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Trudeau's progress on First Nations water advisories doesn't show the whole picture

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends WWF-Canada’s Healthy Waters Summit reception at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed a special gathering of the Assembly of First Nations and repeated his government's commitment to clean water for First Nations last week.

CTV reports, "As of April 24, there were 76 long-term drinking water advisories in effect for public water systems managed by the federal government. A third of these have been in place for over a decade."

CTV adds, "Since forming government, the Liberals have lifted 61 drinking water advisories. However, 32 new advisories have been added in that time, according to the Indigenous and Northern Affairs department."

As of this spring, there are still a total of 124 drinking water advisories in effect in First Nations. On top of the 76 long-term advisories, there were 31 short-term advisories in place as of May 1, 2018 and 17 drinking water advisories in B.C.

The Trudeau government categorizing drinking water advisories as "long-term" and "short term" is misleading. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada states that long-term DWAs are advisories that have been in effect for more than one year. Indigenous Services Canada says short-term advisories are "a temporary water quality issue on a specific water system less than a year." But some of the "short-term" advisories have been lifted and reinstated several times over the years.

For example this 2011 access to information request shows the names of First Nations under drinking water advisory in December 2010. Some of what the Trudeau government now calls "short-term advisories" were listed in this 2010 list including: (the year in the brackets shows the year the advisory was set in the access to information request)

  • Deer Lake First Nation (2001), Hiawatha (2008), Aroland First Nation (2008) in Ontario
  • Star Blanket First Nation (2007) in Saskatchewan
  • Sucker Creek (2010) in Alberta

The Edmonton Journal and CBC reported on the lack of clean water in Sucker Creek First Nation in 2014 and 2016, respectively. 

The Trudeau government's funding for water and wastewater in First Nations reserves has increased from the former Harper government's funding. In 2016, $1.8 billion was allocated to improving water and wastewater on reserve over five years. The 2018 budget allocates an additional $172.6 over three years -- averaged out that's $57.5M more a year. But in total, this still falls short of the annual $889 million called for by the 2011 National Assessment commissioned by the federal government. 

The 2017 David Suzuki Foundation and Council of Canadians report titled "Glass Half Empty? Year 1 Progress Toward Resolving Drinking Water Advisories in Nine First Nations in Ontario" outlines the bold steps the Trudeau government must take to end the drinking water crises in First Nations including increasing funding, implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN-recognized human right to clean drinking water and sanitation as well as working with First Nations to streamline and simplify the process for investments in water infrastructure.

Despite Justin Trudeau's restating its commitment to clean water for First Nations, his government is pushing forward the Kinder Morgan pipeline which threatens the 1,355 waterways it crosses. The proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline would put the drinking water of many communities at risk including Coldwater First Nation. Last month, APTN reported, "the main issue with the proposed pipeline route is it would run over [Coldwater First Nation's] aquifer, it's main source of drinking water."

A press release put out last week reaffirmed that without the consent of local First Nations, the Kinder Morgan Pipeline would not be built. The press release added, "150 Indigenous Nations in Canada and the US have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion in opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and all other attempts to allow more tar sands production, including Enbridge's Line 3 and TransCanada's Keystone XL pipelines." 

The Trudeau government must take bold action to uphold the human rights to water and sanitation and ensure clean water for all Indigenous nations including respecting Indigenous rights and stopping the Kinder Morgan pipeline. 

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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