to introduce legislation setting water and waste water regulation standards on reserve instead of coming through with major investments.
“We have 633 communities across the country, many of them are small, many of them are dispersed, and many of them have multiple water distribution systems and septic systems. Nearly 69 per cent of the communities have 500 or fewer residents,” said Duncan. “We need the legislative framework and accountability networks to be in place.”
Duncan said the government will have spent $2.5 billion between 2006 and 2012 on First Nations water and waste water systems.
The motion was introduced by interim Liberal leader Bob Rae who said federal politicians could no longer allow people in Canada to live without clean, running water. Rae said it was wrong for the Conservatives to focus on regulations without first committing serious funding to fix the situation.
“Canada, the country of clean water, the country of beautiful lakes, the country of flowing rivers,” said Rae. “This is a country that can’t provide the basics of life to its own people? We’ll pass regulations, but we won’t give you the resources?”
The NDP also supported the motion, said Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus.
Angus recently visited the Ontario community of Attawapiskat to highlight the dire situation facing the community where feces is dumped from buckets into ditches and where families are being forced to live in tents, shacks and a trailer crammed with 90 people.
“How can we look at ourselves in the mirror when people are living in conditions that would be completely unacceptable to any member of this House?” said Angus.
The Conservative government needs to invest $1.2 billion immediately to raise reserve-based water and sewage systems to acceptable levels, according to a two-year study commissioned by the Aboriginal Affairs department. The study found that the government need to invest a total of $5 billion in First Nations water systems over the next 10 years.
The study, by firm Neegan Burnside, discovered that 1,800 reserve homes have no water service and 1,777 homes had no sewage service at all.
Out of the communities with water services, the study found that 39 per cent of 807 reserve systems inspected, which serve about 25 per cent of the on-reserve population, were classified as posing a threat to health and safety.