There are over a thousand public water systems on indigenous reserves in Canada. As indigenous matters, they fall by and large within the responsibility of the federal government.
Of these public systems, when we came into office in late 2015 there were 105 long-term water advisories in effect, plus a great many more short-term advisories poised to become long-term.
The Government of Canada works with First Nations to address health and safety needs, ensure proper facility operation and maintenance, and to prevent short-term advisories from becoming long-term.
Ending a drinking water advisory is often complex, spanning multiple phases. Actions to resolve a water or wastewater issue can include:
- feasibility studies
- new system design work
- interim repairs on existing systems
- permanent repairs to existing infrastructure
- construction of new infrastructure
- improved training and monitoring
Completion of a new water treatment system can take 3 to 4 years on average… See the Life-cycle of a First Nations community infrastructure project.
Eliminating long-term drinking water advisories is just one part of ensuring First Nations communities have reliable access to safe drinking water: Investing in water and wastewater infrastructure — Indigenous Affairs Canada
This simple fact tells a story of problems long neglected, long allowed to fester and grow — as successive governments, both Liberal and different flavours of Conservative long let them slide. The problems in some cases have endured for decades, even generations. In all cases, they are unacceptable.
That’s why when we came into office we committed to resolving them. We committed not only to resolve these particular problems, but to address the systemic factors that created them and that, to the enduring detriment of their communities and the people who live in them, let them linger unresolved through all those decades.
With this firm will we allocated funding to the task and set to work. In addition, in our 2020 Fall Economic Statement we added an additional $2 billion, bringing the total funding to over $3.5 billion.
As a result, as at March 31, 2021, 105 long-term advisories have in fact been resolved on our watch.
Yet 54 remain — still a few from the original batch, and some of those short-term advisories did indeed become long-term and needed or now need to be resolved as well. It’s somewhat of a moving target. In this same period, however, we also resolved over 177 other short-term advisories before they could become long-term.
These problems cannot be resolved simply by writing a cheque and walking away. These are complex undertakings, often with many facets: feasibility studies, testing and analysis, engineering and design, interim repairs, geotechnical surveys, upgrades to existing or construction of new infrastructure, and such, as well as training and monitoring for on-site personnel.
At the best of times completion of a new water system can take years. Progress is also dependent, particularly in the more remote communities, on the timing of activities in relation to the construction season, weather, winter roads, and, certainly, this past year, on COVID-19 restrictions.
Most importantly, this cannot be a colonial, top-down, Ottawa-knows-best approach. From day one our work has been in full collaborative partnership with affected first-nations communities, as it must, and will remain so, as it must, to ensure clean water now and into the future.
Back in 2015 we set the end of March, 2021, as a target for resolving all long-term advisories. Though we weren’t able to meet that exact target, we are nevertheless very close to it.
The plan we have built with first nations is clearly working, and in each and every community with a remaining long-term water advisory there is a project team, an action plan, and people dedicated to lifting it.