On the heels of Ecojustice’s national drinking water report card, released this week, the Liberals are calling on the government of Canada to make First Nations access to clean water an urgent priority.
Waterproof 3, our third drinking water report, highlighted — among other things — the federal government’s failure to provide First Nations communities with access to clean, safe water. It notes some disturbing trends that require immediate action by the federal government in order to make access to clean water a right of all Canadians:
Since the tragedy in Walkerton, Ont. left seven people dead, billions of dollars have been spent and new legislation proposed to protect drinking water; however, water quality in First Nations communities is still far below that of off-reserve communities shows few signs of improving.
As of July 2011, there were 126 First Nations communities across Canada under a drinking water advisory, an increase from 106 communities in December 2008.
A 2010 Auditor General’s report showed that more than half of water systems on First Nations reserves pose a medium or high risk to community members. The report also noted that First Nations reserves “may still be years away from having drinking water protection comparable to what exists off-reserve in Canada.”
In 2006, the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations found that “the federal government has never provided adequate funding to First Nations” to ensure that water quality standards on reserves improved.
An independent study commissioned in 2011 by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada estimated it would take $4.7 billion over 10 years to bring on-reserve water systems up to satisfactory standards. Large-scale funding to ensure comparable water quality for all Canadians will require a clear and broad political commitment by the federal government.
On Thursday, Liberal Leader Bob Rae moved an Opposition Day motion demanding the federal government take immediate steps to solve these problems.
The motion calls on the federal 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; that action to address this disparity begin no later than spring 2012; and that the House further recognize that the absence of this basic requirement represents a continuing affront to our sense of justice and fairness as Canadians.”
The federal government explicitly committed to promoting access to clean water for First Nations communities in its 2011 throne speech. But without concrete funding and a clear action plan, such verbal commitments do little to ensure that First Nations communities have access to safe drinking water.
Ecojustice supports today’s motion and joins the call on the federal government to protect clean drinking water for all Canadians — including First Nations.