Federal Bill S-8 Fails to “Protect” Drinking Water for First Nations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 1, 2012
Toronto, ON – On March 1, 2012, the federal government introduced Bill S-8, Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. In announcing the introduction of Bill S-8 the government claimed it was acting to protect drinking water for First Nations.
Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse expressed concern that the Act is almost an exact replica of a previous Bill, known as Bill S-11, which was met with widespread opposition from First Nations. “One of the main concerns with this Bill, similar to the previous Bill, is that there is no provision of resources to ensure that First Nations are able to meet any standards that are set. The government is well aware of the fact that many First Nations in Ontario do not meet the department’s current protocols. The concern is that First Nations are being set up to fail and then who is held liable when they fail to meet the regulations,” stated the Regional Chief.In July 2011, the federal Department Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada published the National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems. The contractor inspected water and wastewater systems in 120 First Nations communities in Ontario. This report found that out of 158 water systems inspected, 72 were considered high risk, 61 medium risk and 25 low risk. Of the 77 wastewater systems inspected 28 were categorized as high risk, 38 as medium risk and 11 low risk.
Bill S-8 states that the government is committed to improving the health and safety of residents of First Nation lands, and that the government is “committed to working with First Nations to develop proposals for regulations to be made under this Act”. Regional Chief Toulouse indicated that it makes no sense to set drinking water standards without addressing the obvious infrastructure gaps that exist. The Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation estimates that it will cost approximately $228 – $296 million to upgrade the 158 existing water treatment plants found in First Nations communities. This is consistent with the cost estimate identified by Neegan Burnside, the contractor that produced the government-commissioned national assessment. The contractor indicated that it would cost approximately $309 million to bring First Nation water and waste water facilities up to current AADNC protocols, and up to $1 billion to meet the expected growth over the next ten years in Ontario First Nations alone.
Ensuring that First Nations have access to safe drinking water and appropriate wastewater systems is a paramount concern of all First Nations communities, and developing and implementing a plan of action to address the issue requires First Nations’ expertise and involvement at every stage. “This Bill fails to recognize and respect First Nations jurisdiction with regards to water and it fails to address the real and pressing needs that exist. If the government is serious about working with First Nations to address the health and safety needs of our citizens they will act first to address the infrastructure and capacity gaps before imposing regulations that set many First Nations up to fail,” said Regional Chief Toulouse.
The Chiefs of Ontario (COO) is a coordinating body for the 133 First Nations located within the boundaries of the Province of Ontario.
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Andre Morriseau Communications Officer