Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) says the federal government would need to increase planned spending to provide clean drinking water on First Nations.
Yves Giroux’s report Wednesday says while the government has set aside enough money to build water and wastewater systems over the next five years, it falls short on helping First Nations operate the systems.
“PBO estimates the total funding needed to meet current and future W&WW (water and wastewater) needs on reserve from the period of 2016-2017 to 2025-2026 to be approximately $7.4 billion,” reads the report.
“Annual operating and maintenance needs are estimated at $429 million on average. The capital investment needs are estimated at approximately $3.1 billion, which is broken down into $1.1 billion to cover immediate needs and $1.9 billion for future capital investment until 2025-2026.”
The office of the PBO is responsible for analyzing federal spending and if asked, conducting investigations on how ministries spend money on programs.
His report estimates the government will need an extra $138 million to cover those costs.
The Liberals had promised in their successful 2015 election campaign to end all boil-water advisories in First Nations within five years of taking office, a timeline that was supposed to be met this year.
But the government said last year the target wouldn’t be met, pointing to the pandemic among a variety of other factors in its way.
Giroux’s report warns the longer it takes to fulfil that pledge the more expensive meeting the goal is likely to become.
After question period Wednesday, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu wouldn’t tell reporters when all First Nations would have water systems in place – but says the department is working on it.
“We’re committed to doing whatever it takes to close that gap… I’ll be pursuing that money,” says Hajdu. “Currently we are funding 100 per cent of operation and maintenance – that’s as of budget 2021, so you know, it’ll be helpful to understand what is left to close in terms of whether or not it is a formula that needs to be adjusted.
“I know that this is very technical, but you know, there was a new formula negotiated with the AFN (Assembly of First Nations) and other partners two years ago, so we’ll be looking at what exactly it means and will take to close that gap, but yes, I’m committed to closing it.”
With files from the Canadian Press