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Speaking Notes for the Honourable Chuck Strahl, PC, MP Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and
Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians
Announcing the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan
April 15, 2008
Check against delivery
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I’m very happy to have the chance to talk to you all this morning. I want to take the time to discuss an important development on one of our most significant files that is helping to improve the lives of First Nations people.As Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, I’ve had the opportunity to visit First Nations communities across the country.
During my visits, I’ve spoken with leaders, elders and community members. I know that there’s a real desire for change out there, and a sincere optimism that things are going to get better.
One of our government’s biggest priorities is to continue to improve access to safe drinking water. We all know that clean drinking water is vital to the health and safety of every Canadian. When our government came into power in early 2006, we discovered that there were 193 high risk water systems in First Nations communities. At that time, we said: “that’s a completely unacceptable situation and we’re going to take prompt action to fix it.” And we did. We cut the number of those systems in half.
We also identified 21 priority communities with high risk systems. We worked quickly and efficiently, and now there are only six communities left on the list.
That’s all thanks to a water action plan we introduced in March 2006. This plan has changed the way water quality is addressed.
We are doing more than just fixing problems. We are also ensuring First Nations have the resources and the tools they need to create lasting solutions.
Today, I’m pleased to announce the next steps in our plan.
Our government will invest $330 million in a two-year First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan. This strategy has several elements to it.
One key element is a commitment to conduct a national assessment of water and wastewater systems in all First Nations communities across the country. This assessment will give us a big-picture view of the status of all drinking water systems, and whether the right investments are being made.
We will then know how we can improve the delivery of good drinking water. The results of this assessment will be made public next year. This is all part of our plan of being accountable and transparent to First Nations and to all Canadians.
Our government will also double the scope of the Circuit Rider Training Program. This means more water operators will receive training and certification.
Our government is also going to set out clear standards to guide First Nations in the planning, design and operations of water and wastewater systems, as well as small facilities, such as wells and septic systems.
We are also creating a legislative framework for safe drinking water, in consultation with First Nations communities, Aboriginal organizations, and provincial and territorial governments.
All of these initiatives will happen, as we continue to invest in water and waste water facilities. They must be maintained and operated properly. That means making sure that all First Nations have the infrastructure, skills, information and support they need to manage their water effectively.
More importantly, we want First Nations to have increased confidence in the quality of their drinking water.
Our government recognizes that each community is unique, and solutions must be tailored to meet individual community needs.
Today’s announcement is a good example of how we are working in partnership with First Nations, day-by-day, to complete the work required on this important priority.
By working together, we can have clean, safe water for every community. And move towards a brighter future for all Canadians.
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